Reject sin; profess your faith in Christ Jesus
(Rite of Baptism)
(Rite of Baptism)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
For the last two years, we have experienced a pandemic which led to many restrictions and much suffering. Now we seem to be getting slowly back to normal, and we thank God for this. We all prayed that God may help us in this pandemic and sought the help and protection of Our Lady of Europe in these difficult times. We all remember the figure of Pope Francis, on a rainy night, all by himself in an empty St Peter’s square, praying for an end to this pandemic. In a way that picture of loneliness and suffering was an echo of the experience of many of us.
The season of Lent is upon us once more, a season which coincides with springtime and the rebirth of nature and new life which we see all around us. The Church also desires that each of us grow spiritually and experience a reawakening of our relationship with God during the forty days of Lent, which culminate at Easter with the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.
From ancient times, Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord, has always been considered the jewel of the Church year. The setting upon which this jewel is placed is Lent–the time of preparation for Easter. Every significant event in our lives is more often than not preceded by a time of preparation. The more significant the event is, the more serious the preparation. Lent is likened to a pilgrimage. As a pilgrimage, the journey itself provides the preparation for the arrival. You could say the same about our earthly life: the journey is the preparation for the arrival – Eternity.
We enter the season of Lent with the hope that God’s grace may touch us and the determination to engage seriously in the work of moral and spiritual renewal. We do this so that we may live our Christian faith with integrity and celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ with true joy. Grace is like a spring of fresh running water which never runs dry. Grace flows even more abundantly in this Holy Season. Let us try to be imbued by that grace so that our sins may be forgiven, and we are refreshed in mind and spirit.
St. Leo the Great wrote: “What the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the Apostles may be fulfilled not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin.” The great challenge in Lent is to address sin in our lives. It is more beneficial in this respect to have a focused approach. We focus on that sin which is troubling us most, so that this personal sin is weakened or even eliminated.
Such a sin is a sin that we just can’t seem to get rid of or perhaps don’t really want to renounce. It may be a constant habit of criticizing or judging others, a refusal to reconcile with someone, a prejudice against a particular class of people, a tendency to lie to get our way, a sin of impurity or other form of self-indulgence. We first must desire to be rid of this particular sin. We need an honest talk with ourselves: do we want to do God’s will or not? Then we must admit that we have not been able by our own efforts to overcome that sin. In the gospel of St John, 8,34, Jesus tells the unbelieving Pharisees, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
The Sacrament of Reconciliation has great value in our effort to overcome sin, for it not only forgives sin but, if received sincerely, it keeps us from hardening in sin. Some sins, like wounds that require frequent applications of a soothing cream, need frequent confession, each confession and absolution weakening the hold of that sin on us.
The call to do penance is an ever-present invitation in Scripture. Lent invites us to an inner change of heart; a turning to God; a rejection of all that is evil; an opportunity for us to walk in a new direction. In the Gospel passage proclaimed on Ash Wednesday we are reminded that the traditional works of penance are fasting, almsgiving and prayer. St Peter Chrysologus see these three as being inseparably linked when he writes: ‘what prayer knocks for on a door, fasting successfully begs and mercy receives.’ (Sermon 43)
The traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving serve us well in overcoming personal sin. Prayer to an unbeliever seems to be a waste of time, but to us who believe in the living God, it is a daily lifeline that connects us with the One who created, redeemed and loves us. Traditional prayers are valuable for their simplicity and depth. God will listen to our own words as well and, in some fashion – by an inspiration He gives us, by a Scripture passage we hear or read, by a remark made by a friend, by something that happens – God will respond to us. The important thing is to give Him the time and opportunity to communicate with Him and that is what prayer does.
Fasting, whether from food or from a form of entertainment or from buying something we really don’t need, is like a silent prayer that cries out to God, saying we recognize our need for Him above all else. We hunger more for His Word than for bread. Almsgiving helps, too, for Scripture says: As water quenches a flaming fire, so alms atone for sins [Sirach 3:29]. Any kind of good work is a form of almsgiving. Good works take us out of ourselves and strike a blow at the self-centeredness that is at the heart of all sin. St. Leo the Great said, “What we save by fasting we give to feed the poor,” so fasting leads to actions that help others.
