At the beginning of the Lenten Season, the Church asks us to make good use of this period of grace. We must continually be converted, particularly through fasting, prayers, almsgiving and similar practices, to improve our relationships with God, self, other people, and creation. In this way we will have a more profound celebration of Easter.
This year, Ash Wednesday falls on the fourth day of the Lunar New Year. In Hong Kong it is not convenient for Catholics to fast. However, we still need to implement the spirit of conversion through works of charity or other appropriate good actions.
Therefore I urge everyone to recall the instructions of St. Basil:
“The bread in your kitchen belongs to the hungry; the clothes in your closet belong to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your safe belongs to the destitute; the charitable act you do not perform is the injustice you commit.”
Also, please remember the teaching of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “When we touch the poor, we touch Jesus.”
Of course, we must take one more step to implement the teaching of Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in his Lenten Message for 2010: “(Let us) contribute to creating just societies where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.”
Since St. John the Evangelist is my patron saint, besides the works mentioned above, I have a special attraction to read the Gospel of St. John during Lent. Especially by rereading the seven miracles narrated in the first eleven chapters, I reflect upon the challenges and graces in my life. These seven miracles in St. John’s Gospel, one after another, point more deeply to the greatest miracle, which is the death and resurrection of Jesus, as recorded in chapter 11, verse 45, through chapter 20.
Many years ago, when I meditated on the seventh miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, I remembered the priestly call of a seminarian in China. His uncle was a priest. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), he was put on public trial and sentenced to death. He himself, who was then only a boy, was present in the crowd of spectators. He heard the rifles fire and saw the bullet enter his uncle’s heart, followed by a fountain of blood. At once he heard a voice within him say: “I must become a priest to finish my uncle’s work.” That boy already sensed the truth of what Jesus said. His uncle’s life, like Lazarus’, would not end in death but in God’s glory.
This true story from China makes me thank God for calling me to be a priest. It also stimulates me to promote vocations and to pray for them, so that more young men would offer themselves to become priests, and give witness to Christ, the Lord of Life. During this Year of Priestly Vocations, I also encourage all of us to reread this miracle. (Jn. 11:1-44)
In fact, the conclusion stated in John 20:30-31 points to the past, present and future. I firmly believe that God continues to perform miracles in our lives, to help increase our faith and to give us a more abundant life.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be satisfied with fulfilling the minimum requirements of the Lenten Season, but take one more step, that is, particularly through Lectio Divina or Bible reading, live a fuller spiritual life, in order to be able to join our Redeemer Jesus Christ in celebrating his Pascal Mystery.
May the Risen Lord grant us peace and joy!
+ John Tong Bishop of Hong Kong 17 February 2010 Ash Wednesday