Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Lent is once again upon us. We have made this journey many times. For some, it is embarked on with a certain degree of dread, because it is viewed as a time of deprivation and penance, especially when it comes hot on the heels of the recent festivities.
Yet, the Church invites us to welcome Lent as a season of opportunity for “metanoia”, which is the Greek meaning for “a change of mind and heart”. This involves altering our mindset towards a whole new way of thinking and acting.
Historically, Lent developed in the fourth century, incorporating the traditional paschal fast and preparation for Baptism. Hence during Lent, we are reminded again of our need for ongoing conversion and the renewal of our baptismal call as Christians, so that we can identify ourselves as sons and daughters of God.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy teaches, “By baptism all are plunged into the Paschal Mystery of Christ: they die with Him, are buried with Him and rise with Him; they receive the spirit of adoption as children ‘in which we cry: Abba Father’ and thus become true adorers whom the Father seeks.”
The Paschal Mystery is central to Christian Spirituality and Liturgy. By immersing ourselves into the death and resurrection of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are moved to free our hearts every day from the burden of material things, from a self-centred relationship with the “world” that impoverishes us and prevents us from being available and open to God and our neighbour (Pope Benedict XVI).
We can turn away from our sins only if we turn to God. Our internal renewal requires us to grasp the mystery of the Father’s immense love for us – that He desires nothing more than to be one with us, even at the cost of sacrificing His only begotten Son for our salvation.
This desire of God to be close to us is expressed in His Incarnation at Christmas and finds its perfect fulfilment in the Paschal Mystery. St John tells us, “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:14).
St Paul captured this in the Kenosis, “Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).
In Christ, God revealed himself as Love. It is love in its most extreme form. God has shown His solidarity with humanity through the Incarnation of Christ, through the birth of Jesus. Through this solidarity, we are also reminded that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Hence, our love for God cannot be separated from love of neighbour (Mk 12:29).
Lent therefore teaches us how to live the love and compassion of Christ. In His ministry on Earth, Jesus did nothing more than to manifest the love of God by reaching out to those in need – the crowds who were lost without a shepherd, the sick, the lepers, the adulteress etc. Love and mercy culminated finally on the cross with Jesus forgiving His enemies and giving up His life.
We, by our baptismal calling as Christians are, by extension, His hands and feet in this world. It is through extending compassion to others that our humanity grows into fullness. It is time therefore, that the Church must once again be seen as a Church of mercy and compassion, truly the sacrament of God’s mercy and compassion in Christ.
To help us grow into the likeness of Christ, the Church institutes the traditional practices of fasting, alms-giving and prayer. These are not mere external observances but signal our commitment to conversion in entering the Paschal Mystery of Christ – to share in His passion and death, by dying to our selfishness and sin so as to share in His resurrection.
By experiencing deprivation in fasting, we learn to overcome our ego and selfishness, to be in solidarity with others who are suffering. Far from being depressing, fasting opens us ever more to God and to the needs of others, thus allowing the love of God to become also the love of neighbour.
The idolatry of goods manifested by greed and possession undermines the primacy of God in our lives. Hence, the practice of almsgiving reminds us of God’s providence, which is to be shared with others.
Making time for God in prayer, especially by contemplating and internalising His Word, allows God to speak to our hearts, direct our actions and thus nourishes the faith initiated on the day of our Baptism.
I pray therefore that this Lenten season will lead us to a true conversion of heart and mind. May the love and tenderness of Christ fill us with compassion and love, so that we may be a visible sign of His love and mercy in this world that so desperately needs the touch of God.
This Lent, I ask you therefore to let yourself be moved by the sufferings of others, the poor, outcast, marginalised and those ostracised by society. May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all (1 Th 3:12).
Finally, to enter the Paschal Mystery means that there can be no light without darkness, no res- urrection without the cross. He was crucified through weakness, but still He lives now through the power of God. So then, we are weak, as He was, but we shall live with Him, through the power of God (2 Cor 13:4).
Let us not be afraid but take up our cross and follow in the way of Christ who poured out His life for us all. Let us carry our burdens and crosses with each other, together in solidarity, knowing that the joy of the Resurrection awaits us.
I wish you all a holy Lenten season and the joy of Easter to come!
Yours in Christ,
Archbishop William Goh