Lent, Peace Spirituality

Holy Week: Reflection for Easter – Life is stronger than death; Rise up to live again

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the final entry in a series of reflections throughout Lent and Holy Week from Rev. Paul Lansu. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Acts 10:34a, 37-43 | Ps 118 (117) | Col 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9

Today is Easter. How will we celebrate, being that Easter is the feast of the victory of life over all negativity?

Hopelessness pollutes our life space. So many streams flow into the sea of our despair. Long-term unemployment scars many a heart. Violence awakens fear in the vulnerable, young and old. Famine gnaws away at the fabric of our society. Scandals in high places erode trust. It gets easier and easier to paint a grim picture of a pointless life ending in disastrous faith. But the darker the night, the more significant is the torch.

Our torch is the risen Christ. This Easter, as perhaps never before, Christ’s message is vital for the people of our time. It is vital because it is life giving. It is a message of hope highlighting that the God who made the world and its people has both safely in his hands and his helping is nearer than the air we breathe. In fact, he is living in our hearts and in our relationships. He has taken on our human condition even unto death. Rising from the dead, he has changed utterly the meaning of our lives.

Search and find

“Who are you looking for?” Jesus asks Mary Magdalene as she weeps by the side of the empty grave. The Easter Gospel left behind the women and disciples confused. They did not know where the Lord was and did not yet understand anything about rising from the dead. They also experienced deep loneliness and abandonment in their great loss and distress. Where are you Lord? When we need you most, where are you? Why should we believe in a good God of Life, when he could have prevented so much unnecessary suffering symbolised on Good Friday?

The resurrected Christ is asking to be found or discovered. If we really look, we can see him everywhere. He can be found among people who pray and work together in a constructive way, in open-minded people who follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle, and in people who have become wise enough not to judge others because they prefer to give life rather than be excluded from it.

We are made to love and to be loved, to reach out in forgiveness, generosity and trust to every brother and sister, especially those in greatest need. Following the torch of his example, we are called to keep hope alive for all those whose lives we touch, hope in the power of God’s love working in and through us for one another. To undermine this hope is the essence of evil.

In a hopeless situation, prayer gives us an instrument for inner peace and solidarity. Through our faith and prayer, we connect with each other in a way that we cannot explain but can feel. This feeling becomes an uplifting presence that translates itself in silence, music, words, body language and empathy. We literally stand next to each other and turn our eyes in the same direction for hope. Standing empty-handed together before God is better than simply standing with empty hands.

Look deeper than what you see

The point of Easter is to see beyond the grave, to see beyond the destruction of human life, to see beyond the observable facts. If we try to understand and rationalise everything, we could go mad. Easter gives us a window through which, besides looking at the world with our brains, we can also look with our hearts and hands.

Faith should keep us alert and in tune with the world. Faith adds something that the modern world has lost — namely a sense of belonging to a love greater than our understanding. This source of love inspires us to deal with our neighbour with more tolerance and to look at ourselves in a less egocentric way.

The religious answer to the question of “who or what are you looking for” is that we should look beyond what we see and understand. He is to be found in the victory over suffering, in the bare helping hands that remove the stones, in the protest of workers who demand changes in the financial world, in the volunteers and professionals who risk their lives working among the victims of poverty and conflict.

At Easter, we celebrate the fact that God moved Christ beyond the Cross. On this instrument of torture he cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and “Your will be done.” On Easter Sunday, God responds to that cry by showing that he wants to live. Even though life is destroyed, his last will and final testament is to restore it.

The positive in life is much stronger than the negative

Negativity has not the last word. We celebrate that at Easter. Only God has the last word. Beyond so many dead spots in our existence, there is another way to discover that brings us back to life. That is why Christians dare to celebrate Easter without forgetting Good Friday. We can continue to believe in the power of life. We must testify to that power with so many who now need support and encouragement in these days. It is our Easter mission as Christians.

Light a candle

The Easter candle is a symbol of the Risen Lord, the source of all our courage, hope and love. However, we must not reduce the energising flame of faith to the flickering flame of a simple candle. Easter is a time to fan the flame of faith into an inferno that will burn away all fear and selfishness and inflame all hearts with love and hope. Such is the vision. Easter people will not settle for less.

