Pastoral Letter at the beginning of 2012

Pastoral Letter at the beginning of the Year of the Lord 2012 on Marriage, “Lapsed” Catholics, Lent and Ordination
Dear brothers and sisters,
Greetings and blessings from your Bishop! At the beginning of the new year I wish to express my joy about the cooperation that we experienced in various ways in 2011: At Community Weeks, with the training and the blessing of leaders, through your generous contributions to church dues and other collections and through your participation in our theme of the sacrament of marriage. The commitment of the executive of the ADPC was excellent. Thank you very much for all your genuine involvement for the sake of Jesus Christ.
I am delighted about the integrity and loyalty that many showed when we went through difficult times in 2011. Every Church has her procedures. I am glad that many Catholics understand and respect the workings of our Church, its rules, roles and procedures and the different levels of decision making. The meeting with the priests in November 2011 of four Archbishops and Bishops representing the Bishops’ Conference was intended to emphasise them. Some wondered about the possible damage done to the reputation of the Church. I like to respond by saying: The way how we deal with a crisis will show our strength and actually boost our reputation. St Paul reminds us of our task of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16-21). Here we have the great opportunity to show that we are experts in this.
We have got heroes: The couples married in Church. They show the power of the spirit by doing daring things: They trust in the love of God that unites them. They reveal the mystery of God’s love. They make it visible. When we talk about marriage in our Catholic Church we talk about something that is very different form the civil marriage or the cultural marriage. We talk about faith. We proclaim God who is love. He is the expert in love. If we want to succeed in love we must follow him. We must forget about all the cheap talk about love that is only a disguise for selfishness. As God does not abandon his covenant with us, so married couples do not abandon their covenant. We have all reason to talk nicely about marriage. We are called to support married couples in many ways. The meetings of Marriage Encounter are one way of supporting and growing in married life. Please make use of them.
In 2012 we will focus on the many Catholics who do not come to church. Some communities told me that some 90% of the adults do not attend church life. Luke (Lk 15:8-10) tells us a touching story. A woman had ten drachmas and lost one. Frantically she searched for the one till she found it. The point of the story is not that she searched for one drachma. It is anyway worth only a few cents. But she had ten. The number ten indicates completeness. This completeness was lost. She did everything to restore this completeness.
We can ask like this woman: Are we complete as a Church? Whom are we missing in order to be complete? In some communities it may be even “nine drachmas” (90%) that are missing. Do we miss their talents, their contributions, their questions, their ideas, their faith?
We may also ask: Could these “lapsed” be missing something in our Church, in our communities? Do they perhaps miss the experience of the love of God in good liturgies? Do they miss proper preaching? Do they miss reconciliation, the sacraments? Do they miss a community that is supportive of one another and bears the burdens of one another?
These people who are sometimes called “lapsed” may help us actually to examine and perhaps to improve our practice of faith. Could is be that we became complacent? Could it be that we forgot to talk about the beauty of our faith and assets as Catholics? Could it be that we lost our missionary endeavour? Could it be that we have to rekindle the candle of our love of God? Could it be that some just enjoy bickering?
I believe that we should feel like the women searching for the one drachma. We cannot be quiet while missing not only one but sometimes nine drachmas. We must long to become complete. We have to come together. In 2012 we will look for compassionate and friendly ways achieve this. ADPC and Regional Meetings will address this theme. The SCCs and sodalities are called to participate actively in this move. This will need much listening to the stories of people. We do not have to threaten them. We must strive to make the love of God an experience in the concrete lives of people. So we can bring the light of faith into our lives.
On Ash Wednesday we will begin the time of Lent. It is a very special time for us as Catholics. We can be proud of our lenten customs that help us to deepen our faith and rid our lives of evil. One of the evils is disrespect. Many people do not know anymore how to show respect. For life to thrive we need respect: We need respect for one another and for God. I want to highlight three Lenten practices:
Almsgiving is an expression for respectful solidarity. We show this respect for instance through a generous contribution to the Lenten Appeal. By assisting the poor we encounter Christ (cf. Mt 25:31-40).
Confession in Lent is an expression that we want to restore respect for our Christian values that we may have abandoned for selfish reasons and in favour of vices.
Fasting can be a very valuable exercise. It restores the respect for our faith. Many things tend to take priority in our lives; we feel the urge to possess them. By fasting we refrain from the temptation to see our own worth through material things. We dare to depend ultimately on God, our creator. It is an illusion that we depend on all sorts of things in order to gain acceptance and respect. Fasting and doing Gospel Sharing during Lent helps us to renew our relationship with Jesus Christ. We become respected for the integrity, the values and convictions that we show in our decision making.
When we refrain from meat on Fridays (and meat is very dear to many), then we really do something for our spiritual and bodily life. If we choose to eat fish instead we give special nutrition to our body that only fish contains and pay respect to it. And by eating fish we use the old symbol for Christ, the fish. The letters for Fish in Greek symbolise: Jesus, Christ, God, Son, Saviour. And we eat what Jesus ate with his disciples after his resurrection: fish. So we express our faith in Christ. He is the way that in truth leads to life to the fullest. We also express respect towards Christ who died on Friday for us by saying: We love you and we depend on you.
Lent indeed helps us to allow God to work in us and through us. His will be done!
For Saturday before Pentecost we plan the ordination of our Deacons Mlulami Matiwane and Themba Goliash to the order of priesthood. We need sincere priests who love the Church and the people of God, who feed the sheep and don’t eat the sheep. We need priests that live their vows with integrity and commit themselves wholeheartedly. We need role models that give orientation to our lives. We need priests that challenge us not to condone and go along with all the habits and practices that destroy lives, communities and families. Please accompany the two with your prayer. Please accompany all our priests with your support. Good priests are the seedbed for vocations. For them also pray.
Looking at all this is good news. It is part of evangelisation. All this will accompany us with the ongoing interdiocesan consultation. Please take your time and talk about the different sections of this letter in the meetings of your SCC, sodality and PPC.
May God bless you abundantly, your Bishop
+ Michael Wüstenberg
Bishop of Aliwal
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