Part of our Catholic inheritance and heritage from the time of the First Covenant has been to embrace – as individuals and as community – a time of dedicated reflection and renewal of our intimate relationship with God. Contrary to what many might be saying to us, the lessons of history demonstrate that there is a need for us to review our progress through life and to assess both the positives and the negatives in order to be sure that we are indeed on the track of the journey we genuinely desire. In our Christian community, continuing the tradition of the People who first heard the call of God, we often use the word ‘pilgrimage’ to describe this experience. This time of appraisal, reflection and re-adjustment is provided for us in the Season we call Lent. It is a time for action, cooperation, and support by individuals and by the community.
Reflection on the recent experiences of the society generally, and I have in mind the economic situation and the devastating effects of the natural disasters of the bushfires in Victoria and the floods in Queensland especially, can be helpful for our approach to this season. Whatever the level of direct involvement, all are confronted with situations that can only be managed by recognising the very human need for hope. This has been wonderfully displayed by so many that it is an encouragement to all of us.
Members of the Australian Defence Force continue to serve in areas of turmoil at home and overseas in circumstances in which their presence and purpose is to provide the means and opportunity for stability and security so that this hope can be made real. In many ways their immersion in the environment is the necessary catalyst for this to happen. Their mission is shared by their families and many others in society through the need to manage the consequent separation and with the knowledge that the member is in an area that presents danger. Living with the consequences of this genuine service and vocation provokes a need for constant review and assessment by all concerned.
All of these matters can be viewed from the perspective of ‘relationships’. These social experiences all remind us that while many individuals are involved this affects and influences others. This is also true for our spiritual life. And self-reflection can be the greatest challenge for us. It is a challenge that can only be met with purpose, honesty and courage. These needs are strongly supported by the knowledge of that Hope is a gift from God and relying on that strength.
We read in the Sacred Scriptures from the earliest times that special times were set down for reviewing the state of the relationship between God and His People. In the Book of Leviticus we can see how these actions were formalised and ritualised which gave them great significance to the community life. A common theme was the recognition that the relationship with God had been damaged – sometimes intentionally but not always – and the relationship needed to be restored. In Chapter 16 we read of the image of the ‘scapegoat’ – one of two goats – that were central to the observance of the Day of Atonement. One goat was sacrificed to God as an offering of adoration to make up for the offences. The other, the scapegoat, was symbolically laden with the offences committed and then taken out of the community – into the desert. The two dimensions of the ritual are deliberate and intertwined – a decision to say sorry and a decision to get rid of the offences. This is the heritage that forms part of our approach to the observance of Lent.
As Lent draws us towards a more meaningful celebration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus we draw from the teaching of St. Paul . In his letter to the Romans, teaches that Jesus, taking our sins upon himself, through his death on the Cross made atonement for us, and through his Resurrection and gift of the Spirit gives us the encouragement to rid ourselves of those things that offend. Through Jesus our relationship is restored. We observe, participate and celebrate that at every Mass. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the Mass is a Sacrifice – it is the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. As we gaze on the Consecrated Host we might try to recognise Jesus as our ‘scapegoat’ bearing our offences, identify our faults that He bears and so we are able to renew our hope that our relationship with God is restored. In turn that encourages us to live, as St. Paul teaches, no longer for ourselves alone but always aware of the presence of Jesus in our lives.
As we can see from human experience and from the experience of the history of our religious forebears all our relationships need constant review, renewal and recommitment. As we embark on this process we are aware that we need to be courageous and honest – above all with ourselves. The observance of the discipline of Lent involves deliberate allocation of time to prayer and reflection, to assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, and to a search for that peace that comes from embracing the relationship we need with God. Inevitably that will lead us to a renewal and a closer identify with the person of Jesus who embraces us with His outstretched arms and invites us to come with him into the Father’s presence renewed and strengthened on our pilgrimage.
Let us pray for each other in this Season of Lent that with an increase of honesty and courage our hearts, minds and souls may be renewed and that we may be inspired as individuals and as community to be true disciples and heralds of salvation.
May Mary, who stood at the foot of the Cross, support us with her prayers as we resolve to take this opportunity of grace that this Lent affords us.
+ Max L. Davis
Bishop of the Australian Defence Force
Ash Wednesday 2009