Pastoral Letter for Lent 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
With the arrival of Lent we act to conform our vision of people and of the world to the gaze of Christ. He educates our consciences and teaches us the dignity of people and of work and helps us to promote a culture that truly responds to all the questions of modern humanity. Our striving this Lent is that faith, a gift of God, be accepted by the goodwill of people and in unity in the charity of Christ. (Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 21)
During Lent this year we will welcome many visitors to the Commonwealth Games. The image of striving put before us in athletics is akin to running to receive the prize of Jesus Christ (eg. St Paul 1 Cor. 9:24-27, Phil. 3:10-16, 2 Tim 4:6-8). With St Paul we say:
“All I want to know is Christ and the power of His Resurrection and to share His sufferings by reproducing the pattern of His death …. Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me.”
Lent is the striving for a prize – that of Christ Jesus. It is simply not by our efforts, however; we respond to the initiative of our loving God, who sent His Son into the world. By His Life, Death and Resurrection, Jesus offers us freedom from slavery as a sheer gift.
The Exsultet proclaims the Resurrection of Jesus “dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts our hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.” But St Paul makes it clear that life is still a struggle: “all the fighters at the games go into strict training; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither.” (1 Cor. 9:25).
We seek to train ourselves by fasting, prayer and penance, and we become more sensitive to the presence of sin in our lives and put aside the focus on ourselves, which is its basis. Lent is an invitation to convert, to turn around to Jesus’ way of thinking about our life, and ourselves, and about the world. Pope Benedict stresses in his Lenten message that “this conversion of self leads us to increase the esteem for the dignity of others, turning towards co-operation for the common good and the desire for peace.”
I will remember you in prayer at Mass each day during Lent. I invite you to share in the Mass as often as you can. The Sacrament of Penance is a wonderful way of conversion and forgiveness. May you know its peace through using it well. Fasting, especially on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent, is another way of allowing the ‘strict training’ before Easter to be expressed practically.
As we share in works of mercy, especially in Project Compassion, we show our gift of self to another, an act by which true charity is expressed for the poor here and overseas. Pope Benedict urges us to turn to Jesus, the Divine Master, to know the new life that comes from His gaze, restoring trust and knowing that the luminous love of Jesus is never lacking.
May this blessing accompany all of us as we strive to know Christ Jesus and to have Him as our great prize.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.