Peace events or marches are organised in many places in different countries on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday. Participants manifest, for instance, against nuclear weapons and/or other contemporary challenges such as the climate, exclusion or migration. Many believers also carry a candle as a sign of life. It remains a task to keep policymakers alert to keep looking for solutions to the major challenges of our time.

At Easter Sunday, we will see the result of our Lenten campaign as an expression of our solidarity with the poor, the weakest, especially with those populations that live in oppression or occupation. We are the risen body of Christ in our world, called to love one another.

Alleluia – Christ has risen! Alleluia.

I wish you a Happy Easter.

 

Lent, Peace Spirituality

Holy Week: Reflection for Good Friday – Die to find life again

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the eighth 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. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Is 52:13-53:12 | Ps 31 (30) | Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9 | Jn 18:1-19:42

Believers gather around the cross today. They listen to the stories from the Scriptures. These stories offer us a message that is new: suffering acquires meaning in God. Death never has the last word in Him. Through the suffering of Christ, God brings reconciliation for all. This gives many the strength to endure suffering, even today, and to look for a world where every tear will be dried and all the pain will have disappeared.

People can hurt others a lot

The memorial events marking the nearly seventy-five anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz/Birkenau and twenty-five years of genocide in Rwanda remind us again of the savagery that human beings inflict on one another. It is not that we need to delve into history for evidence of such brutality with current ongoing wars and totalitarian regimes which are always developing more sophisticated techniques of human torture and destruction.

What is new is that television and social media now brings the experience of such depravity from all over the world into the heart of our homes–where sometimes there is great cruelty already. Every day we are confronted with war and violence, with poverty, hunger and injustice. A great danger here is indifference or powerlessness.

One risk is that familiarity makes us almost immune to the pain of this indescribable suffering. It also means that the suffering of Jesus in his passion pale into insignificance by comparison with modern atrocities. But the core of the passion story of Jesus is not the intensity of his pain–intense though it was–but the person who endured the suffering and the love that motivated him to do so.

Calvary is not the end!

Life will continue. We will live on in our children. There is a new beginning. At death, the questioning can be sorrowful, somber and heart-rending. Why death now? What of the bereaved? The joyful anticipation is replaced with pain-filled loss and anxiety. Even in the presence of vibrant faith, there is often a sense of finality, of completion of an era.

This atmosphere of finality pervaded Calvary on Good Friday. Calvary seemed to be the end. Is this the last moment of life? Is death the end of life? The great hopes of a promising life were dashed. With hindsight, it was easy to see that it would end in this way if Jesus insisted on justice, forgiveness, love and peace. Now the miracle worker from Nazareth fails to come down from the Cross even though he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Dead he was now himself, the same as those who had gone before him.
But Jesus had the power to take up his life again. That he would do at the Resurrection, but first he would endure the intense pain of the human condition. He must know the loneliness of death first-hand, the sense of abandonment by God.

Death is where there is no hope

Good Friday shows that people without hope die in despair. A society or world without hope degenerates into humiliation, indifference, fear and violence. Only the person who is prepared to light a candle of goodness at every opportunity rather than curse the darkness of evil. Only the person who daily takes that first small step in building a chain of goodness. Only the person who believes that oftentimes a majority for hope is just one individual with faith and courage. Only the person who knows it is in giving away time, energy and even life itself that one comes to experience lasting love, human and divine. It is only such a person that can create new life and joy in today’s world. We are enabled by the Spirit to keep hope alive in the hearts of those whose lives we serve.

No matter how grim the suffering or bleak the future seems, the Father has a great dream for us which he will realise just as he did for his Son. Today’s message is not to be afraid: I have overcome the world, and so can you.

Presente! Consider the suffering of this time

For many years a quiet event has been organised by different solidarity and faith groups on Good Friday to commemorate the suffering of many human beings and remember the misery of many peoples today. People come together in silence to remember those who are suffering, for those who have been killed yesterday and today in wars or other forms of violence and injustice.

Participants walk with crosses with names of victims of violence on them. This gives the victims a name and identity. Names of victims are prayed aloud one by one and those present answer each time with: Presente! It’s about people! They are not dead before God. The faithful walk from one religious or symbolic place to another. Along the way people stand still for a short reflection. They reflect on the suffering of today. It is also a public testimony to our faith. All people of good will are invited to join these events. It is the Way of the Cross today.

