Here is a pastoral letter for Lent from Bishop William Crean, Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland.
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Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
It is now a little more than a year since I was ordained to serve as Bishop of Cloyne.
It has been filled with “firsts” as we strived to begin anew as bishop, people, religious and priests. It has been encouraging and heartening to experience the hospitality and deep communion that prevails in the diocese. Despite the challenges past and present, hope is strong because grace abounds.
I take the beginning of this Lenten Season as an opportunity to share some happenings that serve as “seeds of hope” for the future. I also want to offer words of encouragement to share our faith with confidence in our family and the parish community.
In early November the priests of the diocese met for a day and a half to develop a new conversation about our future. This Assembly was preceded by months of preparation. The priests identified three points for reflection and prayer.
1. Our context in the light of our recent past
2. Priesthood today – challenge and opportunity
3. Renewing our sense of Mission
Following honest discussion of these areas the overwhelming feeling was one of renewal of commitment. This was coupled with an acknowledgment and a realisation that our Mission as a diocese can only be effective in the modern world when every member of the diocese – lay person, priest, religious and bishop – fulfils their role to the full.
Accordingly, with the leadership of the Council of Priests and my personal support we will seek to extend this conversation to all parishes through the establishment of Parish Pastoral Councils. We will do so over the coming year. These parish councils will afford the opportunity for all to participate and reflect on the challenges facing the mission of every parish community. Together we are co-responsible for the life and mission of our parish. Together with a deep faith and generosity of spirit we can truly renew our parishes.
These councils will involve reflection, discernment, prayer and shared action and initiatives. This development is naturally slow in accomplishment as we grow accustomed to a new way of working together.
Lenten Journey – Personal
Let me address a word of encouragement to you in regard to this Lenten Journey. Lent is opportunity. Together in faith we are conscious of the need to renew our life in some way. That the whole Church makes this journey together can give a sense of solidarity and encouragement.
Our human weakness is a constant experience yet “grace is always sufficient once we reach out in faith” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Lenten Journey – Community
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the summary of the Lenten commitment.
Lent, while it has a personal element, also has the element of communion with all humanity. Locally, so many families are labouring under the strain of severe financial burdens. We have a new awareness of the need to support one another in these difficult times. It is heartening to witness the care being given by so many. May we persevere in our giving.
On the occasion of my Ordination on 27 January 2013 I called on the financial institutions to do some more of the heavy lifting and lighten some of the great burdens that some families are labouring under. I commend the efforts that some institutions have made and encourage them all to be creative in finding solutions for distressed families. It will help to renew hope and confidence for the whole of society.
On a global level I wish to gratefully acknowledge your generosity in the recent Trócaire appeal for Syria and the Philippines. The contribution of the parish communities of Cloyne was over €200,000.
This year’s Trócaire Lenten Campaign has a focus on the Church in Malawi. Take time at home and in school to deepen our awareness of the plight of the Church in Need there. May your generosity and goodness be rewarded.
Lift up your Hearts
Lift up your Hearts – is an invitation familiar to us from the introduction to the Preface at each Mass we celebrate. It’s a fitting invitation for us now as we rejoice in the gift of Pope Francis as Shepherd and Guide to the Church universal. His dream for the Church is encapsulated in his Letter “Evangelii Gaudium” – The Joy of the Gospel. I commend this wonderful letter for your reflection and prayer. Some suggestions as to how you might do so are included for your consideration. When we are touched by joy all is changed. We are invited during this Lent to open our hearts and families to the joy that Jesus offers us through faith and prayer. That joy is precious because it percolates and seeps through every corner of our lives should we so wish and desire. Open your hearts to this promise of joy. Lift up your hearts to know its fulfilment.
I wish you a joy filled and fruitful Lenten time.
May it be marked by grace and renewal for all.
Bishop William Crean, Bishop of Cloyne
Further Reflection and Prayer
Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel
Apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis
The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus (Evangelii Gaudium, 1).Does the Gospel of Christ fill you with joy? Does the expression “joy of the gospel” represent a new way of looking at your life? Does it present a vision worthy of serious consideration? I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them. (Evangelii Gaudium, 3).Have you a truly personal relationship with Christ? How can you foster a greater intimacy with Him? What are the signs of encounter with the Lord in your life?God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy (Evangelii Gaudium, 3).Do you know divine mercy in your life? Are you truly mindful of the font of forgiveness that is the sacrament of reconciliation? Is your life a process of on-going conversion? What helps and what hinders you in on-going conversion?Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others. (Evangelii Gaudium, 10).How do you understand the Pope’s words that life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort? “God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor 9:8). Can you identify the cheerful givers in your life? What motivates your giving throughout the Lenten Journey?The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. (Evangelii Gaudium, 52).Does the Pope’s interpretation of modern living correspond with something of your own experience? How can we, in a collective way, be honest in addressing the fear and desperation which seems to overwhelm so many people? In our society, is the Pope’s call for joy in people’s hearts timely and/or necessary? Can we lift up our hearts with joy today?