11 March, 2020

Lenten Pastoral Letter : 1850

The Pastoral Instruction for Lent 1850
Addressed to all the Faithful
by the Most Reverend John Bede Polding OSB DD 
Archbishop and Vicar Apostolic

Behold ! Now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation.
                                       2nd Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, 6:2

Dearly Beloved,

If we permit ourselves to be deluded, at other periods of the year, into habits of self-indulgence and of spiritual sloth, we cannot be so insensible to the proprieties of our Christian vocation as to continue during this holy time, in a state totally at variance with it; and thus to turn into our own individual condemnation, the means so many thousands employ, most efficaciously, for their sanctification. Enter then, Dearly Beloved, into the spirit of this holy time: under its influence cease not to pray for the grace of heartfelt compunction for your past sins. With the profit of all, review the years that have gone by; in the presence of God recall to your mind your past neglects, transgressions, the sad disorders of an undisciplined life. Let “your sins be always before you”. In this spirit you will apply to your daily labours and avocations, as the means happily supplied by the Divine goodness to enable you to make an atonement for them in union with the labours of your Saviour Jesus Christ. Crosses, contradictions, trials, afflictions, will be welcomed as bringing with them more ample means to satisfy for your past sins.

Archbishop John Bede Polding

This spirit of Penance will produce its due effect, in bringing about a change in your tempers and dispositions - above all, it will subdue pride; for pride and the true spirit of Penance cannot exist in the same breast. Hence, during this holy time, you will endeavour to become more humble, more mild, more patient, more disposed to be compassionate towards the failings of the others and more severe in judging yourselves; for the spirit of Penance is absolutely incompatible with the habit or practice speaking of the faults of others, of rashly judging others, of condemning others. Wherever this disposition prevails, Christian charity is destroyed; Christian charity, which is the bond of perfection. And yet, Dearly Beloved, how common are sins of uncharitableness!

In vain, Dearly Beloved, are our fasts and external austerities, if we permit pride, vanity, vindictiveness, unmortified curiosity, to assume the form - of all others the most displeasing to God - that of an uncharitable, criticising, censuring spirit. “Speak to all the people of the land” says the Lord “when you fasted and the mourned did you keep a fast unto me?” Thus says the Lord of Hosts, “judge ye true judgement and shew ye mercy and compassion every man to his brother.” And again, “let none of you imagine evil in his heart against his friend, and love not a false oath, for these are things that I hate” says the Lord, “only Love ye truth and peace; and the fasts shall be to the house of Judah, joy and gladness and great solemnities.” (Zechariah 7:5)

Seek, Dearly Beloved, in retirement [from the world], as well as your circumstances will permit, to renew the spirit of your mind. Be not seen in places of public amusement. Retire with Jesus into the desert during these forty days: and if, during this period, or later, you have the opportunity of assisting at the exercises of spiritual retreat, fail not to use so precious an opportunity of effecting a sincere conversion from a life of sinful tepidity, to a life of fervour to the service of God. “I will conduct thee”, says the Lord, “into solitude, and I will speak to thy heart.” You will be enabled to prepare for your confession with the greater care; to examine your conscience with more exactitude; to confess your sins with stricter fidelity; to conceive a deeper and more heartfelt sorrow for your sins. Thus will you be renewed unto God, and be disposed to fulfil the most important duty of the year - your Paschal Communion - in a way which shall be most profitable to your soul.

How pleasing to God, how productive of good to ourselves, will this season of grace be, if this good determination take root! Under its influence holy charity will grow up, producing all manner of blessed fruits. “Charity which is mild, and gentle, and patient. Charity which envies not, is not proud, is not ambitious, seeks not her own.” Charity which is ever eager to praise, and rejoices to do so; and is silent when she cannot; is never better pleased than when she can conceal the faults of others from public observation, whilst she hesitates not to give that fraternal correction, in all meekness and gentleness, which duty requires.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Excerpts from Bishop John Bede Polding's Pastoral Letter for 1850 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.

Archbishop Polding's knowledge of the Scripture was so extensive that he could freely quote from it in his writings, especially from the Old Testament prophets and the Epistles of Saint Paul.

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