It is my wish that the charitable donations which you contribute because of your self-denial this year will go partly to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) which helps persecuted Christians throughout the world, and partly to Fr Augustine, who is now working among the poor in Honduras.
Let us pray to Our Father that through the intercession of Our Lady of Europe, our Patroness, we may be able to overcome the difficulties that we may have to face in the future, by being strong in our Faith. God will never forget us, because He loves us.
With much affection and every blessing,
Bishop of Gibraltar
Bishop Zammit has issued the traditional
Advent Pastoral Letter
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We have entered the Holy Season of Advent.
What is Advent? The simple answer to this question is that Advent is a period of four weeks in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and also of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. It is our spiritual journey to celebrate Christmas. But if we do not know what Christmas is we will fail to know what Advent is for.
In the readings of the Mass on this First Sunday of Advent, we find Jesus referring to the end of the world and the Last Judgement, when Christ will come in glory. Jesus exhorts us to be ready and to hold our heads high, because our redemption is at hand.
It may seem strange that at the beginning of our preparation for Christmas, the message is centred on the end of the world and the coming of Christ in glory. This is the second coming of Jesus, and the church tells us that as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, we are really preparing for the meeting we will eventually have with the Lord when our time comes to give an account of our life. Christmas is not just a memory of the day when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but it is also a reminder that there will be, so to say, another coming of Jesus, another final encounter with him, for which we are constantly preparing, but around Christmas this preparation is put more into focus.
Advent is the beginning of a new Liturgical Year in the Church. In a way we continue our journey but at the same time we renew and give more impetus to our preparation to welcome Christ in our lives as he is always knocking on our door. As we read in the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3, 20).
How do we prepare for Christmas? For many the reaction to this question will be buying presents, preparing shopping lists for when family gathers to celebrate. There is nothing wrong in the material preparations for Christmas, but if the spiritual preparation is missing then it is a half-baked preparation and the whole point of Christmas is lost.
This four-week preparation invites us to reflect on how much God has loved us, in sending His own Son to be born to show us the face of God and to save us through his death and resurrection from sin and assuring us of eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn 2, 16).
While reflecting on God’s love for us, we are invited to respond to God’s love, and Christ tells us how this response should be. “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34). Loving our neighbour is the measure of our love of God. As James tells us in his letter, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”. (James 2, 17). Jesus himself tells us what it means to love one another, when he describes the last judgement. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and … “ (cf. Mt 25, 35-40). Pope Francis is all the time reminding us of our duties as Christians and as members of the family of humankind, to remember the poor, the homeless, the underprivileged, the refugees, those suffering from disasters whether natural or created by wars and persecutions. God did not close his eyes to our needs, and we are called to open our eyes to the needs of others and be ready to help according to our means and circumstances.
In the last two years, due to the pandemic which unfortunately is still with us, so much has changed, and we have changed. Nobody and no institution can boast of not having been affected by the pandemic. We all suffered and are suffering in some way or other, whether financially, emotionally, psychologically, and physically.
We are living in uncertain times. In these times the best in us has come out, trying to help those who needed our help and support. We are not out of the woods yet, and we pray that we may see the end of the tunnel in the near future.
What has not changed despite the difficult times we have and are experiencing is the message of Advent. That message tells us of God’s love for us and of our need for that saving love. Our whole life is our Advent, during which time we prepare ourselves for the moment when we enter fully into the life of God. This Advent may something more of Christ enter us.
With the assurance of my prayers and a blessing on you all.
Given on the 24th November 2021, feast of Saints Andrew-Luc and his Companions, Martyrs.
Bishop of Gibraltar
PASTORAL LETTER BY THE BISHOP OF GIBRALTAR
A Church that journeys together
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The whole Catholic Church has been called by Pope Francis to participate in the forthcoming Synod, beginning this October in the Local Churches and eventually culminating in a General Synod in October 2023.
