Pastoral Letter for Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
When Pope John Paul II visited the United Kingdom in 1982 he spoke to a large gathering of young people in Ninian Park, Cardiff. Some of you may have been there. The Pope said to the young people, when I return to Rome I hope you will remember the reason why I came. I came to Britain to call you to Christ, to invite you to pray.
Next Wednesday as we begin the season of Lent, that call to Christ and invitation to prayer are words that we can all take to heart. With the blessing and distribution of ashes we hear the words; Repent and believe in the Gospel. We are called to turn towards God and believe in Jesus, the Son sent by the Father who is the Good News from God.
Prayer is not an escapism from life but a way to broaden the horizons of our minds and hearts. It is to understand our mission more fully. To quote Pope John Paul II again in Ninian Park: Through contact with Jesus in prayer, you gain a sense of mission that nothing can dull. Your Christian identity is reaffirmed and the meaning of your lives is forever linked to Christ’s saving mission. Through prayer your Baptism and Confirmation take on an urgency for you. You realise that you are called to spread Christ’s message of salvation. In union with Jesus, in prayer, you will discover more fully the needs of your brothers and sisters. You will appreciate more keenly the pain and suffering that burden the hearts of countless people.
Lent is also a time for fasting and charitable giving so that we may be aware of the needs of others, especially those who are hungry, homeless, refugees, victims of trafficking and victims of war prejudice and violence. Lent is a time for reconciliation, truth and justice. It is a time for healing. This is especially needed as we become more conscious of the deep hurt that has been suffered by those who have been abused and their lives seriously damaged. They are innocent victims of a great sin. They have suffered a great injustice, especially when this sin has been concealed by those in authority.
St Teresa of Avila said, Prayer in my opinion is nothing else than the close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.
Prayer is a conversation with God, a time to speak, a time to listen. The conversation is initiated by God. Prayer is our response to that invitation. The conversation begun by God is made visible in Jesus whom we listen to this year through the evangelist St Luke. On the mount of Transfiguration, we hear the Father proclaim: This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him. During this Lent in your daily prayer read and reflect upon the Sunday Gospels and follow Christ through his life and death to the resurrection.
Often our lives are very busy. We want to pray but cannot find the time to pray. If prayer is important then if we cannot find the time we must make the time. Even on a busy day we could pray the Our Father at the beginning of the day, during the day and at the end of the day. This is the prayer taught by Jesus. To pray the Our Father faithfully and slowly is to become more like Jesus in his prayer.
Above all, it is in the celebration of the Liturgy that we encounter Christ and become more like him. It is in the Mass and other Sacraments that we recognise the presence of Christ with us. It is in the celebration of the Liturgy that we participate in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. We are united to the Mission of God as is made present in Jesus. The Liturgy is the prayer of the Church – the response of the Church to the conversation initiated by God who so loves our world that he gives us his only Son. Our Liturgies need to be prayerful encounters with Christ to enable us to enter into the dynamic of God’s love for the whole of creation.
This Sunday Jesus talks about good fruit and rotten fruit. The fruit we produce comes from the heart. On Ash Wednesday we will hear the call of God through the prophet Joel: Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning. Let your hearts be broken not your garments torn. We will also pray with the psalmist: A pure heart create for me O God for a steadfast spirit within me.
I wish you a prayerful and happy Lent so that together we can proclaim on Easter Sunday: we have seen the Lord.
With my best wishes and prayers
Rt Rev Declan Lang
Bishop of Clifton
To be read and made available in all
Churches and Chapels in the Clifton Diocese
on the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary time, 2/3 March 2019.
This pastoral letter is also available from the diocesan website: cliftondiocese.com