The Liturgy of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. There is a spontaneous turning to the Lord almost by every Christian, even those who have given up Church attendance on the whole. The additional Masses fixed for celebration on Ash Wednesday are attended to overflowing in numbers from morn to eve, especially to receive the ashes as a sign of repentance. For us religious too the season of Lent is significant. I am certain that we are earnest to make a new beginning and persevere to live the spirit of Lent to the full. We look forward to drawing up a community programme for Lent every year. I take this opportunity to send you a Lenten message to help you remain focused and challenged to live this Sesquicentennial Year of our Foundation at Bayonne in a meaningful way.

When the Celebrant smears the ashes on our foreheads he either says: “Turn away from your sins and believe in the Good News” or, "Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return." The Gospel proclaimed to us on Ash Wednesday sets the tone of the Lenten programme – the Triple programme of Prayer, Fast and Almsgiving (Matt 6:1-6,16-18 ) which is our preparation for the Easter celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days spending the time in prayer and fast. Everyone makes it a point to meditate on the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition for one’s sins, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with a repentant heart. It is an invitation to look into our hearts and make this prayer our own: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."

Jesus gives each one of us the three traditional pillars of Lenten observance namely, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. They are three great Christian duties and by them a Christian does homage and service to God.

Prayer is our personal relationship with God. It is the raising of our heart and mind to God and builds our personal bond with him. The church expects us to give more time to prayer during Lent in order to draw closer to the Lord. Jesus tells us that we must go into our inner room or the quiet hidden place, close the door and pray to God the Father in private so the Heavenly Father may see us in private and reward us accordingly. It is through prayer that we develop a closer and intimate relationship with God. For us religious, to pray means to allow ourselves to be loved by the Father, to place ourselves in an attitude of listening, of interior docility and to present to him all that we are, our expectations and hopes. Prayer also unites us to Jesus, and opens ourselves to the breath of the Holy Spirit, who makes all things new.

Fasting is one of the most ancient practices linked to Lent. The early Church fasted intensely for two days before the celebration of the Easter Vigil. This fast was later extended and became a 40-day period of fasting leading up to Easter. Fasting is more than a means of developing self-control. It is often an aid to prayer - as the pangs of hunger remind us, of our hunger for God. Fasting should be linked to our concern for those who are forced to starve because of their poverty, those who suffer from injustice and those who are in need of our support. Fasting can help us to identify ourselves with the suffering that so many people in our world experience every day, and it should lead us to greater efforts to alleviate their suffering. Fasting helps us to rediscover the need and desire for God as the profound soul of our existence, disposing ourselves to be empty of ‘self’ in order to be changed into His spirit of self-emptying love. The Church’s norms for fasting are mitigated considerably today, but throughout Church history fasting has been considered sacred, just as it was considered in the Old Testament when it was rigorous too!

Almsgiving is simply a response we make to God, as a result of prayer and fasting. It is an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given us. Almsgiving, far from being an act of charity, is an attitude of the heart, a heart that is humble, repentant, merciful, compassionate, which seeks to reproduce in its relations with others the experience of mercy that each one of us receives in her relation with God. When we sacrifice something of our own by giving help to the Community or by reaching out to someone in need in the form of alms giving, our left hand must not know what our right hand is doing. Jesus calls us to do all acts of Charity privately and then forget about it. Hence He uses the imagery of the deed of our right hand that is ready to give and the left hand must not even know about it.

Finally how shall we observe a holy Lent this year? Shall we forgive one another? Accept each other as a gift? Be ready to do God’s will at any cost through the transfer given to us, and work for the poor people around us? May the smearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday, help us rise, from our sinful tendencies and move onward on the road to eternal life with Christ Jesus. May Mary, the Mother of Christ, accompany us. May her example and her intercession help us to live the mysteries of Christ’s passion and death and with joy celebrate Easter. I pray that each of us may experience the grace of God in its fullness and receive a transformation from Him and may He draw each of us close to His heart and make us His own.

Sister M. Carmel Rita A.C.
Provincial Superior




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