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Dear friends in Christ,
Last Wednesday, with the blessing and distribution of ashes in our churches and schools, we began our annual Lenten pilgrimage. Lent is a holy season, a privileged time of renewal for us as individual Christians. It invites us to abandon into God’s hands everything that stops us from following Christ as we ought, so that we can not only see him more clearly ourselves, but be his face and his presence in the communities in which we live.
As Christians, we are, as Pope Francis reminds us, ‘messengers of joy’. At the end of each Mass we are all sent out on mission, to ‘announce the Gospel of the Lord’, to glorify the Lord in our daily lives. Lent provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon how we do this, so that, by the grace of God, we might serve the Lord and his people better. In the Gospel on Ash Wednesday, Jesus himself gave us three ways in which we can come closer to him, three ways in which we can see the face of Christ.
First, Jesus reminds us that we are to give alms, and there are many ways in which we can do this by giving to charity. But giving alms means more than just putting our hands in our pockets. It means reaching out to those in need, maybe by visiting a lonely neighbour. It means seeing Christ in other people, especially in those whom we find it a real challenge to love and respect. It means going out of our way to be people of reconciliation and peace, building bridges within our families and the local community.
Secondly, Jesus reminds us that we are to pray. To be a Christian is to be a person of prayer, a person who places their trust in God in all that they say and do. We can pray in so many different ways, most importantly by gathering on Sundays to celebrate Mass together. But we are asked to live our faith seven days a week, and I hope that, this Lent, we can find space for God on weekdays as well as on Sundays. We can spend some time at the beginning and end of each day. We could read one of the Gospels and so get to know Our Lord a little better. We could make the Stations of the Cross on Fridays this Lent, to reflect upon Christ’s Passion and Death. And I hope that we will not neglect to make a good confession as Easter draws near so that we can celebrate his Resurrection with joy in our hearts. God’s mercy has no limits for those who seek him with a humble heart, and he is ready to welcome us with open arms when we seek him. Our prayer and our worship of God places him at the very centre of our lives
Thirdly, Jesus reminds us that we are to fast. I hope that we have all ‘given up something for Lent’. However, the Lenten fast is not a diet, but is much more profound than that – it expresses our longing for God and helps us to identify with the poor, including those in our midst. Pope Francis reminds us that:
There is a lot of poverty in the world, and that’s a scandal when we have so many riches and resources to give to everyone. We all have to think about how we can become a little poorer.
So, I would like to suggest, this Lent, that we fast from something else in addition to giving up some food or drink that we like for a few weeks so that ‘we can become a little poorer’, the ‘poor Church for the poor’. Maybe those of us who drive to work could walk for part of the journey; we could fast from a favourite TV programme or the internet, spending the time instead with our families or friends. Our fasting should be a hunger for justice, a thirst for doing what is right, so that Christ shines through our words, deeds and the example that we set others by our way of living.
Being marked with ashes to remind us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return is a humbling moment for all of us. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our annual pilgrimage of renewal, which will lead us through these next forty days to our annual celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday. This Lent, I pray that Almighty God, who brings us to life by fashioning us from the dust of the earth, and who re-creates us in the waters of Baptism so that we can live not for ourselves but for him, may breathe into us once more the new life of the Risen Lord, so that we may truly be Christ’s face and his presence in the communities in which we live.
With my prayers and every good wish for you and your families for a blessed Lent and a happy Easter,
Most Rev Malcolm McMahon OP
Archbishop of Liverpool