Let humanity speak!

Such an action is a powerful sign of solidarity with all victims of senseless violence. It is an act of resistance against all systems that prevent people from developing themselves in our own societies and elsewhere, not the least in the developing countries. Considering that suffering is a tender gesture of love for people who are in pain, who are sick, who are facing death. Let humanity speak!

All of Christ’s way of life is characterised by his gift to the utmost: the love for the enemy, the mercy for the neighbour, the infinite forgiveness, the unconditional faith in God, the constant prayer, the attention to the least and respect for the stranger.

On Good Friday, we see that Jesus’s choice for the poorest, the weakest and victims bring him into conflict with the powerful. They feel threatened and want him on the cross. The death on the cross in itself makes no sense. But death does not have the last word. Jesus lives. Life is stronger than death. God continues to choose for justice and love over death. No Good Friday without Easter. No Easter without Good Friday.

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Photo credit: The 8th Day Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA

 

Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for Palm/Passion Sunday – Where there is friendship and love, there is God

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the seventh 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. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Lk 19:28-40 | Is 50:4-7 | Ps 22 (21) | Phil 2:6-11 | Lk 22:14-23:56

We are at the beginning of Christianity’s most impressive week. One in every three people in the world calls him/herself a Christian. To be a part of this family means to stand in a two-thousand year tradition that has left many marks on society — bad as well as good. For centuries, the liturgy of Holy Week has been directed to renewing faith, deepening love and awakening hope.

Serving love

Jesus is welcomed today like a king. He makes his happy entry into Jerusalem. The happy entry gives way to the horrible agony: the Calvary trip to Golgotha, the way of the Cross. Jesus chooses a kingdom of love and not of power. He is a Servant King. We compare the political, economic and other driving forces of our societies to a different kingdom, one based on another set of values, one with a constitution that casts the mighty from their thrones, feeds the hungry, places the poor in the front seat and heals the broken.

Processions are forms of protest

Processions of all shapes, sizes and motivations are part of our human culture. No protest is complete without a procession. Processions may be simple and casual but even these can be very significant, telling what is in the heart of a people. Many members of Pax Christi and other justice and peace groups regularly come together to raise many forms of injustice in silent protest, through processions and silent walks. They are a visual expression of indignation. They are always cries for change and improvement for people and their environment.

In many parts of the world, Passion Plays and processions are being held during Holy Week. In spite of questioning God’s existence or of life after death, in spite of all the recent press about child abuse by religious, the story of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection continues to move the hearts of hundreds of millions around the world. The unique story of Christ belongs not only to one denomination or Christian tradition but belongs to the whole of humankind. Churches and denominations are merely the instruments pointing towards Christ.

The story about an innocent victim being subjected to a mock trial resonates because it still happens today. We still cover up the truth, defend our own interests, and deny compensation, lying and cheating. We still discriminate against people, tell half-truths, live by corruption, let jealousy or rivalry stand in the way. You name it, it happens. Human rights are violated in many situations often involving the poor and the innocent. Recent decades have brought us face-to-face with accounts and pictures of unbounded human cruelty and suffering. The savagery of war is rivaled only by the violence of crime in a spiral of destruction that endangers our world.

The core of the Passion story is not to highlight the cruelty of human beings, severe though it be, but rather to recall in faith who suffered and why Jesus went through it all, not only freely but also with a sense of genuine fulfillment.

Identification with actors in the story

We relate to the Passion story because we can identify with the different actors in it:

  1. Peter: He struggled with his loyalty. Under pressure, many of us find it difficult to choose what is best. Whose interests do we serve? What will be the consequences of our actions? We struggle with values and norms, the choice between a quick fix and escape, as opposed to the long, difficult road of honesty and solidarity.
  2. Look at the role of women in the Passion. We recognise mothers who have lost their children because of violence. They constantly appeal for truth or alternative ways to resolve conflict. The dedication of women in the midst of conflict demonstrates the existence of the healing and loving hands shown for the sick, the accused or refugees, as well as to the rejected.
  3. The Passion also highlights the role of the military, those who had to follow orders they themselves did not believe in. The soldiers came to the conclusion that their violence could lead to greater chaos rather than peace, because they knew that a good and innocent man was being brought to an undeserved end.
  4. We note the actions of the political leaders. They worried about who held the highest rank in the hierarchy. If Jesus claimed to be King, he was dangerous to their “throne”. The very thought of leadership from a different set of values was, and still is, seen as a threat, rather than an opportunity for change and self-evaluation.
  5. Many of us like the environmental aspect of the story. The whole of creation is involved, from the Garden of Olives to sour grapes, from the donkey to a rooster and a lamb. Just as with the birth of Christ, the story about his suffering and death has cosmic proportions; everything is affected by the choice between the destruction or the restoration of life. We may ruin a few palm trees on Palm Sunday, but with the oil from the branches we anoint ourselves for the task of improving the global quality of life.

The Passion story is about you and me

Of course, there is the Suffering Servant himself. Like all innocent victims, he doesn’t say much in the longest gospel reading of the year. At this stage in his life he acts rather than speaks. His silent witness becomes a universal language understood by all cultures and races at all times and places.

The Passion story is about you and me. We are called to change things for the better, to right an injustice, to protect the defenceless, to welcome the stranger, to challenge the established, to build peace. We need to end the globalisation of indifference which gives rise to a culture of exclusion in which the poor, marginalised and vulnerable are denied their rights, as well as the opportunities and resources that are available to other members of society. Words are good but that is not enough! Words alone will not produce change. To make change happen, we have to give of ourselves. Action is needed.

The Cross is part of the search for authenticity and credibility. From that Cross we learn about concepts like commitment, reliability, solidarity and trust. In biblical terms this is called Passion; in today’s terms, we call it love. When there is love, there is life worth living.

Ubi caritas et amor. Deus ibi est.
Where charity and love are, God is there.

The Passion story invites us to begin Holy Week as an annual retreat for all Christians. We go back to the roots of our faith, and from these roots, we plant a life-giving tree.

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Photo credit: Splatter Tree

 

Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent – Do not stay in the past; make openings for new beginnings

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the sixth 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. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Is 43:16-21 | Ps 126 (125) | Phil 3:8-14 | Jn 8:1-11

Once, a people had left slavery behind. They found a way through the turbulent sea with an entire army chasing after them. Then they went through a long, difficult journey in the desert. That exodus remains in the memory. Prophets say that a new exodus is always possible: “Don’t stay in the past.” God says: “I am undertaking something new.” The beginning is already there, don’t you see it? A new exodus is possible for a people that can pull away from their burdensome past.

In this period of Lent, God is guiding us in our efforts to move and transform from slavery to freedom, from evil to good, from war to peace, and from injustice to justice. Evil, injustice and war still exist in our world. War, just as slavery, should be abolished.

Do we need scapegoats?

Labeling a person as a legitimate target is a nerve-racking tactic in present-day violence. Whether it is a terrorist group pointing to a lawyer or a building contractor, or whether it is a fundamentalist leader singling out a writer for execution, the fear aroused often evokes a sense of powerlessness in the community of the endangered person. Usually the labeled one is represented as a threat to some value that is important to the group; they in turn proffer execution as the best solution to protect their interest. Their authority to execute comes from their inner self-righteousness as guardians of what is good. Our human history has regularly designated scapegoats in order to resolve a conflict. Often it is a different people or nation, or a different religion, that we call scapegoats. Eliminating a scapegoat can only bring peace for a while and only for the powerful, but is not a structural solution to conflicts. The outbreak of discontent and war remains a possibility.

Execution horrifies us but character assassination is alive and well among us. To eradicate it from our lives would make us more human and make our families and communities oases of peace, joy and hope. To refuse to do so is to allow the cataract of self-righteousness to blind us forever.

The pillory – the end of future

In the centre of Dworp, a village close to Brussels, near the old town hall, there is a pillory that is now a monument. I can imagine it was no fun being tied to it when you had done something wrong or something that was not acceptable to those in charge. Today we no longer use that pillory. To put someone to shame now happens in other ways: via the internet, Facebook, Twitter and other social media for example. Pin people down for their behaviour so that they no longer have a future. It certainly happens.

