Pastoral Letter for Lent 2015 - Repent and refuse to hate - the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ!

"The time is fulfilled" (Mark 1:15). Lent is already here, and my pastoral letter will be read on the first Sunday of Lent. We have already been signed with ash on our foreheads and prepared our hearts for this time of prayer and reflection to follow Jesus on his way up to Jerusalem. During this holy period may we "grow in the understanding of the riches hidden in Christ" - as it says in the Collect prayer of today, and what this knowledge may signify for our lives today. Just like Jesus who withdrew into the desert for forty days, we must with the help of the Spirit prepare ourselves for Easter and the new life of the Resurrection. In order to be able to receive these glad tidings and be transformed by them, we must also taste some of the loneliness and simplicity of the desert. We must discover the special joy which is found in being able to sacrifice our time, our money and our pleasures so that we may put God and our neighbour in the centre. "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15), says Jesus. As Christians we must always be prepared to turn away from all that is sinful and selfish. During Lent we are invited to both renew our personal prayer relationship with Jesus Christ and to deepen our imitation of him who "came not to be served but to serve". (Matthew 20:28)

It is important for us to find a balance and harmony between our prayer life and our work, between the inner life and our daily chores.  Everywhere and always we can live in communion with God, who dwells in us through the grace of baptism. For many, life seems to be hopelessly fragmented in a million pieces that are difficult to unite. But if we live according to the dignity bestowed on us through baptism and see ourselves as a temple of the Lord, as St. Paul says (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16), then our lives will receive a unity that is deep and strong. We are liturgical beings through our baptism who live for the glory of God, both through our prayers and our work for the good of humanity... "The Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:14) says Jesus so as to remind us that, His and our Father, is always close to us and that we may always live in communion with Him. It is then that we become trustworthy witnesses of the joyful message of the Gospel. More people than we can imagine, have need of us in order to find their way to the glad tidings of the gospel and the new life which Jesus wants to give them through our mediation. We must reflect more seriously during Lent on how we can fulfil the commission given to us through our baptism and confirmation, namely that of passing on the faith in Jesus and to mediate His love.

Already to Noah and his sons, God said, "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you." (Genesis 9:8)  God wants to establish a covenant of peace and love with all His people. He wants all His people to live in peace and reconciliation; that justice and love will permeate our world. We suffer, therefore, with all who are victims of violence, war, terror and persecution. We must, more than ever before, repudiate all this especially when it pops up in our own immediate surroundings. Once again synagogues are attacked, this time in neighbouring Denmark. Once again there is war in Europe, this time in the Ukraine. We must do all we can, through our prayers and our active engagement to counteract the powers of hate and evil. ””Refuse to hate!" is a slogan taken at the initiative of the Interreligious Council of Sweden. All the religions in our country stand behind this initiative, so as to obstruct in whatever way possible, all the hate expressed in word or action. We must all plainly and clearly, together, renounce all violence in the name of religion, and also all violence that is inflicted on believers no matter where they are. Unfortunately, more and more, we hear religion being blamed for the increase in violence and terror. It is, therefore, imperative that we believers in different religions, unanimously dissociate ourselves from all violence and consider it blasphemous to use violence in the name of religion. The merciful God's holy name may, under no circumstances, be so besmirched and desecrated by violent actions. During this holy Lent, let us beseech the Lord that the powers of violence are put to shame. Let us, in word and action, do all we can to counteract violence and terror. 

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4). During Lent we must concentrate on spiritual food, which we need - God's holy word. In the Scriptures we find inspiration and guidance for how we should live as the faithful followers of Jesus and make his message concrete in our lives here and now. Try to find more time to visit a church and participate in the liturgy and give less time to shopping malls and shopping centres. Deepen your prayer life and tone down the entertainments. Give more of your money to the poor than to your own pleasure and enjoyment. Try to visit the sick and elderly rather than bars and discotheques. Nay, make a conscious, new choice every day during this holy Lent, because the kingdom of God is really at hand. Discover the real joy that it is to deny your own will and the intemperate needs of the self and instead do something beautiful for God and neighbour. We require this time in the Lenten desert so as to enable us to celebrate the joy of Easter and the Resurrection of Christ.

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, (1 Peter 3:18). We meditate, during Lent, the passion and death of Jesus and thus are transformed by this self-sacrificing love which is manifested in His Sacred Heart. It is my prayer that this Lent will be a time of renewal so that we can all act with more eagerness to spread the glad tidings of peace and justice, of reconciliation and unity, so that violence and hatred, oppression and terror will be put to shame. "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15). 

+Anders Arborelius ocd 

Stockholm, Ash Wednesday 2015

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