The title of the 2023 Synod of Bishops is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.” For the first time, the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops in Rome has produced a comprehensive process which encompasses the stated aim of the Holy Father that the Church in today’s world should have a vision of missionary communion orientated to evangelisation.
In this way the whole Church is being encouraged to contribute towards the next Synod of Bishops. The beginning of this Synod takes place on the 9-10 October this year, when the Pope will pray and celebrate Mass from the Vatican. The following Sunday, the 17th October, we will celebrate the beginning of this Synod on Synodality in our Diocese by celebrating Mass at the Cathedral at 10.30, to which all are invited. Everyone is encouraged to take part in this process which is a call to Communion (getting together), Participation (taking part by expressing the discernment we reach after praying to the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and listening to what others have to say}, and Mission, (the universal call to evangelise).
The word Synodality means walking together on a particular journey. As the people of God, we are called to participate actively in our journey as living members of the Church. Pope Francis in his book Let us Dream says “we need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas”. This is at the heart of the process which we are invited to take part in during the next six months.
The Synodal Process is not about a democratic debate or about Church teaching or dogma. It is a place of respectful mutual listening and experiencing the call of the Holy Spirit to move forward in new ways. Listening to each other is very important. Mutual listening and reflection are vital, as what is proposed grows from the unity and conviction that comes from the lived practice of faith within the community.
We all share, in view of our Baptism, Christ’s Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly functions. Whatever the charisms or gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us, we are all called to contribute to the building of the Body of Christ, the Church. We are called to be witnesses of God’s love. The Church is being called to examine the complexities of the society in which we live and apply the light of the Gospel to such a reality.
The basic question to guide us in our discernment is:
A Synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, “journeys together”. How is this “journeying together” happening today in our Diocese? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together”?
In order to journey together we need the help of the Holy Spirit. We need to have the courage and the freedom to help in the continual renewal of the Church, which, although a divine institution, also expresses a human dimension that needs constantly to be purified of what does not reflect the Gospel. In this journey we all have something to learn and to contribute.
I intend, with the collaboration of some helpers, to organise group encounters to facilitate this process in our diocese, culminating in a meeting of all who want to participate in this synodal process. I ask you to pray that this experience, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will leave its fruits in our Diocese. Pray that this invitation to journey together which comes from the Pope will help us to move on together, realising that we are all called to collaborate in the mission of bringing the good news to others.
May Our Lady of Europe, our Patroness and Mother of the Church, help us during the journey we are undertaking for the good of our Diocese and of the whole Church.
Given on the 1st of October 2021, the memory of St Theresa of the Child Jesus.
Bishop of Gibraltar
From the prayer to be said before any assembly of the Synod:
We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts;
teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.
All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever.
Dear brothers and sisters,
For the last three years, unfortunately we were unable to celebrate this Mass at our national Shrine, on the eve of Gibraltar Day, to honour our Lady of Europe as our patron, always seeking her protection. Three years ago, it was due to road works near the Shrine that kept us from celebrating here, and the following two years it was due to the pandemic that have gripped us and the whole world. Today I am very glad that it is possible to celebrate this Eucharist in the presence of a congregation. This is a tradition that needs to be kept. I thank you for coming to honour our Lady once again on such a special day for Gibraltar, and to thank her for her protection and help in all the challenges that we have faced and which we will face in the future as a community.
In the Gospels, Mary appears as a woman of few words, but with an attentive gaze capable of guarding the life and mission of her Son. She uttered four sentences in the gospels, and two of them are related: ‘Be it done to me according to your word’ to the Angel Gabriel when he announced to her and ‘Do what he tells you’ in the Wedding at Cana. She accepted to do God’s will, and she is telling us also to accept in our lives God’s will.
Her maternal role in the history of salvation has been affirmed clearly by the present Pope who declared Mary Mother of the Church as a feast to be celebrated the day after Pentecost, certainly due to her presence in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the Church was born [referring to the reading from the Act of the Apostles just read]. From that day she was actively the mother of the Church.
