Portsmouth: pastoral letter for Lent from Bishop Crispian Hollis

 The following letter was read throughout the Diocese of Portsmouth at all Sunday Masses Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I always like to prepare for Lent by seeing the season as a whole, never forgetting that it comes to its climax with the celebration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. All the liturgies build towards that great event and none of them can be either studied or contemplated in isolation. Today I'd like to look forward to Maundy Thursday and the Mass of the Lord's Supper. The Gospel on that day is not, strictly speaking, about the Eucharist, but tells of Christ washing the feet of Peter and his fellow disciples. For me, as the celebrant of the Mass, the experience of kneeling before twelve parishioners and washing their feet after the manner of Christ himself is incredibly moving and challenging. I think it also demands considerable courage and humility from those whose feet are washed. It is not simply a ritual or a bit of play-acting. It is a deeply sacramental moment and it commits the celebrant to making visible the fulfilment of the Lord's command that we should love one another as he has loved us. And, as if that were not enough, it makes us known as a community which has such great care for all our sisters and brothers that there is nothing we would not do to serve each other and, indeed, to serve the whole human family. The solemn washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday proclaims us to be a servant Church, ministering to the whole human family as Christ himself did. None of us, neither the priest as the celebrant nor those whose feet are being washed, are in control of this moment. However much we feel, with Peter, that we are unworthy of this loving attention, we know, from the Lord's own warning, that if he does not wash us, we can have no part with him. We have to respond to the Lord's command and to the needs of others because then, through our love for one another, everyone will recognise us as Christ's disciples (John 13:35) and the Good News will be proclaimed. We have talked and reflected a great deal in the course of recent months on the significance of Communion and Mission for us as a diocese. In the Maundy Thursday celebration of the Lord's Supper we see a deep and very rich example of what that Communion and Mission really means. The longer I spend as Bishop in our diocese, the more I am coming to see that my calling, and that of all who share the ordained ministry with me, is essentially one of service. We may not be very good at it but we all do our best to 'lay down our lives for our friends.' This call to be servant ministers of a 'servant community' does not mean any abdication of our responsibility to be leaders but it does mean that fearlessly we have to put out into the deep waters of the Lord's company so that 'we can be with him wherever he is.' I best understand this ministry of service to Christ and his community as meaning that I must go to places and people of his choosing rather than mine. I have to follow his way so that I can be with him wherever and with whomever he is to be found. When I wrote to you for Lent last year, I spoke of having the sense of being called to something new and to a new way of living. It meant that I had to start to leave the place in which I was constantly 'doing' in order to allow 'being' to take precedence in my life. I am beginning to see now how that has been developing into an insistent call to 'lay down my life for my friends.' This is the deep water into which I am being called. To be ready to accept that challenge of sharing more and more in the Lord's ministry of service - that 'catching of people', as St Luke puts it means that I, in all humility and vulnerability, must let the Lord kneel before me so that he can wash my feet with mthe cleansing and healing waters of renewal. Allowing the Lord to serve me in this way permits him to lead me into reconciliation and renewal. It's then that I can just begin to understand what he is doing for me. 'You call me Lord and Master,' he says 'and rightly, so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.' (John 13:13-16) To be so washed is to be taken into communion with Christ and into his mission. He makes us 'beautiful' because 'beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.' (Isaiah 52:7) I put these thoughts before you so that we can share something of our Lenten journey together - a journey into a deeper love and service of the Lord, who calls us, in the words of today's Gospel, 'to be the salt of the earth - and the light of the world.' Pray for me, as I do for you, that together, through our lives of faithful witness to Christ and His Gospel, others may come to believe in him and be able to grasp hold ever more strongly of the new life that the risen Christ offers us. I find it difficult to think of a better way of preparing for the celebration of Easter. May God bless you all, +Crispian

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