Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This is a short Pastoral Letter to mark the beginning of Holy Week. ‘Together in Christ’ is the motto of this diocese, and together in him we are, as it were, going up to Jerusalem. We are going up to share in his Paschal mystery: ‘dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life’. This is a time when God seems closer than usual, and touches us in fresh ways. It is a time when our vision of God’s will for our life can be refreshed and a new energy enter us. The reality of Christ takes greater hold of us and puts everything else in its true place. I pray it may be like this for all of us. Other things are always pressing, but let’s make time this week for the liturgy and for prayer. It’s worth it. Easter is too good to miss.
I also want to thank all of you – some 200 in the diocese – who responded so honestly to the Questionnaire sent out in preparation for the Synod on Marriage and the Family. This Synod will have its first meeting later this year and its second in 2015. It’s clear from the responses that Pope Francis has touched on a real need. At the end of January, the Bishops of Scotland forwarded to Rome their summary of the responses received from their dioceses. You can find a copy of the Communiqué issued at that time on the diocesan website. Much prayer is needed in preparation for these Synods.
Finally, I’d like to pick up another theme of Pope Francis. It connects to Holy Week and Easter. It is simply an encouragement to make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The ‘forgiveness of sins’ is one name, one aspect of the grace of God that comes to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Indeed, it is the first thing God’s mercy offers us. ‘Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.’ Jesus wants to say this to each of us. This forgiveness will come in a special way to those becoming Christians at Easter, and being baptised. But it is something we, already baptised, also need. ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 Jn 1:8-9). ‘It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church’ (CCC 980). In most parishes, there are designated opportunities for this, and even outside that every priest is willing to respond to any reasonable request to hear a confession (cf. canon. 986.1). There is a grace in this Sacrament which can lighten our load, un-pollute us, save us from illusion. It’s sometimes indispensable and always precious. There is a little ‘death’ and a real humility in acknowledging our sins to another person. But, as Pope Francis neatly put it, ‘Be courageous…The priest will be good. And Jesus is there, and Jesus is better than the priest.’ And a ‘spiritual resurrection’ will follow: pardon and peace. And so this Sacrament can be part of the happy Easter we will soon be wishing each other, and that I wish you.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
+ Hugh OSB