The maternal vocation and mission of the Virgin towards those who believe in Christ actually began when Jesus said to her when he was crucified “Woman behold your son”.
The words [from the Gospel just read] addressed by the crucified Lord to his disciple, to John and through him to all disciples of Jesus: “Behold your mother”, are fulfilled anew in every generation. Mary has truly become the mother of all believers.
From the earliest times of the Church, the faithful turned to Mary in prayer for her help, protection and intercession. The oldest prayer ‘Sub tuum praesidium’, dates back to the third Century. It is a prayer that invokes Mary’s protection on her children and to help us in our trials and tribulations. Pope Francis urged us to recite this prayer daily, considering the dangers the world faces not only due to the Pandemic but also the many wars that are going on in the world and the danger of people dying of hunger, together with the natural disasters that occur from time to time, remembering that Pope Francis is a pope who is always reminding us about our duty to safeguard nature, to protect us from the disasters that climate change is bringing with it. It has been noted that the present pandemic will be nothing compared to the disasters that will happen in the future unless we stop abusing nature.
The statue of Our Lady of Europe, present here in front of us, has a history of its own since it was commissioned six hundred years ago. The sailors who crossed the straits in the past used to salute Our Lady, and they also would visit the shrine and leave their precious offerings here. The turret with its lamp burning on oil donated usually by visitors was also a shining light to warn ships of danger. The image was known not only as Our Lady of Europe, but also as Our Lady of a safe passage.
During the worst period of Covid-19, Gibraltarians have shown that there are values instilled in us which we inherited from our Christian culture. The value of solidarity, of care, of helping others, of saving lives, of sacrificing ourselves for the good of others, show that our culture is a Christian culture. We are capable of rising up to the needs of the occasion. I would like to take this occasion to thank all those who worked in some way or other, sometimes at a clear danger to their own life, to help those who were at risk and who were suffering from the virus. We are not out of the woods yet, and these unsung heroes still deserve our appreciation for what they are doing in the community.
Europe has been shaped in its values by its Christian beliefs, some of which are still very much part of our values even if some have been lost.
Gibraltar day is a celebration of national unity, whether we gather in squares or in a church or by celebrating in restaurants or on the beach or even in Spain. On this day, we pray that the unity we celebrate is not just an illusion or wishful thinking. This unity means that we, as citizens, pull together for the good of all. The pandemic has put us to the test and we have shown that in times of need and of danger we are capable of sacrifice and of serving others.
Gibraltar has always proclaimed its pride that we are capable of living together in a harmonious and tolerant society, where respect is shown towards all irrespective of their religion, social status, gender or ethnicity.
I wish I am wrong in what I am going to say, but with a heavy heart I notice that this value of tolerance seems to have been lost in a section of our community, when especially on the social media hate speech abounds, together with bullying and aggressive language aimed at those who may have different views from ours. Are we treating each other as brothers and sisters or are we using the category of enemy for each other when ideologies don’t meet? Everyone has a right to be treated with respect, however different our ideas or beliefs are. Our differences do not take away the fact that we are all the same, all human beings, and for those who believe, we are all created in the image of God.
The future for many may be uncertain, and we all know that life after this pandemic and with Brexit will not be the same as before. It is only experience and time which will tell us how we are to adapt to the new future. I hope and pray that the lessons learned during the months that we have experienced this virus will not be quickly forgotten, and the sense of dedication and care for others will continue to be felt well after the dangers brought by this virus are put behind us.
As we venerate Mary, the mother of God, the mother of the Church, and our mother, let us entrust the needs of Gibraltar to her maternal care.
Today, on the Eve of Gibraltar’s National Day, we come here to pray, in union with Mary, for our human family, and to find rest with the Mother of the Lord. We pray for her constant help, for ourselves and for those who are dear to us. We pray that Mary generates in our hearts the consolation, peace and joy that comes from believing that God is merciful and compassionate. So is Mary, God’s privileged daughter and mother, She is the mother of mercy, as we pray when we say the ‘Hail Holy Queen’. May she be always our help, our refuge and our hope.