In his letter to the Catholics of Ireland, Pope Benedict expressed the wish that all would come to a more profound appreciation of their respective vocations, so as to rediscover the roots of their faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from the springs of living water that he offers through His Church. He asked that through prayer, penance and reflection, especially on scripture, the Church in Ireland might obtain the grace of healing and renewal. In addition, he personally composed a ‘Prayer for the Church in Ireland’.
In response to his invitation, it is proposed that, beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, 28 November 2010, all in the Church in Ireland be invited through their prayer, penance and reflection to seek, by God’s grace, the healing of the wounds afflicting so many and the spiritual renewal and rebirth of the Church.
Copies of Pope Benedict’s prayer have been printed and distributed to the parishes. The faithful are asked to take one of these and regularly recite this prayer. The prayer should be recited at all public Masses on the first Sunday of each month, as well as at Masses on every Friday over the coming year.
Pope Benedict invites all to undertake acts of penance and self-denial, especially on Fridays and during Advent and Lent. Penance is an essential part of the lives of all Christ’s faithful, rooted in His call to conversion and repentance. We do penance in memory of the passion and death of Jesus, as a sharing in His sufferings, as a reparation for sin and as an expression of inner conversion. The link between Friday and penance is very ancient and is reflected in the Irish word for Friday ‘An Aoine’ (the fast). There are many traditional forms which such penance can take such as abstaining from meat, abstaining from alcoholic drink or smoking, attending Mass, prayer as a family, making the Stations of the Cross, spending time supporting the sick, the elderly or the lonely and isolated.
In his letter, Pope Benedict invites all to spend time in private and reflective prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He writes: ‘Through the intense prayer before the Real Presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful’. Periods of Eucharistic adoration, organised and promoted by dedicated lay faithful, are available in all our parishes and almost all our churches. Many women and men throughout the Diocese avail of this opportunity, spending at least one hour each week in quiet reflective prayer. I thank them for their witness and I encourage others to accept this invitation to spend time in prayer before the Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Pope Benedict asks that we ‘discover anew the Sacrament of Reconciliation and avail ourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace’. God never shows Himself so much as God as when He forgives. Jesus speaks of the depth of God’s love in the parable of the Prodigal Son and on several other occasions recounted in the Gospels. He spoke of the repentant sinner seeking forgiveness bringing about more rejoicing in Heaven than do the ninety-nine who have no need of repentance. One has to wonder why a Sacrament which stirs such joy in Heaven evokes such antipathy on earth. An answer can to be found in pride, in the constant tendency of our heart to fence itself in, to be sufficient unto itself, to isolate itself, to close in on oneself. God, with great patience, awaits us all through life, encouraging us to find the grace to be able to kneel and say ‘Lord be merciful to me a sinner’. It is a patience that we find mirrored in the father, a representation of God, awaiting the return of his prodigal son.At Sunday Masses throughout the coming year, we will read St. Matthew’sGospel – the story of Jesus and His disciples. It is an invitation to all who seek to follow Christ. It is an invitation to share our faith and our hope. As we listen to the Gospel, we come to see the way Jesus understood the community of disciples; in other words the Church. We discover anew the demands, the responsibilities and the rewards of being part of a community of believers. Jesus’ call to us is set forth in a particularly powerful way in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). We see not only the map for the way we are invited to follow but we hear the voice of Him who is Emmanuel – God with us (Matt.1.23). Since Jesus is our Saviour and the living bread of our lives He not only shows the way but His constant and abiding presence with us gives us the strength to hear and to follow Him – ‘our way, our truth and our life’.
Advent is a time of waiting that invites us to pause and reflect as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s intervention in human history, His intervention in all of our lives. There is a profound message of hope at the heart of the birth of Mary’s child. The hope invested in His coming should mark our journey in life, giving it meaning and purpose. In taking on our human nature, Christ affirms the dignity and sacredness of every life in the sight of God. Central to our faith is the belief that the Lord is present in each of us in the gradual unfolding of our lives. He accompanies us and will one day dry our tears. In coming among us, Christ brings us and continues to offer us the gift of His love, the gift of salvation. He invites us to speak to Him, to present our joys and sorrows, our pains and suffering, the questions and doubts that may arise in our hearts. He tells us simply ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in God still, and trust in Me’, reassuring us that His heart is ever open to us. May our acceptance of this invitation to prayer and renewal deepen and strengthen our faith, our hope and our charity.
+Michael SmithBishop of Meath
PDF of Bishop Smith's Advent Message