The Bishop's 2021 Lenten Message
Bishop Susan Bell invites us to a pilgrimage of the heart this Lent
Posted February 16, 2021
A Message for Lent from the Bishop of Niagara
The Right Reverend Susan Bell
I invite you, in the name of the Lord, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God.
The idea of pilgrimage or sancta loca – the journey to holy places – has deep roots in our faith. As early as the third century, visiting the places of significance in Jesus’ story was established as a holy act – an act that deepened Christian discipleship and brought us closer to Jesus.
Well, it’s hard to journey when you can’t leave home. Our wings have been clipped for a time while we wait out the ravages of this pandemic. So what we are being called to now in these 40 days of Lent in 2021, is a pilgrimage of another kind: it is a pilgrimage of the heart. We are being asked to go to a sancta loca of a different kind. This is an ancient and respected practice. If would-be pilgrims could not journey either because of cost or because of circumstance, they entered into a spiritual journey instead.
We certainly cannot journey from our homes today – not even to our local parishes – the human cost is simply too high, and our love of neighbour is simply too great. And so we must make our journey in quiet, with patience as we remain with intention and go inward rather than outward.
I recognize that this is a true discipline at the moment and perhaps not one that we greet with unalloyed joy. But I also recognize that this discipline is good for our souls. As the great Henri Nouwen wrote, “patience is an extremely difficult discipline precisely because it counteracts our unreflective impulse to flee.”
And it occurs to me that if faith is to really mean something in our lives and in this world, that this discipline of remaining and journeying inward is in fact not a side show to faith – that it is in fact central to our faith. It is very, very important. The practice of faith must create a space where we hear things that we can’t hear anywhere else – the truth about God and the truth about ourselves.
However, as we make this pilgrimage of the heart, we need not lose sight of the fact that we make this journey wrapped in the embrace of God’s Grace. And that grace contains within it some important truths – truths that we hear over and again in the whole of scripture: that while we are inevitably found wanting through our sin and by turning away from the Lord, our God is a God of second chances, of forgiveness, of limitless patience, a God of encouragement and creativity. We walk with a God of Hope, and love through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, I pray that as you observe a holy Lent – with your heart in pilgrimage – that you would do so, resting in what God can do in love along the way.