Bishop’s Lenten Message for 2016
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“The season of Lent during this Jubilee Year should also be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17)
Lent is a time of penance and interior renewal to enable us to prepare for Easter. The Church’s liturgy invites us to purify our souls and to begin again. The Lord says, “Yet, even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting with weeping and with mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful…(Joel 2:12)”
To turn our hearts towards God, to be converted, means that we must be prepared to use all the means to live as He expects us to live. God wants us to abandon sin, to flee from any deliberate sin in our lives and to return to the fount of life and joy. He is looking for a contrite heart within us, a heart that acknowledges its weaknesses and sins and is prepared to purify itself.
God wants from us a genuine sorrow for our sins which we will manifest, above all, by making a careful examination of conscience and by going to sacramental confession. Pope Francis encourages us that “the initiative of ‘24 Hours for the Lord’ to be celebrated on the Friday and Saturday preceding the Fourth Week of Lent, should be implemented in every diocese. So many people, including young people, are returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation; through this experience they are rediscovering a path back to the Lord, living a moment of intense prayer and finding meaning in their lives. Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the centre once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace.”(Misericordiae Vultus, 17)
We show also our true conversion to God by striving to live a life of penance and mortification. Our daily duties are the principal source for this mortification: order, punctuality in starting our work, concentration and intensity in our study and work, which make them more effective. We mortify our selfishness and help create a more pleasant atmosphere around us especially in our family and work place.
Even if Ash Wednesday this year coincides with the third day of the Lunar New Year, and it is a custom in the Diocese that the faithful are dispensed from fasting and abstinence, I encourage all faithful to find another day to live this special mortification which the Church sets down for us. We offer up this mortification cheerfully, since we know that it will strengthen our spirit as it mortifies our flesh and our sensuality. It raises our soul to God. It gets rid of concupiscence by giving us the strength to overcome and to mortify our passions, and it disposes our heart that it may seek for nothing except to please God in everything.
Through our own personal conversion to God, we will experience God’s fatherly mercy in the bottom of our heart. His mercy transforms human hearts. It enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful to others in turn. It inspires “each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit… In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated” (Pope Francis, Lenten Message 2016)
I beg all of you to offer your daily mortifications and efforts to carry out works of mercy these days also for me and for my new ministry to serve the Macau Diocese. I need your prayers and support so that I can discern well and carry out diligently His Will for the Diocese.
In this season of Lent in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I ask all of you to turn to the Mother of Mercy. May the purity and fair love of her countenance watch over us, so that all of us may touch the mercy of the heavenly Father in our constant daily conversion and make present His mercy in our caring for those who are around us.
+Stephen Lee Bun Sang
Bishop of Macau