by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International
[Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of reflections throughout Lent from Rev. Paul Lansu. Reflections on the Sunday readings will be posted each week on the Friday before the Sunday which the reflection references. Holy Day reflections will be posted the day before the actual Holy Day.]
Ash Wednesday is a liturgical event that gives us, in the middle of our week of work, a moment to reflect on where all of our being and work is taking us. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season and falls forty-six days before Easter.
Ash Wednesday is a day of additional prayer, fasting and repentance. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It shows how relative everything in life is. Today we say, “Repent and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Fasting, solidarity and prayer are the three works of the season of Lent and is a time of preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others. People should not need to ask where their God is, because he should be visible and tangible in people who “have opened their hearts to him and are therefore rich in kindness. We are the incarnation of God.”
Helping to carry the crosses of misery
These forty days are a moment in which believers express, more than ever, their concrete solidarity with people, in our own society or abroad, who suffer from injustice, famine, poverty, insecurity or violence. Many people carry their daily cross! We are ready, or prepared ourselves, to carry the crosses of poverty and exploitation. To carry suffering together makes the crosses lighter as well.
See the image of God in others
Lent alerts us to our need of God through our relationships with human beings, especially with the weakest of our societies. We look at God through the faces and eyes of the others: the poor, the hungry and the hurt. The Lenten period invites us to clean away the corrosion of selfishness and to share his love with others as he told us to do.
Conflicts and wars, violence in response to climate change, the growing gap between rich and poor. More than ever, our time calls for radical choices.
Lent is about decisions and making choices; deciding to pray and to see more clearly what is important; to be connected and reconciled with the other; to make contact with God as his people on the road. Our life is always a work in progress.
The trumpet of Joël
Now that we are going into the fasting period the strong appeal of Joël sounds again. He uses the trumpet – today the megaphone – to call and collect everyone, young and old. The call is to return to the Source of our Life and to realize what it really is about. To turn the tide and live again from God. With Jesus, we learn that repentance, examination and change of lifestyle mature and grow in silence.
Importance of our motivation to fast
The prayer that may accompany the ashes is “remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” It is a stern warning that death awaits each of us sooner rather than later. Unless we give up our selfishness, we are doomed. Lent is a lived out reminder that the cross of Calvary is the announcement of God’s love for us. One’s life is worth so much to God that he died for each one of us. God’s gift of love is total, unconditional and forever. It requires that we love ourselves deeply so that loving others as we love ourselves evokes heroic generosity in us. Lent is an ongoing announcement of God’s offer of himself. We are invited to absorb this love and make it present daily in our world through justice, truth seeking, reconciliation, generosity and forgiveness.
During his life Christ made it very clear that fasting is not about what you do or give up, but about the motivation for doing it. Just giving up sweets for example does not really make the world a better place or you a happier person. Our way of fasting can have an effect on the world and our personal spirituality only when our hearts return to God and when our deeds match our words. Hypocrisy is the opposite of fasting. When you fast, make it a part of an Easter journey. The good news of the risen Lord motivates us to identify with those who have crosses to carry.
Faith in action
Many Pax Christi members and Christians (such as our member organisation in the United Kingdom) give on Ash Wednesday a witness to nuclear war preparations. This is carrying the cross of the possible destruction of our planet. This is faith in action. Nuclear weapon states are modernising their nuclear arsenals while the threat and possession of nuclear weapons needs to be condemned and complete nuclear disarmament should be realised in order to save our planet. Ash Wednesday is a day to come to new visions — not only in the way of being a human in our society or our world but also in the field of peace and security, also in the field of international politics. The call for conversion is to total nuclear disarmament.
Worship linked to our action in the world can make a difference. Our fast is at the same time our feast, because our word is our deed. I wish you all a very meaningful Lent.