Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for Second Sunday of Lent – Time for making space in silence

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

[Ed. Note: This is the third 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.]

Gen 15:5 –18 | Ps 27 (26) | Phil 3:17 – 4:1 | Lk 9:28 – 36

How can silence be a calling? Abraham experiences it in his sleep. In addition, Jesus practises silence during prayer. A silent protest may sound louder than shouts and screams. The silence after the peace agreements in countries such as Guatemala or Colombia cries out over injustice and negligence. What call do we hear in silence? Is it the call to repentance? The call for engagement and commitment can sound strong. Do we listen to the cry we hear from silence or not?

The gospel of today shows us Jesus as a signpost. He takes us up the mountain. He invites us to pray. That clearly shows where he lives from. That is from his connection with God. His face starts to shine. It is a “mountaintop” moment for him. According to tradition, Mount Tabor is the mountain of the transformation.

Heaven and earth meet at the top

Biblically, a mountain is the place where heaven and earth meet. A mountain is always the place to meet God. On top of that mountain, Jesus also meets two other significant figures from the history of God with the people: Moses and Elijah. Those are testimonials in faith. Two shining examples. Through them Jesus may be guided in his mission. As a second Moses, he wanted to free the children of Israel from the land of their fears; as a second Elijah, he called them away from their idols, to the true religion and the true human service: love God and love your neighbour. Just like we can give light to each other on our way.

The top of a mountain is not a holiday resort

However, mountaintop moments rarely last long, as it is also today. It is no permanent residence on top of the mountain. Peter and his companions get to hear that when they want to build three tents. Life demands that we have to go down the mountain again, into the valley, to share the life of the people in its true form. That life is often raw and hard. We sometimes experience it ourselves.

Jesus is also waiting for another mountain. That is Mount Golgotha, that of the cross and of the totality of God’s abandonment. On his way there, Jesus will show solidarity with the innumerable many who ask in desperate suffering where God remains and when there will finally be justice for them.

“I have been to the mountaintop,” Martin Luther King, Jr said. With that vision in mind, he managed to hold himself in valleys of deep darkness. We must remain faithful to our calling on earth. We keep the vision on the mountaintop in mind so that we can trust that in our valleys of darkness nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Every person is equal and entitled to solidarity, giving and receiving

Lent helps us to focus on two things. Firstly, it emphasises that everything in life is fragile, for suffering and death are both a part of life. Scripture says that we should treat each other as equals, use our time and talents well and not just rely on our own strength in life but make some space for God too.

Secondly, Lent tells us that, because we are all vulnerable in different ways, we should practise solidarity. If we feel down, then faith in the goodness and meaning of life can be restored when someone helps us back on our feet again. When we are in a position to help, then we should do so, for it is a luxury and a privilege to be the helper. Who knows what tomorrow may bring — we may then be the ones needing help. People of faith are problem solvers!

It is true that solidarity has been deeply impacted by individualism and materialism. We are glad to see that the many services and the strong grassroots social presence touching all layers of society – yet with an option for the poor, the marginalised and the suffering – are a stabilising asset for all communities and, politically speaking, for democracy. Nobody can be left behind.

Serving the common good

Living in solidarity entails striving for the common good, or the ‘bonum commune’, together. Society should develop in harmony with every person and his/her environment, and to everybody’s content. Solidarity calls for tangible acts. It is a time for action. Every person deserves help, especially in situations of war or other needs, such as people on the run.

As a human being, one inevitably lives in the company of others, both locally and globally. Society belongs to everyone and people thus live in a participatory manner. The social fabric in which people live has both local and global characteristics. That social fabric should be, or is, the medium for life in peace and harmony with other people and our surroundings.

Let silence speak in circles of solidarity

Jesus, a vulnerable human being, is in solidarity with our need, the one in whom God’s face is here as a promise, a hope of life. That may be called a Tabor experience. It is a foretaste at Easter, on our passage from death to life. I wish you a Tabor experience occasionally, one in which we may experience God’s light occasionally in our lives. This is possible if we are guided by God’s word as it comes to us in Scripture, in prayer, in silence, in the life of Jesus. It is possible when we meet people who are as good as God is. Such people make us shine, recognising our deepest being. Let us be such people for each other.

