Archbishop
Peter's
Pastoral
Letter
for the
First
Sunday
of
Lent

2011

 


'Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness ...
he fasted for forty days
and forty nights ...'

Matthew 4:1,2



Printer-friendly copy
of this pastoral letter


 

'Lent is essentially an opportunity to be reborn
and grow still more in the life of the Spirit.'

To be read or made available
for the First Sunday of Lent
13th March 2011

St Lawrence, Deacon, giving alms (c 1449)
Fra Angelico (Blessed Fra Giovanni Angelico of Fiesole)
Fresco in the Cappella Niccolina in the Vatican
 


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On Ash Wednesday, as we began the season of Lent we might have been forgiven for feeling a little dispirited and despondent at the prospect of six weeks of penance to come! The weather doesn’t help either! It has been a long, bitter winter and we wonder if the spring will ever come to give us all a much needed boost. Then hearing the news on the radio, reading it in newspapers or watching it on the television does nothing to lighten our mood either. There is anxiety about the Government cutbacks, the loss of jobs, services and benefits, and a lingering fear that things will get worse before they get better. The events in the Middle East, the slaughter of ordinary citizens who want justice and freedom to live their lives in peace, touch us deeply and we wonder where it will all end. For the pessimist or the cynic looking out on the world, there is much to be disheartened about. So why do we have to take on six weeks of penance and self-denial? Haven’t we got enough to contend with already, without having salt rubbed into the wound?

At a personal level, most, if not all of us, at some time in our lives have felt hurt and rejected, unloved and hopeless, and sometimes angry at injustices, real or imagined. These might lead us to reflect on the woundedness of our world and of our human nature, on the mystery of suffering and evil. As we look into our own hearts and at our society and world, we are reminded of the consequences of sin in ourselves and in our world – injustice, violence, poverty and homelessness, bitterness and resentment, and sometime despair and lack of hope.

Then the winter and the external troubles of the world in which we live seem to invade our hearts and chill 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 mourn for the lost times when our faith was strong and gave 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. Despite appearances, the winter does eventually come to an end in the glorious new life which blossoms in the spring. At a deeper level, the mystery of suffering and death leads to the glory of the resurrection and eternal life. The Risen Christ is our Light and our Hope. And the great paradox of the Gospel is that it is through suffering and death that we enter into new and eternal life. Jesus Christ invites each one of us to follow willingly and generously in his footsteps, because he is the light that no darkness can ever overcome. Each day we are invited to die a little more to the sin and selfishness which marks 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.

In order to do that, Jesus tells us, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.” The constant temptation is to turn in on ourselves, give way to selfishness, to fear and anxiety, to become pessimistic and cynical. The temptation is to try and take a short cut to happiness and contentment, to reject the poverty of our human condition and try to find security and fulfilment in material comfort and the many pleasures offered by this world. The temptation is to think only of ourselves and our own desires; to close ourselves off from the suffering around us and ignore the poverty and need of those worse off than ourselves. And here I speak not only of material poverty, but emotional, spiritual and mental poverty.

The antidote to these temptations is to be found in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer, personal and liturgical, takes us out of ourselves and places us firmly in the hands of God. Fasting teaches us to exercise self-control and helps us grow in compassion for the suffering of our world. Both of these lead us to be generous with the gifts God has lavished upon us and give of our bounty to those who struggle each day with grinding poverty and need. Taken together, these traditional Lenten exercises help us to grow as persons, to grow as disciples of Christ and to bring relief and hope to those who represent the suffering Christ in our own times.

Lent is essentially an opportunity to be reborn and grow still more in the life of the Spirit. It is a task which requires courage and effort. We are asked to open our hearts each day to receive once again the gift of God’s love and mercy, and allow him to renew our lives in the image of Jesus his Son. It is a time for each of us to learn to appreciate once again, especially in our prayer and our reflection on the Scriptures, the unconditional love and compassion which God our Father offers us every day of our lives, particularly the gift of the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation. And in experiencing that love and forgiveness, God asks us in gratitude to share that gift with others.

During Lent much is left to our own individual judgement and spirit of generosity so each of us needs to ask our heavenly Father: “What would you have me do?” And we might reflect on the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel:
“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?
And the King will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly,
in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’” [Matt. 26:37-40]

With an assurance of my prayers and good wishes,



Archbishop of Southwark

Given at Southwark,
1st March 2011,
The Feast of St David, bishop and patron of Wales