The scribes and Pharisees make use of a woman, a public sinner, to put before Jesus a specific dilemma. The woman is only a “case” to make Jesus stumble. According to the Law, she must be stoned. Practices like this still exist today. So how does Jesus react? He writes in the sand. Opposite the words of the Law carved in stone, Jesus writes in the sand. You can wipe out what is in the sand with one gesture. This gesture of Jesus is of great significance. What he wants to say follows in his response: “He who is without sin must throw the first stone.”

Those words give a different turn to the situation. The Law may be so, but take a different look. Look at the person in front of you. It is possible that this person, here this woman, has misbehaved. However, a person is always more than his or her actions. Look at yourself for that, and you realise that there is also a lack of wholeness in yourself, even failure. How often do we ourselves have to count on the patience or mercy of others? Would God not have that patience, he who is Mercy himself?

Opening to new life and a future

We find Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem. Scribes and Pharisees wave the law to give an adulterous woman her appropriate punishment. Jesus sees through them. Quietly he says: “He who is without sin may throw the first stone” One by one they drop off, the elders first.

They drop off, these would-be attackers. The closed circle around the woman opens. The future dawns again. “Go and sin no more.” The word of Jesus makes that future visible. It means: “I don’t pin you down for your past. I don’t judge you. A new beginning is always possible for God.” That sounds incredibly liberating. God wants life for us; he does not work with pillories. God asks that we would also grant each other this. Such a road leads to Easter. We can hopefully continue on that way.

Human rights are the underlying foundation of peacework

People can revive again, even after difficult times. God’s answer is that we should make room for mercy for everybody, for each human being. Each person has the right to live in dignity and experience the values of human rights in a reciprocal manner. Jesus breaks open the spiral of evil and opens perspectives for a new beginning for those who have made mistakes in their lives.

The dignity of human life is the cornerstone and foundation of human rights. When human rights are neglected, a systematic exclusion of the vulnerable happens. People are part of different social networks: family, upbringing, culture, religion, career, etc. The (shared) responsibility for social/public life lies with people themselves in the first place. Jesus calls the woman, a public sinner, to change her life, convert, and is reminding the broader society of creating learning places of hope and new perspectives as a way forward.

New life includes hope for a better way to live together

Hope is an expression of confidence and is based on the belief that the situation today is better than that of yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today.

There is a spiritual conception of hope: the belief in the redemption of humanity through the liberation of sin. People cannot continue without hope. In a way, we all share the calling to be “givers of hope” to one another. Give hope. Encourage each other and try to be ahead of despair, or to at least make room for despair to pass through your life. Hope is central to our Christian culture, just like belief and love.

In the secular sense of the word, hope represents the belief in one’s own identity, in one’s ability to interact with the world in a positive way. Hope is the opposite of resignation or surrender; rather it is a form of confidence that encourages us to draw close to other people, to accept how they are different from us without fear. Peace workers are people of hope and pass that hope on to others.

We continue our Lenten season, a time of stillness, austerity and preparation for Easter.

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Photo credit: Hope

 

Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for Fourth Sunday of Lent – No person may be lost; God’s mercy is inclusive

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the fifth 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. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Jos 5:9a.10-12 | Ps 34 (33) | 2 Cor 5:17-21 | Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

It is good to come home after a tiring workday, or after a long stay elsewhere. Back home — to know and to feel that you are welcome in a warm and loving environment. Unfortunately, this is not a given for everyone. We think of the many refugees who camp at borders or in railway stations and who do not know where they will ever be at home again.

We also think in this Lenten time of the people in countries such as Colombia or Guatemala. The Lenten fasting campaign reminds us about people in these or other countries where mighty companies and large landowners try to deprive them of their home and land. But people go into peaceful resistance. The desire to come home lives in each of them and also in us. People need ground under their feet and a roof over their heads to feel at home.

Opening a new future

Coming home may also be the youngest son in the gospel after taking a serious step into the world. Before that happened, he had gone through a whole process in himself. He comes to think, says the gospel. But it is stronger: he comes to himself. He now realizes who his father really is, the father he left behind. With that father he can return home unconditionally. In the process that brings him to that recognition, he also recognises himself as a son again. Now he knows who he is: child of his father, at home in the love of his father. If you can come home so well that you can be acknowledged and accepted in spite of everything you have done, then that is really a reason to party.

