In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

Glory be to Jesus Christ!

Your Grace, Dear priests, deacons and religious, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,

St. Paul exhorts us today in 2nd letter to Corinthians that “We are ambassadors of Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”. These words are as important to us today as they were when St. Paul wrote them.

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We are called to be true ambassadors of God’s love, peace and mercy. Today the Catholics of the Latin Church begin the Lenten pilgrimage, which is the yearly journey to the Cross and ultimately to the empty tomb and the joy of the Resurrection, through which our hearts are renewed, our faith made firm, and our sins forgiven. In most of the Eastern churches we will begin this journey in one week’s time.

Last Wednesday Pope Francis announced 2nd of March as day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine. The Holy Father appealed to those “with political responsibility to examine their consciences seriously before God, who is the God of peace and not of war, who is the Father of all, not just of some, who wants us to be brothers and not enemies.” I thank God that I have an opportunity to be here among you today and pray together for peace in Ukraine, as she faces the hideous evil of war, violence, and hostility, from an enemy who is deaf to all pleas for peace, and makes war against a peaceful neighbour, Ukraine, who has done her no wrong, and has only good will toward her. Ukraine is not Russia’s enemy. Please pray for Ukraine as she passes through this terrible trial and suffering.

Our life as Christians is, and is supposed to be, a journey. Our life as Christians is a spiritual sojourn, which we tend to think of as our personal journey, a very private one which doesn’t involve others much. It’s just between me and God. Yet all of the imagery and prayers of the Church portray the spiritual life as a community journeying together, like Israel did on its escape from Egypt and as it wandered the desert for 40 years. We read the spiritual journey of that community in the book of Exodus and through most of the Torah. Never was that a private journey for those involved, but they experienced all of the events of salvation history as a community, just as they experienced God as a community.

You and I are part of that same community. We are travelling on a grand journey to the ultimate destination; the Kingdom of Heaven. Like all journeys it can have moments that are arduous or difficult, at other times it might seem long and boring, and at times intense or even exciting. But it is meant to be experienced together as members of the Body of Christ. From the moment we were baptized we became part of the Body of Christ – we were baptized into Christ, into His Body. At no time are we ever a Christian individual in isolation from the other members of God’s household, which is the Church. In the Early Church they taught, “One Christian is no Christian.” We can only practice the love that Jesus taught if there are others around us for us to love and serve, and who love and serve us likewise. We begin Great Lent as a community, this is part of our journey together in which we especially think about our Lord’s words “to take up our cross daily, to deny ourselves and to follow Him.”

Great Lent is a time that our holy Church calls on each of us in his or her own way to do good deeds. So let us ask ourselves – What are the main good deeds? The catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that they are prayer, fasting and charity.

The first of these is prayer – our relationship with our Lord God. During Lent we are called to a deeper communication with God through prayer. This is why, the Church asks us to dedicate more of our time to personal prayer. You will notice that church services also are different in character – they become longer and more penitential as the people stop to think about themselves and their lives.

The second is fasting – this is a concern for oneself, where everyone tries to review their life and change it for the better. When we talk about Lent, we imagine this to be a time when you abstain from one food or another. To a certain degree, this is true. But what is more important is that we stop and look at ourselves and see what it is that we are dependent on. You see, fast serves the same purpose as prayer. Prayer gives us a chance to be with God. And fast eliminates that on which we are dependent and that which keeps us from being with God. So true fasting is not just what we deny ourselves but that which we try to get rid of – sins, dependence, bad habits etc.

The third is charity – our attitude toward our neighbour. We must not only see our neighbour but we must offer him our support. The virtue of poverty reflects this very well. In Ukrainian the word for pоverty is “убожество” which literally means: У (in – or – with) Божество (God). When a person finds himself WITH GOD, he is not tied to material things. Charity reflects the virtue of “poverty”. Whether we are rich or not rich at all we should know how to share our wealth with those in need. And wealth does not necessarily apply only to material wealth. Each of us can give of our time, our heart and our understanding because, just as there are many different kinds of wealth in life so also there are many different kinds of hunger in the world. Besides a physical hunger there is also a hunger for fairness, a hunger for forgiveness, a hunger for a kind word and none of these require money which some of us do not have. Let us stop to think of what God gave us – HIS SON who died on the cross for us! This is REAL charity!

These three good deeds are a so-called triangle of our attitude toward God, toward ourselves and toward others – they are very important and form the basis of our Christian lives. In a sense Lent must include fasting from something; fine food, bad habits, selfish acts. It also means that we fast with somebody; we do not fast alone, but join our brothers and sisters in the whole household of faith. We fast together, as a community, in communion with one another. Our fasting is also a sign of things yet to come, of that which we can only perceive with the eye of faith, therefore we fast for something; we fast as we await the Bridegroom of the Church, even Christ our God whom we await with joyful expectation. Fasting devoid of charity and love for our neighbours, without merciful lovingkindness for the poor; without genuine sacrifices for the good of the communities in which we live has absolutely no value at all, precisely because such a fast ignores the fact that we are now members of one body, one household of faith, which Christ purchased with the price of His own blood

St. John Chrysostom teaches us how to be charitable. He says: “During Lent people usually try to abstain from food, particularly meat, and at this time people spend less money for food than they do while not fasting. So we need to take the sum of money that we spend for food throughout the year while not fasting, subtract from it the sum that we spend during lent and give this to the poor.”

Lent is the time when we abstain from something and perform good deeds. May the reading from today’s Gospel open before us as a path leading to the Resurrection.

I ask you then dear brothers and sisters, not to forget the suffering land of Ukraine, my homeland, which now passes through terrifying and dark days. Please remember Ukraine and her people in your prayers this Lent, that peace, justice, and prosperity may come to her, and that all wars, hostilities, and suffering may cease. Also, I ask you to pray sincerely for the conversion of Russia as our Lady requested at Fatima over 100 years ago.

Wisely did the prophet David say “put not your trust in princes, or in the sons of men”, but we as Christians put our trust in God from whom we receive salvation, peace and forgiveness of our sins. Amen.