Message for Lent from the Bishop
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
By the time you read this, we will be at the beginning of another season of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
During this blessed and holy season, we remember Jesus who, in obedience to the Spirit, fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert. Over and above this, we ourselves are called to do likewise and discipline ourselves that we may press on towards Easter with eager faith and love (Collect for Ash Wednesday, p. 62 APB). This spirit of discipline will strengthen us inwardly and, by God’s abounding and unmerited grace, make us triumph over evil and sin.
I am making it my duty as your bishop to propose some specific tasks to accompany us in a concrete way in this process of inward renewal. I therefore wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which is meant to represent a specific way of assisting those in need and, at the same time, an exercise of self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods.
Almsgiving helps us to overcome the constant temptation of trying to serve both God and mammon (Lk 16:13), teaching us to respond to our neighbour’s needs and to share with others whatever little or much we possess. This is the aim of the Lenten envelopes that we traditionally make available to all our congregations during Lent and which will be handed back on Good Friday. It is a gesture of ecclesial communion whereby all together and through our lenten self-denial we stretch a helping hand to one of our congregations who needs our support to achieve a specific goal.
In many instances in the Gospels, Jesus explicitly warns the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self. In the face of the many people who, lacking everything, suffer hunger, the words of St John take on the tune of a stern rebuke:
“ How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1Jn 3:17).
Giving generously during the season of Lent is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity. This act of justice and charity must be a concrete expression of Jesus’ love for humankind, for us, who dying on the cross, gave his entire self for us.
The Word of God also teaches us that there is more joy in giving that in receiving (Acts 20:35). When we do things out of genuine love, we express the truth and nature of our being; indeed we have been created not for ourselves but for God and our bothers and sisters (2 Cor 5:15).
Every time we, for the love of God, share our goods and possessions with people in need, we discover the truth about ourselves and realise that the fulness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction and joy. Our Father in heaven rewards our almsgiving with his joy. St Peter even includes among the spiritual gifts of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins: “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8).
Almsgiving teaches us also the generosity of love. In this context the Gospel story of the widow who, out of her poverty, cast into the Temple treasury “all that she had to live on” (Mk 12:44), becomes all the more significant. Her tiny and insignificant coin becomes an eloquent symbol: this widow gives to God not out of her abundance, not so much what she has, but what she is. Her entire self.
In conclusion, Lent , through the practice of almsgiving, should inspire us to follow the example of Jesus. At Jesus’ feet, in his school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift to God and to others as Jesus did in the most perfect and unique way on the cross.
I invite you all during this Lent to deepen your life of prayer, keep the practice of fasting on Ash Wednesday and, at least, all Fridays of Lent, and give generously and joyfully.
I wish you all a blessed season of Lent and a joyous Easter.
+ Bishop Dino