Lent: Millstone or a Milestone? | Bishop Ingham's Lenten Message 2017
My Dear People
“For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). By now we’ve all heard this verse of Scripture many times, but what does it mean?
In Jerusalem stands The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest Shrine of Christianity. This Church stands on the ground where Jesus died on the Cross for us but it also covers the tomb from which Jesus rose from the dead. What this represents is the heart of Christianity: the sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross to save us – to bridge the gap between us and God – and his rising from the dead to give us new life: a life in which we can know God’s love in the midst of our everyday experience. This is why we proclaim during the Mass, “Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life.”
Lent is a time of retreat for the whole Church. Lent is an invitation to turn back to God, to make our relationship with Jesus Christ a life-giving positive experience through our personal prayer and our communion with Jesus at Mass. Lent can also help us to examine our conscience – are our choices drawing us closer to God? Are they moving us further away? Lent is a time to receive the sacrament of forgiveness so that by confessing our sins – those things that can separate us from God and from others – we may know God's mercy, often characterised by peace of mind and heart.
During Lent, people often decide to commit to prayer, fasting and almsgiving with greater resolve. Consider someone who commits to daily exercise, perhaps running or visiting the gym – it’s hard work but the result is a strengthening of the body and greater health. Just like physical exercise, these spiritual exercises tone-up our mind, heart and will. We must ask ourselves: how effective is our spiritual workout at the moment? What parts of our lives need greater attention?
Some of us might feel the Lord has abandoned us, forgotten us. But the First Reading reveals to us the warm
human image of God replying, “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast or fail to cherish the child of her womb? Even if these were to forget,” God says, “I shall not forget you” (Isa 49:15). God never abandons us, ever.
When we are baptised and confirmed we are adopted into God's family, becoming a brother or sister of Jesus our Saviour who loves us so deeply, who is so close to us and dwells within us by his Holy Spirit. By the grace of God, we are what we are, God's children. We must never forget this.
We quite often worry about the wrong things first – our life, our material goods and gadgets – but Jesus wants us to set our hearts on God's kingdom first and God's righteousness (cf. Mt 6:33). In doing this, we can allow God into our lives, into our worries, into our joys, and into our sadness. God wants to be present in it all.
But we must not forget that Lent is also a time to think beyond ourselves. For example, our Lenten almsgiving – our sacrificial donations to Project Compassion – help empower the most vulnerable people to be able to help themselves and share their strengths with their communities.
Lent for us can be either a millstone around our necks or a milestone to remember. It can be something that we feel is weighing us down. Perhaps the idea of fasting or prayer sounds too hard: too much, I’m too busy. But if we turn our attention to God, even just a little more, this Lent can become a milestone on our pilgrimage to eternal life with God who loves us more than you or I could ever imagine.
Yours in Christ
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong
25 FEBRUARY 2017
Lent: Millstone or a Milestone?