Lent is a holy time that we Christians prepare ourselves, with our mind and heart renewed, to celebrate the Risen Christ. During the forty days of Lent, like Christ, we pray and fast, meditating on His life, passion, death and resurrection, especially on His prayer and fasting in the wilderness.
This year’s Lent coincides with the Lunar New Year of the Ox, a zodiac sign that traditionally symbolizes strength and industriousness. In the Old Testament, Joseph interpreted a dream for Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, that seven lean cows ate seven fat cows as the will of God, but persons with wisdom should be appointed to manage the storage of crops to avoid devastations of famine. (Genesis 41). Society is developing at a tremendous pace and the Church must naturally keep apace by remaining united and striving hard to grow in a mature faith that serves others with a renewed spirit.
Our diocese has adopted the Parish Renewal as the pastoral direction over the next three years (1 February 2021 – 31 January 2024), as announced in my Pastoral Letter for Advent 2020 last November. A parish, a community of Catholic families and groups, is “the place where all the faithful can be gathered together for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist; the parish initiates the Christian people into the ordinary expression of the liturgical life: it gathers them together in this celebration; it teaches Christ’s saving doctrine; it practices the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2179).
Therefore, I would encourage all the parishes and Church groups to reflect upon the pastoral theme of the Parish Renewal by reviewing the past, grasping the present, and embracing the future of the Church. The spirit of renewal will inspire us to experience the conversion in faith, and deepen one’s relationship with the Lord. The encounter with Jesus by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) may guide us in our spiritual conversion to rekindle our love for Jesus and for the Church in society of today. Moreover, a passage describing God’s pattern for the Church is found in the Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47, in which the three characteristics of the Early Christian Church are revealed, namely the teaching of the apostles, the fellowship and the service for the poor:
1. In order to become disciples of the Lord and effectively pass on Christ to others, our lives must be transformed by Christ, constantly improving our spiritual lives and converting ourselves.
2. To achieve an inner transformation and to evangelize one cannot rely solely on personal efforts, but also humbly count on God’s guidance; therefore, we should keep praying, with daily periods of silent reflection, studying the Word of God and deepening our faith.
3. We should unite with our brothers and sisters in the Church, by partaking in the Eucharist, giving mutual support and encouragement, and serving the weak and the needy, as the unity of will could accomplish mission.
As family is essential to the pastoral care of the Universal Church, Pope Francis announced on the Feast of the Holy Family recently that the Church will celebrate a Year of the Family globally, starting from March 19 (Feast of St Joseph) this year to June 2022. The yearlong celebration will emphasize the importance in the family of prayer, affection, forgiveness, tenderness and adherence to the will of God. In this way, the family opens itself to the joy coming from God. May I sincerely invite you to re-read the Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of Love promulgated by Pope Francis on St Joseph’s day of 2016.
The Holy Family, a model of family, was faced with various challenges in life, that other ordinary families experience. Besides raising the family with Jesus and Mary, Joseph even took them into exile on a starlit night into Egypt. (Luke 1-2) In the four gospels, Joseph who did not say a word, can be acclaimed as a saint who speaks less and does more. His faith in God and guardianship for his family has made him revered as the patron saint of the Church and of workers.
Currently, Hong Kong is facing many challenges in society and a crisis in confidence. The severe outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation. As a result, many people are anxious and panicking because of an economic downturn that has caused them to be underemployed or unemployed. On the other hand, the selfless dedication of medical staff and others to combat the virus is much appreciated; and parishioners have offered spiritual and material supports to the needy, like using social media and information technology to offer assistance and for evangelization. When we face difficulties, it is time we gaze at Jesus Christ. With His light and freedom, we renew our trust in Him and in life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord: Lent is the time to listen to and to respond to the Word of God, and to remind us through self-denial of His unconditional mercy. Let us learn to place our hope in God’s loving care. Just as the Holy Spirit led Jesus Christ to pray in the wilderness (Luke 4:1), He will also inspire us, give us peace, and guide us to walk towards our resurrection. Relying on the intercessions and good example of Mary and Joseph, let us invoke the Holy Family to assist us to positively face our difficulties and to welcome the Risen Christ with the joy and peace that He has granted us! May God bless you.