The formation of silence circles for an hour or so to reflect on injustice and suffering of people can mean listening to the call to connectedness and change, listening to the cry of the earth and of the poor. An hour of silent prayer – or just silence in a circle – can be a strong testimony to our solidarity with the weak in our society and elsewhere. The silence speaks and the circle of solidarity grows.

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Photo credit: https://www.quietrev.com/no-solitude-no-revelation/
Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for First Sunday of Lent – Pull back to discover what is important

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

[Ed. Note: This is the second 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.]

Deut 26:4-10 |  Ps 91 (90) | Rom 10:8-13 | Lk 4:1-13

It is often suggested that each stage of a person’s life is deeply influenced by a particular event, emotion or drive. While pride is ever-present in our hearts, the suggestion is that sometimes young people seek only fun or pleasure and look for an ambitious future; the middle-aged long for stability and status; and many elderly put their hope in certainty and possessions. Some people find such wayward trends alive and well in every stage of their lives and are happy in the ongoing human struggle by inviting Christ to be with them as they grow gradually in the gospel values that redirect these strong human ambitions.

The desert is a learning place

Indeed, before starting a new phase of life, it is worth considering: where do I start? What is important in my life? Why do I want that? What does this mean for my life? A person can withdraw, go to an abbey or search for some silence in the mountains, take a time out, or, like Jesus, go into the desert.

In the Bible, “desert” has its own meaning. It is “a learning place.” You can learn life, consider the important choices that a person has to make and try to give them place. That’s how Jesus did it. He left his family and home, knowing himself as very close to God. And before giving an answer to the call of God, he thought deeply about it. It is about struggling against the temptations that every person knows, the temptations that can keep us from our deepest vocation. In the Gospel, Jesus is tested in his authenticity. Does he, as a preacher behind the scenes, give up his principles when he is offered wealth and status?

Temptations can be part of life!

Today’s gospel recounts in a vividly descriptive way how Christ himself experienced comparable temptations. The bread he was offered when he was hungry is a symbol of how easy it is to justify putting our own comfort and pleasure before the needs and rights of others. His trip to the high mountain with its offer to control many kingdoms alerts us to how we can be tyrants in small ways through emotional blackmail in our families or communities and through pressure groups on the job or in school.

Jesus stayed in the desert for forty days. This refers to the deserts of the Jewish people who lasted forty years. Moses also had to flee to that desert when it all got too much for him. A bush that burns but does not burn up brings him to the realisation: this is a sacred place; here one can meet with God.

By sticking to his principles and his words Jesus showed that the short-lived temptations of power and wealth are inferior to values that last. Yes, status and power are desirable but, in the end, they are passing joys which can drive you mad with addiction and destroy you and your freedom in the process. The biblical advice to set “your heart on things that last because they give you greater peace” does not mean that one choice excludes the other, but rather that we should not worship them as gods.

At the beginning of this Lent, these desert stories about Moses and Jesus also have a special meaning for us. Their message is: we can experience God more than we think. There is more in this world, more around us than we suspect.

In each situation, the choice is between selfishness and the other’s good, between settling for human limitations and accepting our greatness as God’s children. Lent is a time to strengthen the choice to belong enthusiastically to God’s family.

See the good in people

We should live the connection between our prayer, our words and our actions; we should avoid hypocrisy and do good works without telling the whole world about it. We are simply good because God lives in us and, as such, our reward is a better world, a more peaceful heart and the fact that we do not have to hide behind false facades.

We sometimes make mistakes. However, making mistakes in itself is not sinful. It is far worse and sinful to do nothing.

When we see the good in people and bring out the best in each other, there is no distinction between Jew or Greek, between Catholics or Orthodox, between Hindu or Muslims, between Shiites or Sunni, between natives and immigrants. We do not have to prove anything or convert others because who we are and what we do will speak for itself.

Living in a communal home

People are a fundamental part of the earth – the Creation – as the ‘communal home’ in which all creatures have a place. The Encyclical Laudato Si [1] is offering a new grammar of ecology and the virtues that lay the foundation for a new lifestyle, proposing that a dynamic tension must be maintained between a preferential option for the poor and an encouragement of human industry, in furthering the common good.

Ecological issues such as polluted rivers and oceans, air pollution or global warming are increasingly playing out internationally and politically. Climate change has become the most important international issue. These issues concern the direct living conditions of people and have, among other things, bearing on working conditions, fair salaries, working with clean paint materials and non-toxic pesticides. We all know that resources have limits. In the end we will all gain if we can use our resources responsibly.

