Lenten Pastoral Letter 2008

On the 21 and 22 of January I was in Rome attending the 6th Post Synod Working Committee of the 21st Ordinary Synod of Bishops. During the weekend before the meeting I went to visit Premana, a village at the north of Italy situated at one thousand meter above sea level. (Premana is the homeland of Fr. Franco Bellati). The snow fallen a few days previously had not yet melted and the peaks around are all white with snow. It was a lovely sight. Some trees were evergreen but others are without leaves. They were well pruned. I could imagine that when spring comes what a different and breath-taking scene it will present.

Spring, summer, autumn and winter are the cycle of nature. They are an inspiration also for our human life: With the “restrain” of winter comes the “liberation” of spring. This is the meaning of the saying “if you can take the bitterness of life you can become truly a man”. It is sad that many young people wasted their youth and the spirit of courageously facing the bitterness of life are not being valued.

The Lenten fasting and Charity are intimately connected. Fasting (penance, recollection) helps us in our prayers to God and opens our hearts to those in need. The Lenten Message of Pope Benedict XVI this year entitled “Christ made himself poor for you” (II Cor. 8:9) stresses this.

The Church supports the right of private property. Without the right of private property there will be no freedom. But the Pope said “Our property is given to us as a steward by God. It is not for us to enjoy selfishly. When we care for ourselves and our families we should also care for other people. ‘Christ who was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that.you might become rich’. Money and enjoyment are always a temptation. Therefore Jesus said, ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’”. Cardinal Martini explained the episode on “the rich young man’ said, “Rather than possessing richness he was possessed by the richness”, Many literature has very harsh description on misers.

In fact the saying “the greatest joy is to do good” and the Bible’s “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) are proved true by experience.

Of course our faith guarantees a higher reward: God’s own praise “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you did it to me”. (Mt 25:40) But the Pope said we are not to boast of this before God. Doing Good is a duty. It is in accord with justice. As Jesus said, “When you have done what is due you should say I am an unworthy servant”. Especially when we feel that we are indebted in many things to God, almsgiving is the best way of reparation. “Love covers a multitude of sins”. (I Pet 4:8)

We should not worry about our lack of financial means. We can be at peace if we do what we can. Jesus praised the widow openly for giving two tiny coins.

Regarding charity Pope Benedict said further, “We should not only share our richness we should give ourselves in serving others”. That means not only to give money but to give our energy and our heart. Time is life. Giving your time is to give your life. On the cross Jesus gave his last drop of blood and his last breath. Missionaries are the true followers of Christ.

In concluding this pastoral letter I invite you, my brother and sisters. to pay special attention on the emphasis the Pope made on the passage of St. Matthew’s Gospel: In doing good you should not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. I would like to share with you an experience of my childhood.

It was when Shanghai was invaded. My father had a stroke and was ill. We were seven members in the family to be fed and five of them children of school age. One cold winter, it was snowing outside, we were all in bed to keep warm. We were hungry and could only think: “Shall we have rice to eat today?”

My father looked at the clock and called me to get up. (When he was well he used to take my hand in his big hand and put it in his pocket and both of us ran to the Church for Mass.) Mother said, “It is snowing. The sole of the plastic shoes are broken. If you get wet you will catch cold. Stay at home and pray.” Father said, “You go to Mass everyday. Do not miss it today. May God give us our daily bread.” Of course father won the day. I bit my teeth and raced to the Church and served Mass as usual. When I was ready to race back home an elderly man came running after me. It was Mr. Zhou Chi Yao whom everybody knew. “My little friend, are you not the son of Zen En Giou?” “Yes.” “Thank God I see you. How is your father? He has not been to Church for a long time.” The two of them attended Mass daily. Though they greeted each other briefly by a nod of the head they became good brothers in the Lord. I told him about our family situation. Mr. Zhou dressed simply but he was a very rich man. He took me to his home and took out a stag of money, counted them, wrapped them up and gave me. “Take good care and bring this to your father.” ….We had enough money to feed us for several months…..Mr. Zhou’s left hand did not know what his right hand has done. May God reward him and may we follow his example.

Your Bishop

+ Joseph Card. ZEN, SDB

1 February 2008

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