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 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 Ash Wednesday – An invitation to a new path

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

ashwednesdayclip

Joel 2:12-18 | 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 | Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matthew 6:17-18)

We begin the season of Lent with the same Scripture readings each year, in which Jesus teaches about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. We often share with family and friends what we are “giving up” for the next forty days to give ourselves more time  and clarity for God. Many children choose to fast from chocolate. Some brave adults pick coffee.

More than a change in habits, Lent calls Christians to a radical and lasting turning of hearts – a conversion. The traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are to be part of the Christian life during every season, but during the season of Lent, we are invited to renew our commitment and start afresh.

The journey of Lent can be difficult – a time of repentance, of giving up things that tie us to this world and looking instead to the life and teachings of Jesus. But when we courageously examine within, name what is broken within us, turn away from it, and turn toward what is truly good, we will find ourselves living the fullness of life that God wants for each of us.

The life and teachings of Jesus help us understand what the fullness of life looks like: love, inclusion, forgiveness, mercy, sacrifice – and nonviolence. We invite you to spend the six weeks of Lent reflecting on Scripture and the six principles of nonviolence as defined by Dr. Martin Luther King. Each week, this guide offers suggestions for prayer, fasting, and action as well as stories from Maryknoll Missioners in communities on the margins around the world…

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

Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2017: Reflection for Ash Wednesday – Proclaim a fast!

by Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International Co-President

ashwednesdayclip

Joel 2:12-18 | 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 | Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

“Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning: Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord, your God.” (Joel 2: 12)

Deep in many religious traditions, including in our own Christian faith, is a recognition of prayer and fasting as essential dimensions of spiritual practice. Particularly appropriate in the face of intractable evil or as an expression of repentance, fasting also carries social and political weight – all of which seem particularly important this year.

As Lent begins, we are intensely aware of the pervasive violence that Pope Francis calls “a third world war in installments”: hate speech, racism, Islamophobia, gang violence, anti-immigrant laws and practices, trafficking in humans and weapons, gender violence and sexual abuse, ill treatment of refugees, environmental and ecological destruction, militarism, war, apathy in the face of the tremendous human suffering we have seen in Aleppo, South Sudan and elsewhere, and on and on.

It is right and timely, then, that we proclaim a fast! Perhaps the most urgent need this year is to fast from violence — to join the vibrant, nonviolent resistance to these and so many other expressions of violence.

As we fast, can we in fact learn to “do” peace – not a peace synonymous with my feeling good or with any one nation’s security but something much deeper than that – an integral well-being that embraces all human beings and the rest of creation – a peace that preempts every inclination to violence and war – a new paradigm rooted in an unwavering commitment to nonviolence and to the value of every life?

A fast from violence might help us grapple with our own fear and insecurity, accepting a challenge to live with vulnerability in a world where a majority of people are always vulnerable. A fast from violence might help us reset our priorities from the accumulation of power, wealth and consumer goods to nurturing right relationships with other people and the rest of creation; move from individualism to emphasize community – ultimately the global community; learn to be present, to listen, to wait – to relinquish our need for instant gratification; and reexamine our symbols and myths to strip them of their ability to isolate and blind us.

A commitment to nonviolence is an act of hope. It requires careful theological reflection on the values of our faith tradition in specific situations of violent conflict and war. It requires presence, accompaniment and the nurturing of relationships across boundaries – boundaries between countries and cultures, even neighborhoods. It requires the creation and application of a moral framework and ethical tools for promoting peace in our daily encounters with violence. It requires vigorous spiritual exercises and creative liturgical expression.

Perhaps our fast in this holy season will move us to make or renew a vow of nonviolence:

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God…You have learned how it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy’; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven.”

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it. (Pax Christi USA)