Texts, speeches, homilies
12 February 2018
Pastoral Letters and Messages from Catholic Bishops
At significant times in the liturgical year, our bishops issue pastoral letters. Here are extracts with links to the original
Fasting and abstinence have nothing to do with hating or despising the world and its material goods. Neither are they ways of punishing ourselves. Fasting is one way in which we deepen our awareness of God. By denying ourselves food or a luxury (the sweets, the cigarettes, the alcohol) what else do we do except say "I do not depend on these things". It enables us to step back from the usual habits and distractions and give particular attention to God. An outward restraint can be a sign and symbol of an inner attention, and a help towards it. This is a meaning of the great symbol of ashes given on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This is also the Prayer which lies at the heart of Lent. Reminding ourselves to give time to God so that God may speak to us in the silence of our heart.
In the course of the coming week, the season of Lent begins. It is a time for renewal for each one of us, a time to draw closer to the Lord so that he may pick us up and set us again on his pathway to the fullness of life. The steps we are invited to take during Lent include the three traditional Lenten practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We are to make these practices a more constant part of our life and behaviour throughout these next five and a half weeks. Through daily prayer we open our hearts to the Lord; through fasting, or self-denial, we quieten the clamour within us for self-indulgence; in almsgiving we have a means of reaching out to those in need, giving expression to our compassion for them.
Today I want to encourage you to make almsgiving a consistent part of your observance of Lent. Please consider what you can do to contribute, week by week, to the appeals that will be made, for good work both overseas and at home. In these considerations, I ask you to give a place to the appeal that I make: the Cardinal’s Lenten Appeal. Leaflets will be available next week that explain this in more detail. Do take one and consider the invitation it contains.
Simply put, the Cardinal’s Lenten Appeal enables me to offer funding to new programmes of outreach across the diocese that address some of today’s more pressing problems here at home. In the last year, the generosity of many people to the Cardinal’s Appeal has enabled us to create a new programme of support for prisoners, especially young prisoners; it is helping us to establish a social enterprise initiative to create employment and training opportunities for some of the most marginalised people in our community; it is helping to expand Catholic marriage counselling programmes, as there is nowhere quite as lonely as a deeply unhappy marriage. These are some examples of the work that the Appeal supports in its key areas of social outreach, young people and marriage and family life.
Any Catholic parish, school, charity or organisation is invited to apply to the Cardinal’s Appeal for a grant in support a project that is innovative and effective in touching the lives of those in need in these three areas. It is, therefore, open to you.
Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday when we begin the Season of Lent, and the readings at Mass will speak to us of the need for prayer, of fasting, and almsgiving. We might be forgiven for feeling a little dispirited and despondent at the prospect: first a day of fasting and abstinence, and then six weeks of penance to come! With that thought in mind I am looking out at the sleet and rain drifting down in the bitter north-easterly wind, and I’m sure that you, like me, long for the first signs of Spring. We are still in the grip of a rather bitter winter, and there remains an undeniable atmosphere of gloom in the world outside my study window – a gloom reflected not only in the weather but in the daily news bulletins which seem to be filled with “bad news” of wars and civil disturbance, drought and poverty in Africa and other parts of the world, the constant threat of terrorism, the upsurge in refugees fleeing their war-stricken homelands and the flourishing of human trafficking – the list could go on and on! Sometimes the darkness and gloom of winter is not simply something outside us, but seems to have invaded our very hearts and chills the very depths of our being. We can go through periods when our faith seems to suffer such a “winter”, a winter which seems so prolonged as to appear endless. In especially dark times we may even feel that we have lost our faith altogether. We can become anxious and fearful; beginning to think that we are being tested beyond our strength and endurance, or even that God has finally given up on us and abandoned us. Then we weep and mourn for the lost times when our faith was strong giving us the power to bear the stormy blasts which assailed us in times past and which came so unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. But the message of Lent is a message of hope and trust in the person of Jesus, our Saviour and redeemer, who says to each one of us, “I am with you until the end of time.” Despite appearances, the winter does eventually come to an end in the glorious new life which blossoms in the Springtime of God’s infinite love and compassion. The Risen Christ is our Light and our Hope. Jesus, our Saviour invites each one of us to follow willingly and generously in his footsteps, and to be led by that light which no darkness can ever overcome. Each day we are invited to die a little more to the sin and selfishness which wounds the life of each one of us, and to grow in the light and love of Jesus Christ. We are invited to enter willingly and generously the narrow gate of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, for that is the way to die to the false self within us and grow into new people formed ever more deeply in the image and likeness of God.
It is our Catholic faith that “Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and that the Sacrifice of Christ, made once on the Cross, is truly made present and its grace applied in the Sacrifice of the Altar. This, the Church’s Catechism explains, is “manifested in the very words of institution ‘This is my Body given for you’ and ‘This chalice which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my Blood’”.
Yet, we might ask ourselves whether we have allowed the Mass to become reduced in our minds to merely a communal meal and celebration rather than the paschal banquet, the supper of the Lamb of God sacrificed for us? Have we thereby allowed new generations to become bored and uninterested in the Mass, by not allowing them to glimpse the awesome reality of this Sacrifice and Sacrament? Might we also fail to appreciate why the Second Vatican Council taught so clearly that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the source and summit of the whole Christian life because in every Mass the central event of salvation becomes really present and the work of redemption is carried out.