For the prodigal son, the past became irrelevant. The present became concrete, opening up a new future. He broke free of the chains of humiliation and guilt caused by earlier selfish mistakes. He trusted another, one whom he knew had once loved him, to be loving enough to give him a new start. He trusted himself enough to take it. Often it is this latter ingredient that is missing when we need to turn to our Father or to one another for forgiveness and reconciliation. Despite this hesitancy, we must never defer the opportunity to let go of selfishness, guilt or hurt in order to be reconciled.

Characters in conflict

The gospel story tells us also about the oldest son who never left home and worked hard all his life. But has it ever really been his home? Has he ever really known his father as he is: all love? Or did that father stay with him only from a distance, demanding and never granting him anything? In fact, the eldest son was never really a son and the father was not really ‘father’ to him. How it ends for that eldest son remains open in the story. The choice is there for us. Which way do we want to go? Refuse the love of the father, or go through the process that brings us back home with him?

We are allowed to listen to the call that emanates from people elsewhere: from people in Guatemala or Colombia who want to live in peace; from people who want a home for their children and themselves. They call us to know that we are connected to them, to share their desire that there is a home for everyone. Hearing that call can help us recognise ourselves as who we really are: children of the same Father, of a God who makes us brothers and sisters.

Life is a series of decisive moments strung together by daily routine and ongoing creativity. It is good to recall and to savour, if not always to celebrate, these key moments when the “Yes” or the “No”, the “I will” or the “I will not”, the “I’ll stay” or the “I’ll leave,” changed our lives forever. Recognising and owning such moments awakens us to the realisation that the quality of daily life and of our lifestyle, as well as of our future, is sometimes much more under our control than we care to take responsibility for. Blaming others for the ills of the world, real and imaginary, is very often quite pointless. Being willing to choose the better option in every humdrum situation enables us to go for the gold at the major decisive moments when they arise.

God’s mercy is the new sound in the gospel. The story of a father whose heart still goes out to that runaway youngest son. On his return he sees him from afar. He kisses him, puts him in new clothes and gives him another ring on his finger. And there must be a party. But the father also wants the oldest son who feels the short end of things. He is looking for the eldest son. He listens to his anger and his annoyance. But the father disarms and brings together both the oldest and the youngest son. God’s mercy is inclusive. A new beginning is possible.

Reconciliation is restoring broken relations

A key task of the Christian peace movement is the restoration of broken relations. This reconciliatory work must take place on all levels: individually, within one’s own family and society, and between population groups, nations and religions. Reconciliation is only possible when the various parties acknowledge fault (and are ashamed of past mistakes), ask for, and receive forgiveness. Injustice remains injustice and that is something we should point out. Fault is something we must acknowledge and confess to. We shall respect and return everyone’s dignity. It comes down to a willingness to start over again. Willingness to reconcile is the turning point.

A certain measure of empathy is needed to imagine someone else’s pain, hurt and mistakes. This is a reciprocal process. You must think with your heart and feel with your mind. Reconciliation is not possible without having first put yourself in another’s shoes. In times of crisis, it is also a matter of learning from and living with changes.

iconIcon of reconciliation

For many years Pax Christi sections and many faith groups have been working with the “Icon of Peace and Reconciliation of Pax Christi International.”[i] The icon offers a deep spirituality about forgiveness and restoration of relations. Thinking together, meditating and exchanging ideas about the big challenges of the present day and looking for solutions that leads to new cooperation and possible reconciliation.

Lent is a key stage in our relationship with God. There is no doubting the offer of the Father’s merciful reconciliation and the opportunity of new beginnings. It is accepting or not this offer that is our decision. The prodigal son decided wisely and came home to the one who loved him. God leaves nobody behind.

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[i] https://www.paxchristi.net/about-us/pax-christi-international-icon-reconciliation

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Photo credit: Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son

 

Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for Third Sunday of Lent – Second breath, a call to take responsibility

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the fourth 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. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 | Ps 103 (102) | I Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 | Lk 13:1-9

Calling out in the desert. We all know that feeling. No one hears; no one listens. When we do get a response, we find a second breath. With that second breath, we can call again, re-engage and re-believe. We hear that Moses finds a second breath after God calls him from the burning bush. In addition, we read that the vinedresser finds a second breath and commits himself to the up-to-now barren fig tree.

