Harbin: Lent fast includes no TV, smartphones, Internet and fake news

In his pastoral letter for Lent, Fr Joseph Zhao urges the faithful to renew their baptismal life, suggesting a “rational use of communication tools”, overcoming virtual “fast food” by reading and copying the texts of the Bible.

Feb 19, 2021

By Giuseppe Zhao Hongchun
Fr Joseph Zhao, apostolic administrator of Harbin (Heilongjiang), released a pastoral letter today for Lent. In it he urges the faithful to avoid TV, smartphones, Internet and fake news during their fast. The practical advice he gives is the other side of something positive, namely the rediscovery of baptism and the Word of God through silence and copying passages of the Bible.

Fr Joseph, 44, has been a priest since 2004. In December 2011 the Holy See appointed him apostolic administrator of Harbin. He belongs to the unofficial church. On 6 July 2012, without a mandate from the Holy See, the government ordained Rev Yue Fusheng, who returned to Catholic communion in 2018, when Pope Francis lifted the excommunication of some official bishops, on the occasion of the signing of the provisional agreement between China and the Vatican.

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Lent is the preparation period of forty days before Easter. During this period, Christians purify their minds through repentance, prayer and self-denial, ready to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and the new life we have gained by the spirit of living and dying with Christ. The Church begins Lent with the Ash Liturgy. On this day, we sprinkle ashes on our heads. First, it reminds us that the life of this journey is short and fragile, because we were ashes, and we will return to ashes after death; Second, it also urges us to respond to Jesus' call, that is, to repent from sin and to believe in the Gospel, so as to obtain the true life in the Lord. Therefore, Lent is a period of conversion, in this period, the Church asks us to use the weapons of confession and redemption to resist the root of evil: the devil, selfish desire, and secular, as well as to rebuild a complete self in God, that is, to live according to the existence significance of the children of God. Since our human's righteousness and virtue are injured and become fragile due to the consequences of Original Sin, which makes it difficult to do good and avoid evil, while easy to lose the end of life set by God, we should keep our life in God's order through constant conversion.

During this period of Lent, we must recognize that the fasting and hardworking of forty days is not a simple external manifestation, but a powerful sign of determination to change the old self's life. It may be easier for us to give up all inappropriate material enjoyment and gain more freedom in our heart through a sincere practice of self-discipline, so that we can hear the voice of God more easily and answer the call of God's love. A life change from the inside out is the pious goal of self-restraint. Thus, the significance of self-discipline does not only refer to the fasting according to the provisions of the church, but also to the wider abandonment, which is the adjustment of life itself to its goal. Nowadays, with the improvement of people's material living standards, we usher in a convenient and seemingly colorful era. But for Christians, it also brings some spiritual challenges, such as the increasing demand for consumption, the change of life from inner peace to outer anxiety, the constant busy with the rapid development of society, and the virtualization of life style... This kind of reality makes it difficult for us to go back to the heart to find God. Therefore, we need to reflect on our inner desires seriously. Is it reasonable? Where is it going to lead us? Can the satisfaction of these desires help us realize the end of life?

Consequently, at the beginning of this Lent, we especially emphasize that believers should live a comprehensive and thorough spirit of conversion, and make it full of the atmosphere of getting rid of the old and welcoming the new. Everyone should have the sincerity to confess and repent, and constantly recall the Baptism he received, so that this period of Lent will become a period full of joy and hope, a period full of freedom, peace and firmness of the children of God.

I would like to put forward some specific suggestions for you to spend your Lent: in addition to controlling your diet, you should also restrain the curiosity on the Internet and avoid  the waste of time. We should pray more seriously, read the Bible in a planned way, practice our love for our neighbors generously, and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as possible...... In our time, fasting noise, false news, especially images are more necessary than fasting. We live in the image society, and we are image diners. We let images flood into us through the Internet, mobile phones, TV, media and reality itself. Many of them are unhealthy, which convey violence, deceit, obscenity and lies. They only incite the most evil instincts in our hearts and target us under the devil's trick to lure and destroy us. Worse still, what the devil advocate is a false and unrealistic life style, and the seemingly attractive outlook on life and values brought by the practice. If we do not install a filter or a barrier in our heart, we will soon turn our imagination and soul into a garbage can. Evil images will not die in us, but they will ferment, then: they will be transformed into impulses and imitations, greatly disturbing the dignity and freedom of human beings we are born with. Therefore, during the period of Lent, the rational use of communication tools and the conscious cultivation of good reading and social habits will help us to listen to the voice of God and receive the invitation to practice love with Him.

In addition, a seemingly simple and clumsy way to practice piety in Lent is to copy the Bible, doctrines or other religious materials. The writing contains heart training, listening and praying. Just like the hermits, they do not give the devil the chance of temptation in the simple and boring work, so they can continuously contact the Holy Word, return to the inner simplicity and meet God. From the virtual Internet fast food to the tangible paper and pen, the Word of God has become the real food of life for us. Copying the Bible is like the two disciples going to Emmaus, who walk with the Risen Christ and see the face of God in their heart.

The epidemic is not over yet, and we still cannot open the Holy Church. Nevertheless, during this period of Lent, we should walk together with our families, strengthen our faith and pray with one’s heart, then look forward to and celebrate the transcendental miracle of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ with a new look of the soul!

May brothers and sisters be happy and full, and have a life with God during Lent in 2021.

Apostolic Administrator of Harbin Catholic District
Zhao Hongchun Father Joseph
16 February 2021

Asia News

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