By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 3rd March 2019
Quinquagesima Sunday heralds the season of Lent, the season when we Christians are called to be more diligent in prayer and undertake an honest appraisal of our spiritual lives and discipleship. Some people make a lot of effort to keep physically fit, even though their bodies will die, but ignore spiritual fitness which is the essential self and lives on.
The first reading from Sirach stresses that punishment is certain for those who oppose that which is good. This good includes leading others towards and mentoring them on the journey towards the source of all goodness, namely God himself.
The gospel reading records the final words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. His theme is that of Christian service, and Jesus points out that a person cannot lead someone else into a life of discipleship unless that person is a true and dedicated disciple. A Christian mentor cannot assist others in their transformation unless he or she is self-aware and self-critical of the quality of their own discipleship. All of us are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God, but that doesn’t mean that the Church should lower the spiritual and moral bar. Doing that is adopting what is called a ‘flat earth’ policy namely, ‘if it is not possible for anyone to reach the mountain top, don’t try to get them there, flatten the mountain.’
Jesus’ point is simple. He tells his listeners that they should not try to guide others into faith until they have had a good look at themselves, because what a person says and does is an overflow from who they are. It is only possible to be a mentor if that mentor has a deep love of God and lives the faith, considering that to be more important than telling others what they should do. In the words of Eliza Doolittle to Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, “Don’t just tell me, show me.”
So is your Lent going to be a seriously strenuous one, or one that is little more than a nodding acquaintance? The Church needs members who shrug off complacency and become excellent disciples.
The three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting and the generous offering of time, skills and money. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting – one meatless meal and light snacks. All Fridays in Lent should be meatless. This discipline exists not as an end in itself, but to keep us alert to what Lent is really about – our spiritual growth. Giving things up is one thing but being more spiritually disciplined is more important. Make sure that you are at Mass every Sunday or Sunday Vigil. Doing this, no matter what, can be a witness to anyone who might want you to do other things on Sundays. God first – others next. Our weekday mass attendance has suffered recently from holidays and sickness, so how about adding a weekday mass to your Lenten observance.
Some of you use the Lent Books we obtained as a spiritual resource, and that is excellent. If you don’t use this one, use another, or read a passage from Scripture in addition to what you normally do. Consider attending the Stations of the Cross at St Paul’s on Friday evening. This Lent, St Ninian’s and St Paul’s have created a joint calendar for our congregations indicating what the times of services and other activities will be. As part of this we will be holding gatherings available to both congregations to reflect on the question that the Catholic Bishops have asked us to explore before the 2020 Plenary Council. This question is ‘What is God is asking of the clergy and lay faithful of the Church in these times of deep trouble in the life of the Church?” These sessions will not simply be talk fests asking participants what the Church needs. Ask that question and you get, “Female priests, gay clergy, laity celebrating communion and so on. These sessions they will be set in the context of adoration, prayer and spiritual reflection. Some will be held here in St Paul’s, others will be held at the Catholic Pastoral Centre on some Tuesday mornings. When Pope Benedict erected the Ordinariates, he envisaged that the Ordinariates would share in the mission of the Church alongside local diocesan Catholics. Our situation with St Paul’s is one which makes this possible.
Quinquagesima calls us to shrug off complacency and remove the plank that is in our own eye so we can see clearly to remove the speck that is in the eye of others.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.