Dear Beloved in Christ,
For practically a whole year, the words most used have been pandemic, self-isolation, Covid-19, Coronavirus and unfortunately death due to Covid-19. All these terms have become familiar to us, and they are all connected to the threat to life that the virus going round all over the world poses. Due to this pandemic, all of us have lost persons we loved or were close to.
Last year the public celebration of Easter was not possible, and we don’t know as yet how the celebration of the Easter Triduum this year will be celebrated due to the uncertainties that the pandemic raises.
During this Lent, whatever the situation the pandemic confronts us with, certain truths about Lent are good to remember and put into practice. The elements that make Lent relevant are prayer, conversion, sacrifice and charity which includes almsgiving. The restrictions that we have to follow may even be a help to reflect more about what is really important in our life and give more attention to these realities. This Lent gives us the opportunity of reflecting about our priorities in life, and whether these priorities are in the order they should be.
When Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit after his baptism in the Jordan into the wilderness, he was in self-isolation. There he had time, forty days, to prepare himself for his public ministry and to realise what his mission was really about. He was faced with the challenges or temptations that we all face due to our fallen nature. He did battle with the devil, and he overcame the temptations regarding self-indulgence, self-glory and seeking power. He was able to overcome these temptations because he spent his time in the desert praying and fasting. After forty days in the desert, he went out to start his public ministry and his first proclamation was “The hour has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News” (Mk 1, 15).
The Lord commissioned the Church to continue to spread this original message. The call to repentance and conversion is always relevant and urgent. The command to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News is the treasure that is entrusted to the Church (cf. Mk 16, 15). What is the good news? The Good News is Christ himself, his presence in the Church. “I am with you always, till the end of the age” (Mt. 28, 20). This presence is very actual in the sacrifice of the Mass, which actualises the salvation and redemption that were achieved by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and his overpowering of death by his Resurrection.
Jesus was not always active amongst the crowds who were hungry for his words and his miracles. He found time to be alone with his Father in intimate prayer. During Lent, in a special way, we are reminded about the importance of personal prayer, which is at the heart of every Christian’s life. We are urged to find ways to be alone with the Father. The Season of Lent has always been a call to spend time with the Father in personal prayer.
Although our faith tells us that God is love, that He is always anxious to receive us back into his arms when we make up our mind to return to him, as we learn in the parable of the prodigal son, it is always possible that we will turn our back to God. We are unfortunately often influenced by a society which looks on life and on the world as all that we have to enjoy now. Many seek to experience heaven here and now, and the new sainthood is achieving celebrity and experiencing as much pleasure as we can in the present.
Christ took upon himself the weight of all our sins, and through his passion and sacrificial death he, so to speak, paid for all our sins. This is what we mean by redemption. But sin did not end with our redemption, and it is still very much alive around us, and this reality will continue till the end of time. But Christ never turned his back on the sinner. He will never turn his back to us, however much we may feel in despair or burdened with guilt.
The call to repentance is also a call to conversion. It is not sufficient to say I am sorry, but one has to change direction. The danger is that we may consider ourselves as not in need of any conversion because, although we realise we have faults, we don’t consider them as serious enough as to make any effort to overcome such defects or failures.
When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest, he answered that the first and greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength, and that the second most important commandment was to love one’s neighbour as oneself (cf. Mt 22, 36-40). In its essence, love means willing what is good for the other and then to act on that desire. Real love is to escape from the natural inclination to be egoists, and to embrace the good of the other for the sake of the other.
In previous Lents we suggested that any charitable donations may go to Aid to the Church in Need. You are obviously free to choose which charity you would like to make your contributions to this Lent as a consequence of your self-denial, but I would like to encourage you to remember to include Aid to the Church in Need also this year. This Charity is dedicated to help Christians who are suffering persecution and who are also caught up in countries where there are conflicts which make life extremely difficult.
May Mary, the Mother of our Saviour and our mother, walk closely with each of us this Lent, to bring us and those we pray for safe into celebrating in faith the Resurrection.
With my good wishes and prayers,
Bishop of Gibraltar