As Saint John Paul II explained in his last letter to the Church, “This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it … What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes ‘to the end’, a love which knows no measure”. How, then, could our hearts ever remain unmoved by this love beyond all others? At the Altar, we learn love and sacrifice not only by imitation, but we receive the grace and power to live sacrificial lives in the service of Christ and one another in all of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we find the grace and power to live every Christian vocation which leads us to make before the Altar the promises of marriage, of ordination or of the consecrated life.
We shall soon celebrate this great mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection in Holy Week. But first, as we enter the holy season of Lent, we are given the opportunity to prepare for this mystery.
Lent is a time when we are asked to do three things in particular a little better: prayer, fasting, giving alms. I am sure you will hear more from your priest how you can be helped to do this in your parish.
Whatever we do for Lent, remember to show the same love and compassion to those on the margins of society that Jesus shows for the leper in today’s Gospel and for us as he offers himself for us on the Cross. It is important that we are merciful just as God has been merciful to us.
I hope you will particularly remember to help the two Diocesan supported Lenten charities – Aid to the Church in Need in their work of helping Christians to rebuild their lives and communities in Syria and Iraq, and Don’t Screen Us Out which supports families of children with Down’s Syndrome.
Lent is also a good time to remember those people that you may have put on the margins of your life and need your attention and compassion.
There is a fourth thing to put on that list of three. I encourage you all to make a resolution to go to the sacrament of Confession this Lent. Confession is a bringing of our spiritual leprosy to the Lord, who is both our Sacrifice and our great High Priest.
In this Sacrament, he accepts us and loves us, he forgives us and heals us, he pronounces us clean as it were, and reintegrates us into the life of his Church. No sin is too great for his mercy. No infection of our soul is too far developed for his compassionate and expert hands to heal. Let us come to him during these weeks of preparation and say to him: Lord, if you want to you can cure me! And we will hear him say to us: of course I want to! Be cured!
As the shortage of priests is increasingly felt across the diocese, the role of deacons in parishes is becoming more important. In these challenging times, the role of the deacon is to help people to exercise their baptismal calling, and not to take over roles already undertaken by lay people. The deacon's role will always remain one of service: service both to the congregations who worship in our churches and service to those who find themselves outside our parishes and, possibly, on the margins of life. That is why, in addition to their ministry in parishes, our deacons also work in food banks, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, schools, sea ports, refugee groups and shelters for the homeless. In short, wherever the saving message of the Gospel needs to be taken, there is an opportunity for the deacon to live out his ministry. Over the coming months our deacons will be visiting parishes across the diocese, giving an insight into their ministry and how they live out their vocation: a vocation that is rooted in that calling of Christ to serve – the Christ who in our Gospel today called those first Apostles to help him in his ministry, and who, in turn, ordained those first seven deacons to help them in that saving work. Our deacons are supported by the grace they received in their Ordination, by the love of their families, and by the prayers and encouragement of parishioners. I ask you today to join me in giving thanks for their witness and sacrifice. I also ask you also to pray for them, that the Lord will help them to truly live their vocation, a vocation that is nothing less than sharing in the ministry of Jesus Christ as Servant.
Every July, the Liverpool Archdiocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes takes place. It is a rich experience of faith where over 1,300 pilgrims, sick and healthy, priests and people, travel together to seek Jesus through the intercession of Mary. We are especially blessed to have with us over 500 of our young people who willingly travel overland to help our assisted pilgrims. Those who are sick or need assistance take pride of place at the heart of our week together. Without your support and generosity of service, they would not be able to experience a pilgrimage. In order to sustain our pilgrimage into the future we need you, the people in our parishes, to join us in giving of your time to serve the needs of our sick and assisted pilgrims. Our service of those who are frail is a powerful ministry and an 'act of faith' which not only enables them to experience Lourdes but also enables us to follow the Lord by reaching out to those for whom he has a special care. There is no doubt that those who make the personal sacrifice of making the pilgrimage will gain more than they give. Pilgrims return year after year because the spiritual gifts they receive at Lourdes help them throughout the year ahead.
Many of our faithful helpers have now had to step back from active participation as the years pass, and we urgently need more people to join our healthcare team, Hospitalité, music group, St Bernadette team and youth pilgrims if we are to continue to enable our pilgrimage to be a source of refreshment and renewal for us all. This weekend, every parish, secondary school, nursing home, hospital and hospice will receive this message with a leaflet giving more information about the various sections of our pilgrimage and their roles. We hope that you will take these away with you, read them and seriously consider becoming a part of our pilgrimage family – using the information provided to contact us as soon as possible. We need you and what you have to offer, to bring new life to all our teams. Our sick and assisted pilgrims need you so that they can continue to be pilgrims to this shrine which has provided so much healing for many years. We are 'One Archdiocese' and this 'One Pilgrimage' in the year brings our family together.
Pic 1: Lourdes Mass in Westminster Cathedral with Sacrament anointing of the Sick © Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk
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