A Pastoral Letter for Lent 2009 from Archbishop Barry Hickey.
Lent is a privileged time of spiritual renewal and is part of our journey towards Easter. When we accompany Jesus from his long fast in the wilderness, through his confrontation with the religious leaders who opposed him, to his death on Calvary, we are ready to celebrate his resurrection at Easter.
The Holy Father calls this time of Lent “an itinerary of more intense spiritual training”.
This spiritual growth is made possible through self-discipline and prayer and attracts Christians to enter more fully into the Lenten spirit.
Let us then resolve to make significant adjustments to our daily life to allow the Holy Spirit to work within us and draw us closer to Christ our Redeemer in this time of Lent.
The spiritual benefits of Lent are many:
– a deeper spirit of prayer
– victory over sinful habits
– greater self discipline
– a deeper relationship with the Saviour
– a mind set on the things of God not our worldly comforts
– greater love for neighbour, especially the poor
– a better knowledge of Holy Scripture
Three Penitential Practices
Following the biblical tradition the Church calls us to pray, to fast and to give alms.
Let us during this Lent take time to pray. This will mean finding the time and making real adjustments to our daily routine. A family may well decide to come together regularly to read a passage from Holy Scripture, perhaps the readings of the Sundays of Lent. After a brief discussion spontaneous prayers could conclude the prayer time.
Individuals could do something similar, and join with others in the Lenten discussions or the penitential rites at Parish level to show solidarity with others.
Fasting from food is profoundly biblical.
Moses fasted before he received the Tablets of Stone from God.
Fasting was central to the celebration of many of the Jewish Feasts, even in the desert.
John the Baptist spent years of fasting and penance before announcing that the Messiah had come.
Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness before his saving mission began.
St Paul after his conversion fasted for three days before his baptism by Ananias in Damascus.
Fasting from food finds an echo in Genesis when Adam was forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. While there are many ascetic practices, and while life gives us personal crosses heavy enough to be truly penitential, avoidance of food has a certain traditional and biblical relevance. Fasting and self denial attack selfishness and exaggerated attachment to things. They also free us to grow in love of God and neighbour.
There can be no spiritual growth without a growth in love. Generosity to others, especially to the poor, the homeless and those burdened with grief, illness and anxiety helps us grow not only in the spirit of the Good Samaritan but in the spirit of Jesus himself who said “come to me all you who labour and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest”. (Mt 11:28)
Let us remember the admonition Jesus gave to the Pharisees who fasted to obey the law but whose hearts were far from God.
True fasting, said Jesus, is to do the Will of the Heavenly Father. Unless our fasting is based on a desire to follow Jesus faithfully it is an empty gesture.
In the early Church Lent was a time of intense preparation for catechumens. This has now been fully restored in the Church. Please pray for all those who are preparing for Baptism or full communion with the Church during Lent and welcome them with love at the Easter Vigil.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI had asked us to call on the Blessed Virgin Mary to help free our hearts from attachment to sin and listen to her Son, Jesus.
May we all, Bishops, Clergy, Religious and God’s Holy People journey together through Lent with faith and hope, to a glorious Easter.