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Archbishop's Lenten Message

12 Feb 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Wednesday, February 13, marks the beginning of Lent with the annual celebration of Ash Wednesday. If we are able to come to Mass on that day our foreheads will be marked with ashes as a sign of repentance, and the priest or minister who administers the ashes will either remind us that “we are dust, and to dust we will return” or call us to “repent, and believe in the Gospel”.
In his Lenten message for 2013 Pope Benedict reflects on this theme of believing and reminds us of the close relationship between faith (believing) and charity. This is an important part of our lives as Catholics and I would like to invite all of us to reflect on this relationship between faith and love as we begin our Lenten journey, travelling the road of obedience and suffering with Jesus as he takes his final journey to Jerusalem, to Calvary and to the new life of Easter.
When I was a little boy it was the common practice that we give up lollies and chocolates during Lent as a way of “doing penance” and preparing ourselves for the great feast of Easter. As I grew older I came to realize, as we all must, that Lent is about more than simply “giving up things”. It is about prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is, in other words, about our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others.
In prayer we are invited, especially in this Year of Grace, to gaze more closely on the face of Christ, so that we might come to know him more fully, and in knowing him come to love him more deeply, and in loving him serve him more faithfully as his disciples.
In fasting, whether that be from food and drink, from laziness and self-indulgence, from self-centredness or from anything else that holds us back from God, we are seeking to re-orient our lives so that we re-establish the right priorities. In fasting, in fact, we are seeking to respond to the reminder the Lord gives us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). Lent is a time for asking what it is we really treasure and seeking the Lord’s help to see and judge things as he does.
Lastly, in almsgiving, we are trying to open ourselves to the power of God’s Holy Spirit who will always inspire and empower us to live lives of active care and concern for others. In reaching out to others in need we learn what it means to have generous hearts and to have in us “the same mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5) who “did not come to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
For a Christian, almsgiving (charity) will always be intimately linked with believing (faith). In his Lenten Message for 2013 Pope Benedict explains that faith is a question of a “personal adherence – which involves all our faculties – to the revelation of God’s gratuitous and ‘passionate’ love for us, fully revealed in Jesus Christ”. Faith is born of an encounter with God and it is this encounter, if we allow God’s Spirit to nourish it and deepen it within us, which leads us to commit ourselves in trust to God who has revealed himself to us in Christ and who continues to encounter us in the life and teachings of his Church. But the Pope goes on to explain that a genuine encounter with God in Christ “awakens (our) love and opens (our) spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for (us) a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from (our) faith, a faith which becomes active through love. Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love ….. they are profoundly open to loving their neighbour in concrete ways.”
As we travel the road to Jerusalem with Jesus this Lent I invite all of us to reflect on, and if necessary be challenged by, the words we find in the First Letter of St John:
Anyone who says “I love God” and hates his brother or sister is a liar, since a person who does not love the brother or sister he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen. So this is the commandment that God has given us, that anyone who loves God must also love his brother or sister (1 John 4: 20-21).
Through our contemplation of the face of the suffering Christ this Lent, and through our works of penance and almsgiving, may we all discover where our true treasure lies and recognize the same Christ in the faces of our needy brothers and sisters.
Most Rev Timothy Costelloe
Archbishop of Perth