This coming Wednesday the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence. This day marks the beginning of Lent, a period of forty days meant to help us to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the most important mystery of our faith, the Paschal Mystery, the celebration of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The prophet Joel, in the first reading at Mass on Ash Wednesday, urges us to go back to God with all our heart, and St Paul, in the second reading taken from his second letter to the Corinthians, writes: Be reconciled to God. Lent is a call to review our relationship with God, and to renew that relationship.
The season of Lent is always a privileged moment in the Church’s liturgical year, when the People of God reflect prayerfully and serenely on their relationship with God, with the Church and with themselves. In her spiritual care for her children, the Church recommends to us the traditional penitential practices of prayer, fasting or self-denial and charity, or helping others through works of mercy. These are practices which help us grow in the life of grace and holiness. Lent is a time of grace and renewal, which touches the whole Church, our community, and every believer.
The forty days of Lent are meant to reflect the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, after being baptized by John the Baptist, preparing Himself by prayer and fasting before He started His public life, preaching the good news and healing those who were sick.
During the period of Lent, the Church encourages us to give an impetus to our life of prayer. Prayer is the lifting up of our mind and heart to God. We may pray in the silence of our room, in church, or wherever we find ourselves and turn out attention to God’s presence by reciting some prayer or just feel his presence. Both private and personal prayer and prayer together with the community are important. Daily mass during Lent is an excellent way of showing our willingness to get closer to God. Spending some time in silent personal prayer every day is also a profitable experience which helps us to communicate with God, giving Him the chance to speak to us. Praying the rosary and visits to the blessed sacrament are means of spiritual nourishment. The Stations of the Cross are held regularly in church during Lent, and this helps us to reflect on the suffering Jesus went through in his passion.
Lent is also a time when we are invited to practice voluntary self-denial, self-sacrifice, to train ourselves to be able to say no to the temptations that come to us daily. We willfully deny ourselves certain pleasures to show that we are masters and not slaves to our desires and passions. Fasting does not refer only to food, but it refers to abstaining from all that we may be doing to satisfy our passions but which are not doing us any good, like excessive drinking, smoking or the vice of watching pornography.
Apart from prayer and fasting, Lent is a time for charitable deeds. We are encouraged to help those in need, those who are suffering and those who in some way or other may need our company or time. We may try to give a helping hand to some charitable institution, visit people in hospital or those who are on their own in their old age. Any money which is saved due to acts of self denial may be donated to charitable institutions, thus showing our solidarity with those who are suffering.
Usually when we are comfortable and healthy, we forget about the problems of others, their sufferings and the injustices they face. It is easy to become indifferent in the face of the suffering of others. Pope Francis speaks about the globalization of indifference, when nations don’t seem to care about the plight of other nations. During Lent, we need to look around us and try to respond to the needs of others, to show that we care.
In our preparation for the Easter mystery, we reflect on God’s love for us, a love that led Him to give us His own Son for our Salvation, achieved through His suffering, death and resurrection. God’s love does not allow Him to be indifferent to what happens to us.
As His Church, we too must not show indifference. We must ask ourselves- what can we do to help when confronted with troubling images of human suffering?
For many years, we have seen, listened and read about the persecution against Christians that is going on in different countries. In our own times many Christians have been martyred because of their Christian faith, others tortured and persecuted, many were forced to leave their country or they had to flee their country due to terrorist attacks and war.
Keeping this in mind, as your Bishop it is my intention to invite all persons of good will in Gibraltar to show solidarity with those who are being persecuted because of their religious faith. I call on all, individually and as a community, to show our solidarity with those who are suffering because of their faith.
Aid to the Church in Need, (ACN) is an organization which has been working for many years to help those suffering persecution in various parts of the world. This organization has helped thousands in one way or another, alleviating the traumatic experiences suffered due to persecution and war. It is my wish that special attention is given to this organization during Lent and that as a community we help ACN to continue its mission.
“Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation of the Catholic Church, supporting the Catholic faithful and other Christians where they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. Each year they fund around 5,000 projects in more than 130 countries around the world, helping to support the Church in its mission, and bringing hope and solidarity to millions of people” (http://www.acnuk.org).
I encourage all that this Lent, through our spirit of self-sacrifice, which is so important if we are to take Lent seriously, the resulting savings and personal contributions will be your help to this organization. Hopefully many in Gibraltar will cooperate with this initiative. A delegate from this organization has been invited to Gibraltar to explain the charitable work done by ACN. The Church in Gibraltar will commit itself to fund a project through its contributions which will be assigned to us by ACN.
Lent is a favourable time to show this concern for others, by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family. Lent is also a favourable time to start anew, to renew our relationship with God. All are invited to come back to their Father, whatever their situation and their history.
Through the prayers of Mary, our Mother, who placed herself at the service of those in need, may we show the same generosity which she showed in submitting her will to that of God.
With an assurance of my prayers and blessing for you all,