Bishop Terry’s Pastoral Letter for Lent

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Even the Devil can quote scripture. Did you know that? We heard it in today’s Gospel. He tries to tempt Jesus three times. Each time Jesus replies with the word of God from Scripture:

Man does not live on bread alone.
You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.

So, on the third temptation the Devil tries to outsmart Our Lord by quoting Scripture himself:

He will put his angels in charge of you
to guard you

and again:

They will hold you up on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.

So, what is required of us is something more demanding than being able to quote the scriptures. In which case we should turn our attention to what we are told in the Second Reading today from the Letter to the Romans. “If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.” That’s it, that’s the way forward. “The word (that is the faith we proclaim) is very near to you, it is on your lips and in your heart.” Faith, then, is a matter of the heart and is authenticated by what we confess with our lips. It is not just an internal, a purely spiritual thing; it has to have effects in the reality of our lives; hence we have to confess with our lips.

Only a couple of weeks ago we were listening to the Letter of St James in our weekday readings, and he said something even more startling, and challenging: “You believe in the one God – that is creditable enough, but the demons have the same belief, and they tremble with fear. Do realise, you senseless man, that faith without good deeds is useless.” St James has made his point very clearly; without good works, without faith having a genuine effect in our lives, then it is not authentic faith. If our faith remains at the level of being a hobby, a pass-time, an interest, an intellectual curiosity, then we are no better off than the devil and his demons!

If all this seems a little dispiriting and spiritually deflating, let’s listen again to the prayer that was offered in our name at the beginning of this Mass:

Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.

Lent, then, is mainly about opening ourselves to the riches hidden in Christ and to allow those riches to have a genuine effect in our daily lives. The problem is that our hearts are filled with all sorts of other things rather than the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead and our lips are so busily engaged in confessing everything and anything, but that Jesus is Lord!

Lent presents us with a blessed moment when, together with all our brothers and sisters throughout the Christian world, we can pause and take stock. Now, with the gift of Lent, we can re-focus our hearts, our, spirits, our minds, and lives on the riches of Christ. Let me offer you a few simple thoughts on how we might do this.

Try to make the Sacrifice of the Mass more central to your lives this Lent. In recent years many parishes offered a “Friday Challenge Mass” so that working people especially could get to Mass before, or on their way to work. It’s not too late to start this. Some Parishes put on Lenten Study Groups to help us deepen our faith. Look out for one in your parish or nearby. If you can’t find one, there’s plenty online, if you have the internet. Then try and translate all this into “good works”. It can be too easy to donate money – I’m not saying don’t do that – but, again, many parishes have an SVP Group, a CAFOD Group, a food bank, a Justice and Peace Group and more. Think of joining them and make “good works” a permanent feature in your life. The Lord has brought us to this place, “to this land flowing with milk and honey” as we heard in our First Reading. Let’s share it.

If we attempt to do some of these things as part of our yearly observances of holy Lent, then the Lord will be able to pour his riches into our lives and the lives of all those we meet.

Renewed now with heavenly bread,
by which faith is nourished, hope increased,
and charity strengthened,
we pray, O Lord,
that we may learn to hunger for Christ,
the true and living Bread,
and strive to live by every word
which proceeds from your mouth.

May we all have a fruitful and grace-filled Lent.

Yours in blessed hope,


Bishop of Middlesbrough

To be read and made available on the Weekend of March 5 and 6 2022 in all churches and chapels of the Diocese – also to be found in video form on the Diocesan website and YouTube

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