February 23, 2009
Sunday before Ash Wednesday—February 22, 2009 St. Patrick's Basilica—Ottawa, Ontario THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION [Text: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2]
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Our English word Lent comes from the Old English lencten and refers to the lengthening of the days as spring approaches. So, the renewal of the earth and of Christian life in baptism are linked. The Sacred Liturgy stresses two features of Lent: the preparation for baptism by catechumens or the recollection of their baptism by those accompanying them, and penance. By means of these, "the Church prepares the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear God's word more frequently and devote more time to prayer."
To do so requires sustained time, which is why we devote time—forty days—to fasting and prayer as Moses spent forty days and nights on God’s mountain to receive God’s commandments for the people. Jesus, too, was guided into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where he spent forty days fasting and praying in preparation for his ministry, at the end of which he was tempted by the devil to turn away from God’s will to do his own—in three spectacular temptations which he resisted, refuting Satan with God’s Holy Word. And so I boldly ask you to take these coming forty days as an opportunity to enter a Lenten period of prayer and fasting, begging God for the personal spiritual helps you need and praying likewise for the conversion of hearts that have turned away for the Lord’s will that all of life be respected from the moment of conception until natural death. Each person will need to examine their lives and ask what will help to make this a real spiritual journey leading to a renewal of my commitment to Christ at Easter.
Some of you will receive the imposition of ashes on your foreheads on Wednesday in your parish church and fast from full meals and meat that day [and at the close of Lent on Good Friday]. Others may want to join me in my abstinence from the media on the Mondays of Lent: No radio, television, CDs, newspapers or internet for this one day a week! Why? To become still and find quiet time for family prayer or listening to the Word of God (for example, the readings—especially the gospel—of the coming Sunday). Whatever your particular Lenten devotion, I pray that it will help you draw closer to our Lord and to his people. Participating in a particular practice this Lent—40 Days for Life—has brought many of us here this evening, that of devoting time to witnessing for life before the Morgentaler Clinic, to fasting and praying insistently to God for an end to the scourge of abortion in our country.
This year marks the fortieth year since the introduction into legislation in our country of the 1969 Omnibus Bill, which effectively led to opening the door to abortion on demand in Canada. What a tragic loss it has been to our country of the hundreds of thousands, the millions of souls who have never been given the chance to see the light of day! Now some might be tempted to see in these spiritual activities an attempt to justify ourselves and somehow, by our individual efforts, to bring about the goal we seek. And that is why the text of St. Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians is our guide in terms of how to understand what we are about. We recall that God has already effected our reconciliation; God has already in his sovereign will made peace with all of sinful humanity. Our task is merely to say “yes” to this and to let ourselves be caught up in God’s saving dynamic. What Paul is saying is that herein lies God’s message: “Just let yourselves be reconciled to me: let what I have done for you in my Son Jesus’ death and resurrection become effective in your lives.”
We need, then, to acknowledge our own ongoing need for reconciliation with God as the model of what we wish for others whose eyes have not yet been enlightened to the truth that Pope John Paul II articulated so well in his encyclical, The Gospel of Life—Evangelium Vitae: “The Church knows that this Gospel of life, which she has received from her Lord, has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person-believer and non-believer alike-because it marvellously fulfils all the heart's expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.”
Let us pray that this truth may be accepted by more and more hearts in Ottawa, in Canada, and in our world in these coming days of Lent. And as we seek this good in gentleness and forbearance, in good conduct and good cheer, in quiet prayer and unobtrusive fasting, let us not become discouraged. Rather let us be confident, because God has already won the victory for us; our task is to bring the Good News of the dignity of every human life, particularly life in the womb as simply and clearly as we can. The gospels for the first two Sundays of Lent focus on Our Lord's Temptations and Transfiguration. They remind us of the struggle against sin—individual and social—for which we do penance, and of the glory of Christ that awaits us in overcoming temptation and sin. Let these be spiritual markers for us, helping us be confident that by God’s power we too can help undo the power of sin and evil and convey our belief that God wishes us to reflect the glory on the face of Christ as our forty days of prayer draw to a close. God bless you all.