Bishop Jarrett’s Lenten Letter

February 22, 2012 8:22 am

Ash Wednesday:
22 February 2012

Bishop’s House
P O Box 1
Lismore, NSW 2480

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Christ’s faithful, the Laity, Religious, and Clergy of the Diocese,

There’s just one important point to make about keeping a good Lent. Lent is about God’s call to me to be holy, as He is holy. If I am trying with God’s help to grow in holiness through this next six weeks, that’s all that matters.

I’ve been looking at the Lent prayers in the revised translation of the Missal to find some pointers about a good Lent. It’s an old adage – as the Church prays, so we believe. As we believe, so we practice.

Right at the beginning, in the first prayer of Ash Wednesday ‘we begin with holy
fasting this campaign of Christian service.’ The Church adopts military terminology, about getting into ‘battle against spiritual evils,’ ‘armed with the weapons of self restraint.’ We face a fight, a campaign that is going to demand effort. Everything depends on my decision now, an individual joining up with the army of the Church militant – to get into it, or to ignore the command, or even to run away.

The Mass Collects over the weeks of Lent give us direction and command. Here are some phrases drawn from the collects. (‘Collect’ is the proper word for the opening prayer.)

Fasting teaches us to hunger for Christ, the true and living Bread, and to grow in
understanding of the riches hidden in Him. We learn to yearn for God through the chastening effects of bodily discipline. We are to practice a holy restraint, purified by the sacred practice of penance, and so are drawn away from unruly desires. By pondering what is right and carrying it out, we are cleansed from the stain of our sins and obtain pardon for them. Then we can become dedicated to the true worship of God, eagerly progress in prayer and the works of charity, and virtue and its rewards can be richly bestowed upon us.

This is the path of holiness. Turning away from sin, making God the first love of
our life in prayer, worship, and the hidden works of charity towards our neighbour.

Two personal and interior practices, each rich in grace, come to mind as highly
recommended for Lent. Though personal, they are practices immersed in solidarity with the whole Church, all our brothers and sisters in Christ, and bring grace to all.

Firstly, not only Sunday Mass, but weekday Mass in Lent as often as can be
managed. You may be fortunate to live in a parish where the priest provides Mass each weekday at those times which enable workers, retirees and students to get to Mass at least sometimes during the week. Often confessions are heard before or after these weekday Masses, making it easier to get to this important Lenten sacrament as well.

Secondly, fasting and abstinence. For the whole history of Christianity, founded on Our Lord’s own teaching and practice, fasting by limiting the amount of food we eat and drink has been a universal spiritual practice of our faith. In such an affluent, indulgent and obese time as our own, fasting should have a particular significance bodily and spiritually. It is interesting to note the voluntary return of abstinence from meat as a fasting discipline on the Fridays not only of Lent but throughout the year.
Some Catholics never abandoned it. In England and Wales the bishops have brought about its return as a sign also of Catholic identity. Friday abstinence from meat reminds us each week of Christ’s Good Friday sacrifice, just as each Sunday dinner rejoices in His Resurrection. In the Christian East, Catholic and Orthodox, as Lent progresses the abstinence gets tougher, excluding also cheese and dairy products.

It’s hardly likely that any of us will ruin our health by fasting and abstinence, but it may help bring home to us what Christ our Lord himself endured when out of love for each of us he made the great sacrifice which took away our sin and death and achieved our salvation. Just appreciating and being grateful for what our Saviour has done for me is a great step on the way of personal holiness, and adds lustre to the holiness of the Church. When holiness becomes part of my being, there’s no limit to the goodness of my doing, nor on the reward pledged by my Father in heaven.

With my prayers and blessing for the Lenten weeks ahead to the great joy of
Easter, and please pray for me.

Yours devotedly in Christ,

+Geoffrey Jarrett

Bishop of Lismore