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 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)