Members of justice and peace groups and social organisations need a long-term commitment, a second breath, to engage themselves permanently. A second breath that God always gives.

In everything that happens, we consistently look for the responsibility of others and we look less critically at our own share. If we want to build a better, peaceful, more just future, then each of us must take responsibility. Making mistakes is very human. You can correct errors (or have them repaired). But not taking responsibility or even turning the blame on to someone else is bad and a shame.

Moses cannot but accept his responsibility. He knows that his people live in slavery in Egypt; it does not let him go. In the burning bush, he hears the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: “I have seen the misery of my people. I know their suffering. I come to liberate my people.” Moses calls for the name of this God. But this is a God who cannot be captured in words and pictures. Moses must do with: “I am who I am.”

The gospel does not evade responsibility. Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree, a metaphor for the city of Jerusalem. The fig tree produces no fruits; Jerusalem is corrupt, playing the game of the powerful nations around it and not a city of peace. Jesus is strict, pointing out the bad situation, but leaves an opening for a new beginning. This way the fig tree gets a second chance and Jerusalem a second breath.

Every Sunday of this Lenten time, the theme of the Exodus returns, a symbol of every road that leads from slavery to liberation, from injustice to justice, from violence to nonviolence. The temptations are not lacking on this route. In spite of God’s constant care, the Israelites succumb and die in the desert. Christians are also not immune to the dangers of evil. Contemporary forms of evil are poverty, hunger, exclusion, violence, underdevelopment, discrimination, racism and more.

Christians should continuously inspire and encourage each other to safeguard human dignity, both in human growth and in human suffering and dying. Reciprocal love shall be humanity’s culture.

Read the signs of the time

This requires continuous nourishment and ‘resourcing’, looking for and giving purpose from a Biblical tradition. The gospel asks us to regularly test and explain the signs of the time. What is currently taking place in the world and what is its deeper meaning? Forever daring to ask the question: what is our society today like and what must be done to communally turn all people in this society into better people?

The never-ending effort of people to live together with others and to form a true society means that one person’s good life contributes to someone else’s good life too. Helping one another is essential to this process. Among other things, it is about care, well-being, charity, compassion, solidarity and assistance toward each other.

Sometimes it goes beyond that and one has the duty to help people in need, even thos ‘unknown people’ who are in need. This then often leads to dilemmas: where lie the boundaries of human or individual responsibility and where begins the state’s responsibility? Dilemmas are not negative or threatening; rather they make life interesting.

Volunteer work is like yeast in the dough

Pax Christi International is essentially a peace movement of volunteers. The “acte gratuity” may be understood as an essential component in social commitment soliciting reciprocity, commitment, generosity and responsibility. Peace workers always need a second breath. After all peace work is an unfinished agenda, unfortunately enough. Their persuasion and taking responsibility make them agents of change — an effort in line with the Biblical image of “yeast in the dough.”

Working for justice and peace is done in the understanding that the human being is not a solitary being but a social being and that his or her integral development primarily needs relations to fulfill his or her destiny.

Building peace is not solely something done for and through ‘professionals’. Working on peace is everyone’s responsibility. Peace is every person’s calling. That is why we ask ‘all people of good will’ to cooperate. The communal frame is the need for a peaceful and just life. Every person and population group has the right to peace and security. I am sure, convinced, that I will only feel safe and well when others share that feeling. Christian peace work offers a platform where people can meet and communicate and, importantly, eliminate potential disagreements.

It is a virtue to bring people together. A good society is characterised by a fruitful tension between space for difference and the search for what we hold in common. The political community is thus at the service of the human community. That requires social pluralism, so a diversity of goods can be shown to its full advantage.

The justice and peace sector not only needs many professionals but also needs many who continue to live from a necessary urgency to seek and give meaning in life.

Again, we are invited to live through this Lenten season of faith, reconciliation, generosity and service, culminating in the Easter mystery. This season is meant to bear fruit in our lives.

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Photo credit: http://www.techofheart.co/2008/01/what-burning-bush-spoke-so-spoke-mansur.html