Pastoral Letter for Lent 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“They shall look on Jesus whom they have pierced.” (cf John 19:37)
With these words, our Holy Father Pope Benedict invites us to enter the penitential time of Lent. As we follow Jesus closely to the Cross and on to His Resurrection, He invites each of us to share in what He has done by turning from self, and rising with Him to new life.
All in the Church join our Catechumens in a journey to a deeper faith that will change our lives. This year, I invite you to ponder Jesus’ way to death by sharing regularly in the Way of the Cross – in your Church, or by reading the Gospel story of the Passion slowly at home. We see Jesus, filled with readiness to suffer because of His love of the Father and His burning desire to save us.
Personal sin is the cause of so much evil and failure in our lives. In Lent, Jesus invites us, through the Church, to be made new, because we all need peace and hope – this we can offer to the world as Jesus’ followers. We cannot have life without suffering, or the Resurrection without the Cross. By turning to God and others and away from sin, our personal life is made new.
The first gift of the Risen Lord at His Resurrection was reconciliation and forgiveness when He said to His Apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit; those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22-3)
From these words, the beautiful Sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation/Confession) received its inspiration and genius. We encounter the Risen Lord through His priest in wonderful peace and forgiveness, enabling us to move on from our own weakness, to praise God and perform works of love towards others.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
Because the life of grace given in Baptism does not take away the weakness of human nature or the inclination to sin, on the evening of Easter, Jesus gave us this sacrament to bring us back to Him. It is a wonderful homecoming so we can go forward in hope. As we come to Confession, there are acts of the penitent, and absolution by the priest.
Acts of the Penitent
After a humble examination of conscience we come to contrition, which is perfect when motivated by the love of God, or imperfect because of other motives – it involves rejection of sin and a determination not to sin again.
We proceed then to confession of our sins to the priest. All grave sins must be confessed because they separate us greatly from God; venial sins confessed help us through self-conquest to grow in closeness to Christ and progress in the spiritual life.
Satisfaction is required because sin is harmful to others, and also to the sinner. Raised up from sin, the sinner recovers full spiritual health by doing something more to amend for sin. Normally the priest asks us to do some prayer or good work.
Absolution is given by the priest or bishop in the name of Jesus Christ. He determines the satisfaction to be made by the penitent, and prays with him. The penitent knows that the active mercy of God has brought him new life.
Lent is a special time of conversion to the Easter Lord of mercies in the midst of our sins. For the whole Church, whether through the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation or through prayer and fasting, we focus our attention on the Risen Jesus, suffering with Him, and through works of love we reach out to assist others, especially those in need. Donations to Project Compassion are most helpful.
From Darkness to Light
On Easter Night we pray in the Exsultet: “Night truly blessed when Heaven is wedded to earth and man is reconciled to God.” Jesus Christ is the Dawn which never sets. This Lent He invites us to turn from the darkness of sin and move into the light which will bring us peace and enable us to follow where He leads. Easter is the saving event of our faith: by prayer and action this Lent, He draws us forward on a journey strengthened by His love each day. As we look on Jesus may we know His love, and the light He brings for all eternity.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.