Putting faith into motion

People’s desire for ever more consumption of goods is the underlying source of today’s spiritual crisis. The message is to carefully handle the earth’s resources. It is a matter of enjoying the ‘enough’. A possible eighth work of mercy [2] is the care for climate, the care for our communal home, the earth.

Every Lent comes with an opportunity to make our love more visible. We call it the Lenten campaign. An idea could be that you put a tree in your church, place of worship, your office or even at home. That tree needs leaves on it so that at Easter it can symbolise new life. The leaves could be made available in some baskets put close to the tree. Before people hang them on the tree, you can write your Lenten gift on them. Not money, but energy! There might be ideas to give back either to the planet or save energy to guarantee sustainable living.

All these eco-gifts could be an Easter-gift. God entrusted us with the task of taking care of his creation. By giving energy in one way, or saving it in another, we can experience the Resurrection because our faith has been put into motion. This doesn’t just benefit ourselves but also raises up the world around us. May our Lent turn ashes into new life.

[1] http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_of_mercy

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Photo credit: https://rwelling3.artstation.com/projects/nY53K
Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for Ash Wednesday – Beginning the Lenten season

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.]

Joel 2:12-18 | Psalm 51 (50) | 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 | Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

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.

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Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/czarny_bez
Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2018: Reflection for Palm Sunday, March 25 – Announcing the Good News

From the Maryknoll Office for Global Concern’s 2018 Lenten Reflection Guide: Embracing Jesus’ Practice of Nonviolence

Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16 | Isaiah 50:4-7 | Philippians 2:6-11 | Mark 14:1-15:47

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In the Gospel reading, Jesus’ journey finally reaches its destination – Jerusalem. Rome’s representative, Pontius Pilate, has also arrived. Pilate rides into Jerusalem on a horse past crowds shouting praise – an entrance befitting a conquering ruler.

But Jesus rides on a donkey. In eastern cultures, like the one in which Jesus lived, the donkey was considered an animal of peace; the horse was a war animal. A king riding a horse intended to wage war, and one who rode a donkey was conveying a message of peace. Riding a donkey into Jerusalem symbolized Jesus’ entry as the Prince of Peace.

The reign of God that Jesus announces during his ministry is a reign of peace and nonviolence. The first reading is from Isaiah, chapter 50, and is part of the third Song of the Suffering Servant:  “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”

The second reading from Philippians continues with: “[Christ] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday completes this reflection. In his book Jesus, An Historical Approximation, Father José Antonio Pagola reflects on the death of Jesus and concludes, “Jesus understands his death as he always understood his life:  as a service to God’s reign for the benefit of all. Day by day he has poured out his life for others; now if necessary he will die for them.”

Those of us who receive our palm branches, who attempt to follow Jesus and announce the reign of peace, are called to this same commitment to serve others, without reliance on great sources of funds, without the use of manipulations, with respect for the dignity of our neighbors, and without weapons of destruction, like the latest missiles and drones.

The sixth and final principle of nonviolence defined by Dr. King in Stride Toward Freedom is: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.

We all know someone who, despite tragedy and hardship, gives of herself or himself with such dedication and cheerfulness, that you wonder how they do it. Where do they find the strength and the determination to go on?

Often in being humbled by life’s losses and suffering, we are offered the gift of faith, and with it, the love that sustains and calls us to be more than we think we are. For Maryknoll’s founders, the heart of being a missioner is love expressed with joy. In serving, in being humbled by our vulnerability when immersed in a strange culture, we lose ourselves – only to encounter Jesus in new ways.

Click here for the rest of this reflection, questions, a prayer, suggestions for fasting and action, and more.

* Photo credit: “Christ of Maryknoll” icon by Robert Lentz, http://robertlentz.com/featured-icons-christ-of-maryknoll/.
Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2018: Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 18 – Love is the heart of nonviolence

From the Maryknoll Office for Global Concern’s 2018 Lenten Reflection Guide: Embracing Jesus’ Practice of Nonviolence

Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Hebrews 5:7-9 | John 12:20-33

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In today’s first reading from Jeremiah we hear that God wants a “new covenant” with us human beings. The old covenant bond between God and people, with laws carved in stone, had not worked out well. The Lord offers to forgive and forget our failings and to build a more intimate relationship, with His laws written upon our hearts.

