Military Ordinary of Australia – Bishop’s Message for Lent 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The observance of the Season of Lent has its foundation in the Sacred Scriptures. Both the Old Testament and New Testament teach the value of fasting, which is abstaining from food or drink in order to focus on prayer and seeking God’s will. One of the earliest references is found in the Book of Leviticus (Chapter 16: verses 29-31) where God commanded the Israelites to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement. On that day, each person was to humble himself before God by abstaining from work and food. It was common in Old Testament times to fast for specific reasons, not just on the Day of Atonement, like in times of mourning and repentance. This discipline endures into Jesus’ time and we note the Lord’s presumption in Matthew Chapter 6 verse 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy, … ” as he encourages his disciples in their practice of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
The discipline of prayer and fasting is both for the individual and for the community. Sometimes the personal embrace of this spiritual exercise is deliberately targeted for a specific personal need. At other times it is a collective effort that can focus a community in sharing an expression of a need that is felt by the whole group. The Church’s ‘cataloguing’ of the rules of fast and abstinence down through the centuries was aimed at identifying some common practices that the whole of Christ’s faithful could share in union. This is a rich history that draws us into an acceptance of our need for a very personal closeness to our loving God.
The objectives of times of prayer, fasting and abstinence are to awaken in us a realisation that our human condition is fragile and distracted by the concerns of our circumstances which can refocus our attention more to ourselves and away from the reality of our need for God. We become so inwardly looking that our vision becomes limited by our own compelling day to day concerns and lose the Divine perspective. By deliberately denying ourselves of the ‘usual’ and the ‘familiar’ and even the ‘enjoyable’ we constantly bring to mind that, at least for a concentrated period, we need to restore our spiritual balance. It is not unlike the mariner’s constant reference to the compass to ensure that the course being steered is the one that is necessary to arrive at the desired destination. The whole of Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel gives some very pointed teaching about this whole aspect of keeping our focus on our dependence on God in the midst of daily experience and concerns.
One of the objectives of our times of prayer, fasting and abstinence is strongly associated with the Church’s doctrine and understanding of the efficacy of our prayers and actions and, indeed, reparation. ‘The Lord hears the cry of the poor’ (Psalm 34). Our prayers include all the elements of petition and thanksgiving. For example we pray with confidence for the repose of the souls of those who have died knowing that our prayers are heard and the mercy and love of the Father will be extended to those who have departed. Linking our prayers to the most solemn prayer that we are invited to share in – the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross – the greatest act of reparation, reminds us of that efficacy and increases our confidence and assurance. It gives us a layer of consolation that is beyond the limitation our human condition imposes. The significance of the 40 days of our Lenten observance – as found in Sacred Scripture should not escape us either.
In a special way this year the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has called upon the Australian Catholic community with a strong recommended that in each diocese the first four days of Lent be especially observed as days of fasting and reparation as part of our response to the dreadful revelations of the incidents of child sexual abuse within our Churches and Religious Institutions. The Bishops Conference has issued a ‘Message to the Catholic Community’ to explain and outline the purpose of these days of Fasting and Reparation. I am attaching a copy of that message. I wholeheartedly and sincerely align myself to the contents and encourage all the faithful in our Diocese to participate fully. Associated with these days of Fasting and Reparation are some liturgical notes and suggested activities which can be accessed at: www.catholic.org.au/fastingandreparation and I strongly encourage their use and widest distribution.
May we feel deeply the Lord’s presence in our Lenten journey this year. As we accompany each other in this journey may we also remind ourselves that there are many who journey with us and support our efforts, good intentions and deliberate actions. Chief among those of course is Mary, Help of Christians, our patron and heavenly mother under whose maternal gaze I constantly entrust you and those who love you.
In faith and trust and love,
✠ Max L. Davis
7th February 2018
(Download full PDF version: Lent 2018 with attachment)