Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On Ash Wednesday we will enter the season of Lent. Since the earliest centuries, the Church has observed a period of 40 days of Lenten preparation. In these days we follow Christ Himself, who, scripture tells us, spent 40 days fasting in the desert before the great events of His ministry among us.
Those 40 days evoke in turn an earlier time of desert wandering: the 40 years spent by the people of Israel in the wilderness, before they could cross into the Promised Land of milk and honey.
Our Lent is, like these earlier examples, a time of preparation and of pilgrimage, that will lead us to the Promised Land of new life in Jesus Christ, risen and glorified, and celebrated above all in the great Mass of the Easter Vigil.
It is a journey that begins with Ash Wednesday, when we literally take up our cross to follow Jesus – when the sign of the cross is made on our foreheads in ash, for repentance. It is a journey marked too by the three great pillars of Lent: fasting, almsgiving and prayer. We have the opportunity to renew our prayer life, in Lenten devotions such as the Stations of the Cross.
Almsgiving teaches us to respond anew to our neighbour’s needs and to share with others all that we have been blessed with. And fasting helps us to refrain from those things which would separate us from God: as Jesus says in the desert, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”.
Of course fasting is not simply an external observance. It is an inner commitment, made with God’s help, to abstain not just from food but from sin and evil, and to live by the Gospel. This is a reminder that our Lenten pilgrimage is also an interior one, a journey of the heart and soul just as much as the body: “come back to me with all your heart”, as we hear in the first reading for Ash Wednesday. So on the very first Sunday of Lent we shall seek God’s help in this interior pilgrimage, in the opening prayer of the Mass: “Father, through our observance of Lent… help us to understand the meaning of your Son’s death and Resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives.”
My prayer for you all, is that our Lenten observances of prayer, fasting and almsgiving may indeed help us to that deeper understanding of Jesus Christ and bring us to a new intimacy and closeness to Him in every way.
With all good wishes and the assurance of my prayers for a truly blessed Lent,