“Let us look at our hearts,” Maryknoll Sister Connie Krautkremer says. “A healthy heart is strong and it is soft. Because of its ability to adapt to changing circumstances, it beats sometimes fast, sometimes more slowly. Our lives depend on that flexible faithfulness. So, how is a law in my heart different from one carved in stone? We responsibly obey just laws that govern our lives. But more is expected from a law that is ruled by the heart. Not just obedience, but also compassion and forgiveness are required of us. These are a lot more demanding than simply following a rule.”

In the gospel of John, Jesus uses a grain of wheat to teach about obedience. The seed must fall into the ground and die in order to produce more seeds – food in abundance. This means dying to self, letting go of being so sure I am always right, that my way is the best way. Instead we are to be ready and willing to forgive and ask forgiveness. Our hearts are softened when we forgive, and, at the same time, the heart must be soft in order to forgive.”

The fifth of the six principles of nonviolence defined by Dr King is “Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.” Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative. “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent; he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love,” Dr. King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom.

“The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe.”

Cutting off the chain of hate “can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.” Love means “understanding, redemptive goodwill toward all people.”

For King, this love is the power of God working within us, explains William D. Watley in Roots of Resistance: The Nonviolent Ethic of Martin Luther King, Jr. That is why King could exhort us to the highest possible, unconditional, universal, all-encompassing love. King the preacher believed God worked through us when we used the weapon of nonviolent love.

Click here for the rest of this reflection, questions, a prayer, suggestions for fasting and action, and more.

* Photo credit: Image of a Quechua-speaking local woman weaving a runner in Cusco, Peru by Flickr/Jae, licensed in the creative commons 2.0 and available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/julieedgley/4262119066/in/photostream/.
Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2018: Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 11 – Rejoice in the middle of Lent

From the Maryknoll Office for Global Concern’s 2018 Lenten Reflection Guide: Embracing Jesus’ Practice of Nonviolence

2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 | Ephesians 2:4-10 | John 3:14-21

ashwednesdayclip

This Sunday is traditionally called “Laetare” Sunday for the first words of the opening of the Eucharistic Liturgy: “Laetare, Jerusalem,” – “Rejoice, O Jerusalem.” We rejoice on this day that is half way between remembering our death on Ash Wednesday and our life through Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

“We rejoice knowing in faith that our brother Jesus lived, died, and still lives among us,” Maryknoll Father Jack Sullivan, a longtime missioner in Hong Kong, says. “Despite our infidelities, Jesus continues to send us messages, warnings, and hope, calling us to love Jerusalem, the City of God, which is our whole earth itself, with all its people and creatures, even when we understand so little, fall short repeatedly, and suffer without cause.”

Today’s Gospel reading tells about Nicodemus, a Pharisee who seems to want to follow Jesus. One night, he approaches Jesus to acknowledge Him as someone who has come from God but, in the dialogue that follows, Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus at every point.

It doesn’t matter, though, because John’s gospel includes a theological reflection on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, including an observation about human sinfulness. Jesus is the light that has come into the world, but people prefer the darkness. Jesus has come into the world to reveal and die for our sins so that they may be forgiven. This is the Good News; it is our reason for rejoicing during the season of Lent and throughout our lives.

In his six principles of nonviolence, Dr. King named the fourth principle to be: Nonviolence holds that suffering, like Christ dying on the cross, can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.

“This doesn’t mean that suffering itself is good,” wrote Mika Edmonston in The Power of Unearned Suffering: The Roots and Implications of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Theodicy. “But in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ, believers have held that God’s omnipresent goodness will have the final say over every form of suffering, no matter how severe.” … “For King, the cross of Christ represented the definitive proof of God’s purpose to bring redemptive good out of suffering, and the guiding example of how to actively engage suffering toward a redemptive goal.”

James Cone, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, offers the lynching tree as a viable symbol for reflection on the cross of Christ. According to Cone, understandings of the cross and lynching tree can explain how events of trauma and injustice can still inspire hope for the African American community and all marginalized communities.

Click here for the rest of this reflection, questions, a prayer, suggestions for fasting and action, and more.

* Photo credit:  Licensed in the public domain and available at http://bit.ly/2rwJqib.