25 February, 2020

Lenten Pastoral Letter 1837

The Pastoral Instruction for Lent 1837
Addressed to all the Faithful in New Holland and Van Diemen's Land
By the Right Reverend John Bede Polding DD Bishop and Vicar Apostolic

Now, therefore, saith the Lord, be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning.  From the Prophecy of Joel 2 : 12

When John the Baptist, in the exercise of his high commission, announced to the world the coming of its Redeemer, he preached the baptism of penance … The Church in like manner, at the commencement of this holy season, enjoins her pastors to entreat all under their charge to prepare their souls to celebrate the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, and to bring themselves into the disposition most fitting the contemplation of these sorrowful mysteries, by a renunciation of sin, by a sincere conversion, by penitential exercises in atonement for past crime, and as a means to purify their affections from carnal pursuits.

The world and its business usurp that place in our hearts which God alone should occupy; hence indifference to prayer, hence neglect of attendance at Mass, hence years follow each other in rapid succession, and the Sacraments are not received. This being the case, with bitter grief we view the fatal consequences in the prevalence of vice, which spreads like a desolate and cancer over this land. The sacred name of God is blasphemed worse than among the Gentiles; the holiness of an oath is trampled under foot; Sunday is no longer deemed that day consecrated to the Lord; children grow up in the habits of sin unchecked and unheeded; with a lamentable precocity (sic precociousness) - before their mental or corporeal power are developed - they emulate the bad example of their parents; the sanctity of marriage is deemed of no account. Drunkenness - the parent and progeny of misfortune and of crime - who shall recount the victims this monster daily sacrifices to hell? 

But the word of the Lord remaineth for ever. This gracious offer to pardon a sinful people is held out also to us. But the conditions on which that pardon is offered must be fulfilled. The first of those conditions is a change of heart … the second condition is a determination to avoid evil and to do good … The third condition of repentance, a disposition to atone for past sins, and to preserve our souls in good purposes by works of penance.

And if Jesus vouchsafed to suffer for us and thus make a full atonement for our crimes, do not imagine that you are thereby exempted from the works of penance.

From these principles it follows, Dearly Beloved, that each one who acknowledges himself to be a sinner, and professes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, is bound to deny himself, to take up his cross after the example of his blessed Master. A life of labour, each according to his vocation, abounding in the exercises of penance and of all good works, is the life of the true follower of Jesus Christ.

Whilst the Church hath exhorted her children to live at all times in the strict discipline of a Christian life, from the earliest period of her existence she has set apart a season of the year preparatory to her celebration of the mysteries of our Redemption, during which she has called upon the faithful to enter on a more severe course of penance, to live in deeper retirement, and to seek a more intimate union with God in exercises of devotion.

Dearly Beloved, in no portion of the Christian Church ought the sacred time of Lent to be observed with greater strictness than in this (country) which the Lord has committed to our pastoral charge. Are there not very many who live in a systematic contempt of the ordinances of Religion, whom we have repeatedly exhorted to return to the practices of the Christian life, to throw off their habits of criminal indulgence and indolence? 
Dearly Beloved, we will not speak to you in the language of recrimination and reproof; rather we will entreat you in all affectionate solicitude for your welfare, to take up the yoke of the Lord with a willing mind and cheerful heart, that you may experience its sweetness. He who has so long waited for you, compassionate and gracious, is even now ready to carry you back to the fold in the arms of His mercy. He will embrace you; you will weep over your past miseries, and He will weep with you; He will cloth you with the robe of repentance; He will welcome you to the banquet of His love; in your conversion heaven and earth will rejoice.

O let not this our admonition be in vain! We trust in the Lord that denying all ungodly desires, you will at length know the time of your visitation, and study the things which are to your everlasting peace.

Excerpts from Bishop John Bede Polding's Pastoral Letter for 1837 as contained in the anthology The Eye of Faith.


The Eye of Faith was printed by the Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore Victoria in 1977.  The editors were Gregory Haines, Sister Mary Gregory Foster and Frank Brophy.  Special contribution to the volume were made by Professor Timothy Suttor and James Cardinal Freeman.

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