Lenten Message, 2021
“And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matthew 6:18
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
In the Gospel reading offered for our reflection each Ash Wednesday, the Lord instructs His disciples that when we pray, fast, and perform works of charity, we are not to do so in a public manner that would draw attention to ourselves or with the praise and admiration of others. Instead, we are instructed to give “in secret”, to go to our “inner room” to pray, and to give no outward indication that we are fasting. The Lord is cautioning His disciples to be on guard against behaving like hypocrites who do these things in an overtly public manner that they may appear, in the estimation of others, to be holy and righteous. By contrast, the Lord correctly reminds us that these spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are done, not for us, but in supplication and praise to Almighty God as well as for the good of our neighbors that we are called to serve. So it is that the Lord promises that we will be rewarded for our efforts in these areas, not by the world, but by the “Father who sees what is hidden.”
As we begin another Lent, particularly after a year that has been very difficult for so many, it is important for us to remember that nothing escapes the loving gaze of our Heavenly Father. The physical separation necessitated by the ongoing pandemic has resulted in many changes to the way we live our lives of prayer and the manner in which we practice our Catholic faith. Due to the restrictions placed on public worship gatherings, and the fear experienced by many in the face of this pandemic, members of the faithful have been unable to attend Mass in person and receive our Lord in Holy Communion. This has constituted a great spiritual sacrifice for many. Similarly, we have been unable to celebrate the major feast of our faith as we normally would with family and friends. In addition, many in the health care field and front-line workers have made great personal sacrifices in service to others. These challenges, difficulties, and sacrifices, along with many others, have been borne by individuals, largely in secret. It seems, therefore, that the Lord wants to reassure us that the sacrifices and suffering of this past year have not gone unnoticed by our heavenly Father who will reward our fidelity.
There is also, however, a continued challenge contained in these timely words of our Lord: we must never grow complacent with regard to the development of our spiritual lives, no matter the challenges and the external circumstances or limitations we face. It is likely that we will continue to be called upon to sacrifice and to endure comparable challenges for the foreseeable future. Recognizing this reality, we must resist the temptation to close in on ourselves or to despair. We can and should be confident that God is inviting us, here and now, in the midst of these present circumstances, to embrace the Cross in the quiet depths of our hearts. He is likewise inviting us anew to make use of the spiritual discipline of this Lent together with the tools of prayer, fasting, and works of charity to grow closer to Him and to one another, despite our physical separation. If we persist in this work, we can be assured that the Father, who sees our hidden, will reward us with an abundance of His grace.
May Mary, our mother and model, who stood with great love and fidelity at the foot of the Cross, continue to accompany us through these challenging times as we journey together to the enduring light and hope of Easter.
God bless you and may you have a Holy Lent.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop of Norwich