Chaplain's Reflection: towards Lent
Greetings for 2018.
I find this difficult to say out loud: this is my fifteenth year at Radford! Crikey! I am one of the richest men in the world to be a storyteller and minister of the Gospel, to work among young people and be a part of a wonderful network of relationships.
You will be reading this on or after Ash Wednesday. This is the day where the church transitions from the season of Epiphany (making sense of the manifestation of the Light in Christmas) and turns intentionally towards Easter. Called Lent, this fifty-day period is a time to get ready, to examine heart and mind, to address one’s own spirit and wonder, where might deeper peace come from? What of my living could benefit from some ‘pruning’? What could I fast from? What should I take up?
It is a time for critical examination - in the sense of surgical rather than negative. Like a good pruning, its purpose is for increased growth and fruitfulness. The church itself must model this, not simply layer pious expectations upon people of faith. Some examples: the church must look closely at our idolatrous relationship with consumerist culture and the cult of individualism. We must examine closely how it was possible for the church to contribute to institutional slavery and abominable relationships with First Nation peoples, and thus where the church still might contribute to entrenched racism. Of all the Old Testament texts Jesus uses to announce his ministry, he turns to Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4). The mind and heart of God is made plain in the person of Jesus who declares God’s foundational bias for the poor. His work is to release captives, bring sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed. To follow Christ opens one’s heart to overwhelming grace and leads us as servants towards need rather than towards ‘empire’ as slaves.
I give a very painful, real example of how the church can model this examination. A service of lament and repentance was held in St Saviour’s Cathedral Goulburn last Sunday. Not so much as a response to the Royal Commission into institutionalised child abuse, but a response to the victims themselves. As Bishop Stuart said himself, ‘more than anything else, they are wanting us to say:
- it happened
- we are responsible
- we care deeply
- we’ll do all within our power to ensure it never happens again.
Bishop Stuart’s short homily is raw, honest, real. In this diocese, he is the one more than any other who has stood before the trauma and evil face to face. I attach the whole service, while taking from it one fragment:
The Bishop: We turn to God in sorrow and humility, confessing our sins against God and God’s children, asking for mercy and forgiveness. For the crimes and sins of sexual and physical abuse perpetrated by clergy and servants of the Church against children and young people; for the failure to love, respect, nurture and cherish young people – especially the most vulnerable. We ask your forgiveness.
The purpose of all penitence is not personal justification, but restored presence in the world, with God and others. The grace that follows penitence removes the barriers that inhibit this kind of relating.
In the love of Christ, every blessing to you and your family.
If you would like to talk to someone about issues related to the subject of Bishop Stuart’s homily, you can contact the Diocesan Safe Ministries team.
Resources for Lent
- If you want to take up something for Lent, the series from Common Grace on the beatitudes will be rich: http://www.commongrace.org.au/
- I find the daily writing of Richard Rohr incredibly rewarding: https://cac.org/richard-rohr/daily-meditations/daily-meditations-archive/