The eighth Sunday of the Year: 25 February 2001

My dear friends in Christ

As Lent approaches we are all invited to work out what we are to do and how we plan to go about it. However, an important question must not be by-passed: why should we be doing it anyway?

The "why" of Lent has a clear answer: we have not been faithful to our Christian calling and so we need the mercy and love of God to forgive and heal us. Unless that underlying conviction is there, we will not take Lent seriously. It will be a monumental waste of time - nothing but hypocritical window dressing. Now the last thing we want to be accused of is 'hypocrisy'! Oddly, unless we are ready to face our own hypocrisy, we will be wasting our time undertaking any Lenten discipline.

Perhaps today's readings may help us to set ourselves a realistic Lenten agenda.

The first reading raises with us the issue of the quality of our speech. An appropriate area of our life to look at. We boast, don't we, that we are no longer shocked by inappropriate language of any sort! What we say reveals the inner person. If our speech is shabby, foul, lying or untrustworthy, perhaps the inner person is corrupt or immoral. If our speech is littered with sexual innuendo, it may well reveal a nasty and exploitive attitude to our own and other people's sexuality. I suspect most of us have an uncomfortable agenda to address there.

The Gospel reading focuses our attention on our own blindness; perhaps we are blind to a whole range of personal and moral issues. See what comes into view when you scratch the surface; do I find a bigot, a lecher, a racist, and so forth?

This read from from Luke gives a way of getting in touch with the hidden, possibly, nasty 'me'. We are forever putting everyone else right about the way they are living. In the Gospel's language, we like to deal with "the speck" in our brother's eye, pointing out - for his good of course - his many failings, great and small.

There is a strong possibility that the items I chastise my brother about are the very issues that I need to address myself. If I berate my brothers and sisters about their lax personal morality, I may well be hiding from my own rnoral chaos. As I take my brothers and sisters to task about their lack of social concern and indifference to the poor, it may well be a cover for my own self- centred way of life.

The underlying message is that we can only effectively deal with our own sinfulness. Perhaps in doing that with humility and honesty we may affect others and encourage them to deal with the things that are wrong in their lives. That is much more effective and honest than pretending we are all good and thereby qualified to criticise the evil doing of others.

Whatever the details of our personal Lenten efforts, the overall objective is that we should be better disciples of the Lord. In doing that we are taking seriously His teaching. We are seeking to produce the good fruit that He looks for from a good tree. The goodness of the tree, of course, is entirely the work of God and in that we must rejoice and give thanks.

May this Lent bring you many blessings.

Christopher Budd. Bishop of Plymouth