Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Pastoral Letter On Our Christian Struggle – First Sunday of Lent 10th March 2019


My dear brothers and sisters,

Every season of the Church’s year constitutes a call to holiness.  Be it Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter we find the same Jesus, the same Saviour bringing about our sanctification; leading us to the perfection of love found in intimate, loving union with Himself[1].  Yet, Lent brings an urgent call to renew our struggle for holiness.  A struggle we see in the Scriptures, foreshadowed in the desert journey of a chosen people through the trials of 40 years to a “land flowing with milk and honey”[2]; and a struggle seen in Christ’s triumph over the Devil’s deceptions in the wilderness so we may “worship the Lord (our) God, and serve him alone”[3].

If the 40 days of Lent were once for adults preparing for Baptism, it was quickly recognised how we all need this time of renewed prayer, penance and generosity.  Perhaps even more so as the years pass!  Today, Pope Francis reminds us that God does not want any of us to settle for a mediocre existence, “He wants us to be saints”[4].  If becoming a saint is a high goal that we never fully attain on earth – for a saint is someone who has entered Heaven – then Scripture and the teaching of the Church tell us this is God’s goal for every one of our lives.  The Second Vatican Council declared that “All in the Church … are called to holiness, according to the apostle’s saying: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’”[5].  During his memorable visit to Britain in 2010, Emeritus Pope Benedict told the young people of our country: “God loves you more than you could ever begin to imagine, and He wants the very best for you.  And by far the best thing … is to grow in holiness”[6].

I fear that so many of the problems the Church faces today arise from losing sight of this goal.  The Second Vatican Council taught emphatically that the ‘Universal Call to Holiness’ is the Church’s true renewal.  This has inspired us in the Year of Holiness in Shrewsbury Diocese.  However, Pope Francis reminds us that the path to holiness will always be a battle, warning that “those who do not realize this will be prey to failure and mediocrity”[7].  The Holy Father explains that we face not only a battle against the world and a worldly mentality; nor a struggle “that can be reduced to a battle against our own weaknesses and evil tendencies (be they laziness, lust, envy, jealousy or any other).”  Pope Francis insists that it will also be a battle against the Devil who is “a living, spiritual being, perverted and perverting …”[8].

Were we not to recognise the gravity of this struggle, we would surely be in the greatest danger of deception.  The Devil is not an imaginary figure.  The Gospels show us a constant confrontation with this spiritual creature who is powerful and yet limited in seeking to lead us to reject God’s call.  It is surely one of the greatest deceptions of the Devil, to present Christ’s Catholic Church as merely a human institution beset with the sins and failures of its members, rather than the Divine institution entrusted with all of the means of human salvation[9].

Lent calls us to turn anew to these abundant means of grace.  Pope Francis assures us that in our Christian struggle we are not left defenceless; rather, “We can count on the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us”[10].  Among these he specifies, “Faith-filled prayer, meditation on the Word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, Sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity”[11].  Lent now invites us to advance toward our goal of holiness by means of grace; and to discover in our poverty that, in the words of Saint Paul, “… the Lord is rich enough, however many may ask his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”[12].

United with you in our Christian struggle,

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury

[1] Cf. Blessed Columba Marmion, “Christ in His Mysteries”

[2] Dt. 24:10

[3] Luke 4: 1-13

[4] Gaudete et Exsultate n. 1

[5] I Thess. 4:3, Lumen Gentium n.39

[6] The Big Assembly, 18th September 2010

[7] Gaudete et Exsultate n. 162

[8] Cf. Gaudete et Exsultate n. 160, Saint Paul VI, General Audience, 15th November 1972

[9] Cf. Unitatis Redintegratio n. 3

[10] Gaudete et Exsultate n. 162

[11] Gaudete et Exsultate n. 162

[12] Rom. 10:13