Pastoral Letter for the First Sunday of Lent: 10 March 2019
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Pastoral Letter of the Archbishop of Liverpool appointed to be read at all Masses on the First Sunday of Lent Saturday 9 / Sunday 10 March 2019
My dear friends,
This is going to be a difficult Lent for all of us. As I write this letter both our nation and the Church are in crisis. Every one of us is deeply disturbed by our country leaving the European Union. Whether we voted to leave or remain we did not expect the process to be this difficult, but whatever happens in the next few weeks it does look as though many ordinary men and women, and families may feel some detrimental economic effects of Brexit, at least in the short term. Therefore, it seems to me that this is a time for us to show our worth as Christians and not to be looking for a quick fix. As Christians we welcome strangers, we reach out to the hungry and we provide shelter for those who have none. In today’s reading from St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is presented by the devil with a range of quick fixes. He could easily have fed himself by turning stones in to bread, but he chose not to do so because he didn’t need to prove himself. So, it should be with us, as Jesus’s brothers and sisters we should respond to the needs of others simply because it is our nature to do so. The work that goes on in the archdiocese feeding the hungry through foodbanks, providing homes for those in need, supporting asylum seekers, caring for those who are rough-sleeping, helping trafficked men and women as well as the work of Nugent, our own Catholic social services agency, is simply phenomenal. I have only scratched the surface of all the good work that is done, and I applaud you for what you are doing. But if there is an economic recession then we will have to give even more of our time and resources not only during Lent but possibly for longer. This is not a time for us to only look after ourselves, but a time to be generous of spirit and attentive to the needs of our neighbours.
The gospel today also speaks to us of the misuse of power. The devil offers Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world, but he refuses as he reminds us, ‘You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’ The recent meeting of Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences with Pope Francis in Rome on Child Sexual Abuse, highlighted how the evil misuse of power by clergy has left in its wake numerous victims whose lives have been damaged and who many years later are still suffering. We have not been spared this evil in our archdiocese and some of our priests have been convicted of offences against children. I believe that we have set up a thorough and rigorous system for safeguarding our young people so that our Church is now a safe place for them. But we can never be complacent, that is why I eagerly await the guidance from Pope Francis that we have been promised as a result of the Rome meeting. I would also urge any person who has been sexually abused by a person in authority in the Church to come forward. I promise you that you will be listened to and given the necessary support.
The Child Sexual Abuse scandal has also undermined the moral authority of the Church; that goes without saying. Who would listen to us now? So how do we recover from this desperate situation? I think there is ultimately only one way and that is to turn again to Christ and show the world that he is truly alive in our Church. Paradoxically the best way to go about this is to turn outwards to the world. Jesus came to bring the good news to the poor, to let the blind see, and make the lame walk, and that is what we should do too. There is a personal journey that we all have to take as we take this Lent seriously. Lent is an annual opportunity to put our own house in order by the traditional works of mercy, fasting and giving alms. There is also a journey we are making together towards Synod 2020. As you know the Synod will take place in October 2020 but as we walk together towards that moment, now is a time for listening to each other. Let us remember that listening to another person attentively is a real act of love where we show that we take that person seriously. Members of the Church at this time need more than ever to listen to each other. Your priest needs to listen to you, you need to listen to each other and that is why I want to hear what your ideas are for the Church of the future, as well as your concerns.
Thank you to all who came to pray at the opening of the Synod and to all Members who came to the excellent first series of Members meetings. On our Synod journey we are at the discerning and listening stage. Please look out for opportunities to gather in your parish or pastoral area for a Synod listening event. We hope to hear as many voices as possible because the Spirit of God will speak through you. If you have time, I would also like you to complete the on-line survey. Go to the Synod website (Synod2020.co.uk) and click on the Synod Survey section.
Lent is not going to be easy this year but by its end I know that we will see the light of Easter chasing away the dark clouds of crisis. There are no quick fixes in this world but by patiently walking with the Lord we will once again be proud to call ourselves Christian.
May God bless each and every one of you and your families
Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP
Archbishop of Liverpool