Lenten Pastoral Letter 2016
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Every year the season of Lent is a special period when we strive to make further progress in attaining Christian perfection and bringing about the kingdom of God through a more devout practice of prayer, fasting and works of charity. As the Church is now celebrating the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and the Door of Mercy is wide open, the season of Lent this year offers an opportunity to learn “to be merciful as our Heavenly Father” (Luke 6:36).
Pope Francis has encouraged us to have a personal experience of the generosity and mercy of God. We must also, by word and deed in our daily lives, help others to experience our Heavenly Father’s love and mercy, and to realise that only mutual forgiveness, acceptance, solidarity and fraternal love can bring true joy and peace to the world. The Holy Father has made explicit mention of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as an effective means to experience God’s boundless love and mercy for sinners. In this Pastoral Letter, I wish to share with you some thoughts on how to participate fruitfully in this sacrament.
If it can be done, the first step in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is listening to the Word of the Lord. The parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel according to Saint Luke (15:11-32) provides us with rich material for reflection and contemplation on the tenderness of our Heavenly Father.
This tenderness prompts us to approach him with confidence through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which can reawaken in ourselves the joy of salvation (Psalm 51). Furthermore, this parable teaches us how to set ourselves free from frustrations arising from desolation, confusion and fear or resentment, thereby regaining hope.
Next, the fact that the Prodigal Son “came to his senses” (Luke 15:17) reminds us of the exercise of Examination of Conscience that each of us have to relearn and practice, the more so because our present generation has grown accustomed to evading responsibility and finding fault with others. We must recall the teaching of Jesus: “Take the log out of your own eye first and then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). If everyone starts by examining himself or herself before accusing others, I am sure many of the conflicts in families, at workplaces and within communities can be avoided, and we can focus our attention on finding solutions to the problems we are facing.
In today’s society, quite a lot of people have the idea that as long as misdeeds are covered up, you can calmly act against your conscience. Many do not have a place for God in their hearts, and they reject objective truths and universal values. They are ready to use personal freedom as an excuse for leading a life of greed and lust, going beyond the confines of the natural law and ignoring God’s commandments. Indeed, only those who are truly contrite will be able to realise that a person who has acted against justice and charity has actually sinned “against heaven and against you (God)” (Luke 15:18), because a life of extravagance and immorality will wipe out true happiness, and bring, in return, suffering to many others, while the sense of remorse will weigh on the sinner’s conscience.
The gospel goes not to tell us that the Prodigal Son “went back to his father” (Luke 15:20). This indicates for us the two essential elements in our “resolution to renew our life”: firstly, the willingness to redirect one’s way of life from chasing after earthly pleasures to searching for God; secondly, the determination to sustain conversion through one’s actions. The words, “Then his son said” (Luke 15:21), show that the Prodigal Son has gathered enough courage to openlyconfess his sins, in the hope that his broken relationship with his father can be restored and he can once again return to the loving embrace of his father. The words, “Treat me as one of your paid servants” (Luke 15:19), are an expression of one’s unworthiness. The Prodigal Son is now willing to accept any form of penance in return for the forgiveness and acceptance of his father. In this way, he has undergone the journey of reconciliation, with results beyond his expectations. He has now recovered the strength to begin a new life.
Since penance is an essential element of resolution, I wish to remind all our faithful that in accordance with Church Tradition and Church Law, not only during the season of Lent, but also on every Friday of the whole year they are obliged to do penance by performing works of self-denial or charity.
The Holy Father has exhorted confessors to carry out the mission of revealing an authentic sign of the Father’s mercy. Let us respond to this appeal of the Holy Father by making the most of this special period of grace to experience the joy of reconciliation with God and with our brothers and sisters, availing ourselves of the Jubilee indulgences.
Let us rekindle our determination to attain Christian perfection. In this connection, I earnestly ask our parishes to make proper arrangements so that the faithful can have easy access to the sacrament of reconciliation, not only during Lent and the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, but always, whether on weekdays or Sundays.
At the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), our Holy Mother Mary noticed the embarrassment of the bridegroom when the wine ran out and at her request her divine Son performed his first miracle, changing water into wine. This miracle foretells the abundant blessings which we will one day enjoy at the heavenly banquet. With the intercession of our Heavenly Mother, may we reach out to the poor and the socially marginalised and attend to their needs, so that they too can encounter the Merciful Face of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Through our works of charity, may they be made worthy to partake of the splendid wedding banquet of the kingdom of God.
May the peace and joy of the Lord be with you all!
+John Card. Tong
Bishop of Hong Kong
The Presentation of the Lord, 2 February 2016