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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Portsmouth: Pastoral Letter from Bishop Crispian Hollis
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¬†God speaks to the heart Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, When the Gospel is read to us on Ash Wednesday we will hear again those three challenges, traditionally associated with our celebration of Lent. We are to be almsgivers ≠ generous in giving of our treasure and talents to those in need. We are to be people who fast ≠ exercising that ascetic discipline over our time and our appetites. We are to be people of prayer ≠ seeking the face and heart of Jesus with great love. We do these things because we are Christian disciples and because we love God and each other. We try to become more faithful and committed disciples of the Lord so that we can better and more effectively live and proclaim his Gospel. As St Paul puts it in the second reading, we are trying to become more visibly "that letter from Christwritten not in ink but with the Spirit of Godon the tablets of our living hearts." Loving and faithful commitment to prayer has been a key factor in our quest for renewal in the Spirit for our diocese. I spend a lot of time praying for things, praying for the courage and the strength to respond to the gifts of the Spirit so freely offered, gifts which I need if I am to be a faithful disciple of the Lord. But I am constantly learning and relearning that discipleship is not just about what we do ≠ much more importantly it is about who we are. When St Mark tells the story of Jesus appointing the apostles, he stresses the fact that they were to be, first of all, the companions of Jesus. No one can be a disciple without first being a companion ≠ an intimate friend ≠ one who "comes and sees" and who spends time with Jesus. This spending time with the Lord is the most important thing I want to do this Lent. In our first reading today, the Prophet Hosea writes most beautifully about the way in which God loves each one of us. "I am going to lure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart." So often in my praying I find that I hear my own words and my concerns are the ones which are uppermost in my thoughts. I'm not always very good at listening to what the Lord has to say. But today, God is saying that he wants to speak to us in our hearts. He wants us to know and experience his love. He wants us to try to clear away the noise and busyness of our lives ≠ to be lured into the desert where so often God is found ≠ so that we can hear him and listen to him. He is inviting us, once again, to be his companions so that we can be his disciples ≠ those who have sought and have seen his face. Our diocese has been very blessed by God over many years and that has helped us to be more and more aware of the extraordinary love the Lord has for us. "I call you friends", Jesus says, "because I have made known to you everything I have learned from my FatherI chose you and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit." A personal relationship with the Lord, which is friendship and companionship, is at the heart of our faith and prayer. This Lenten season offers us a wonderful opportunity to deepen that prayer, both personally, and in our communities and parishes. The readings for the Lenten Masses are particularly rich. The Scriptures are bearers of the grace that is the presence of the Lord and meditation on them will help us to listen to him when he speaks to our hearts, which is what he longs to do. I will be speaking and writing of these things again between Easter and Pentecost because I want that time to be a particular and specific period of prayer for all our communities and parishes. Those weeks are going to be crucial moments when we will be making major decisions for the future of the diocese. We are going to have to be brave enough and honest enough to dare to ask the Holy Spirit to give us the courage, wisdom and love we need as we enter more and more into the renewal of our diocese. "Fear not, I am with you", we hear the Lord saying, as we put our hands to the plough. We cannot look back. We have arrived at a moment of extraordinary opportunity as we seek to become more and more active as the gathered disciples of Christ. We are doing our best to renew our fidelity and commitment to the living and proclaiming of the Gospel "for the salvation of the world." It is a time of immense challenge and blessing which demands intense prayer from us all. But first ≠ we are on the threshold of Lent and we hear Jesus saying again "Come and seefollow me." Pray for me, as I do for you, that we will have the courage to answer his call, to brave the desert where he wants to speak to our hearts. Friendship, companionship, love ≠ these are the gifts the Lord is offering us ≠ and they are the foundation of our lives as his disciples. Do not be afraid because the Lord who calls us is a "Lord of compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy" - and he is faithful to his promises. May God bless you all, + Crispian
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