LENT MESSAGE FROM PRESIDENT OF THE CANADIAN CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS.
Welcome to Lent 2015! What a privilege it is for us to experience another “Season of Grace,” a time given to us by God to draw us closer to him. At the beginning of Lent , our forty days of seeking the face of God, the church sets before us Jesus’ reflections on the three great cardinal works of the Spiritual life: prayer, fasting and almsgiving
As we try to strengthen our prayer life during this lent, let us allow Jesus to be the centre of our focus. We encounter him in the Scriptures and in contemplation. The point of prayer is that it is addressed to the Father and Jesus gives the test of true prayer : that it is an activity that goes on in the secret places of our lives, when the audience are all gone home, when our doors are closed, and when our hearts are open to the Father who loves us. During this Lent, let us seek out the sacrament of penance and allow ourselves to be wrapped by God’s compassion and forgiveness. Jesus offers us the gift of his friendship. Let us not turn away because we are busy.
Like Prayer Fasting was an important part of the Spiritual tradition and was a sign of repentance and making sacrifices. What are we to fast from? St John Chrysostom wrote; “I tell you it is possible to fast while not fasting. Is this a riddle? By enjoying food while having no taste for sin. There is a better kind of fasting.” We are first obliged to fast from sin. There is no point in missing dinner and spending the evening demolishing our neighbour. We must starve our sins before we starve our stomachs, and that will keep fasting linked to repentance. We know that words can give expression to what lies deepest in our hearts, but we also know that words can disguise the truth. Our actions of sacrifice, and our giving up of some of the things we enjoy, can put flesh on the bones of our words so as to show the Lord that we are sincere in our desire to be his disciples.
If we practice these things, then the words of St Paul-“I no longer live for it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) will be fully realised in us. What can we give? We should share the most precious gifts we have received: love, compassion, understanding and forgiveness. That is what forgiveness is for – it is giving. “With all his giving, he never gives himself.” We are asked to give ourselves, and in that we have a marvelous example of Jesus. He gave generously of himself: he was at great pains to share with others his time, his energy, and his many gifts. In the end he gave himself away and shares with us his body and blood.
So the Church asks us during this Lenten time to renew our own lives in the great spiritual works of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Let us turn to him, “come back to me” Joel 2:12. The picture of God we get from this is that of a God who is following his chosen people even to the very “brink of the falls,” so to speak, it doesn’t have to be this way! “Please come back into my arms where you belong.”
Before speaking on any of the three, Jesus first gives an opening warning about practicing piety in order to be seen by people, about being publicly pious while keeping a wandering eye alert on audience reaction. Jesus is against people using religion to direct attention to themselves.
+ Paul- Andre DurocherArchbishop of GatineauPresident of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops