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

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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.
Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2018: Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 4 – Let us defeat injustice rather than each other

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

Exodus 20:1-17 | 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 | John 2:13-25

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In this week’s Gospel reading we hear about Jesus’ reaction when he enters the temple in Jerusalem and finds the people have turned God’s house into a marketplace. The temple is bustling with the buying and selling of animals used as sacrifices and services by money changers who help people make their purchases.

Known as the cleansing of the temple, Jesus “made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

The people, naturally, are appalled by Jesus’ action because buying and selling in the temple had become the norm. They ask Jesus “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus replies that he will destroy the temple and raise it up again.

The Gospel of John concludes, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.”

Let’s look at the third principle in Dr. King’s six principles of nonviolence: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.

“Nonviolence liberates the oppressed and the oppressors,” John Dear wrote in Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action. Jesus took a stand against immoral action in the temple without hate for the people and went on to call for love for everyone. “Jesus offered the ultimate teaching on nonviolence: Instead of killing your enemies, love your enemies,” Dear said.

“Life continuously reveals to us how deep our own violence lies within us. We will never become perfectly nonviolent because we have been thoroughly socialized into a culture of violence. But we can turn away from violence, seek peace, practice heartfelt compassion toward others, and publicly participate in the world’s nonviolent transformation.”

“As we make peace with ourselves and welcome the God of peace who lives within us, we will learn to make peace with those around us and with others throughout the world. The challenge is to do both: to pursue peace within and to pursue peace with the whole human race.”

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

* Photo credit:  “NonViolence” (1988) sculpture by Fredrik Reuterswärd at the United Nations Visitor Center, by Paul Stein, licensed in the creative commons 2.0 and available at http://bit.ly/2F3SL2S
Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2018: Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, February 25 – The Beloved Son and the Beloved Community

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

Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 | Romans 8:31b-34 | Mark 9:2-10

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This week we hear the awe-inspiring story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John went up a mountain and spent the night in prayer with Jesus. There they saw Jesus transformed in glory and the prophets of old talking with him. “Then from a cloud came a voice: ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’”

The Transfiguration conveys two affirmations: God is with us and God can transform us.

When Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here,” Jesus gives him a firm rebuke. Maryknoll Father Stephen Judd in Bolivia points to the teaching of Spanish Scripture scholar, José Antonio Pagola, on the message of the Transfiguration: Listen to Jesus’ words and apply them in creating the kinds of right relationships that build communities in the here and now. “Peter’s mistaken attitude is one of exclusion, wanting to hoard the presence of Jesus for a select group of followers,” Father Judd says.

Father Judd also reminds us of Pope Francis’ warning against exclusivity in our relationships, which the pope calls ‘the globalization of indifference’. “How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another!” Pope Francis said.

This fits well with Dr. King’s second principle of nonviolence: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation and the purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

As explained by The King Center, “Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth.” Fundamental to the concept of the Beloved Community is inclusiveness, both economic and social. At the same time, Dr. King believed “conflicts could be resolved peacefully and adversaries could be reconciled through a mutual, determined commitment to nonviolence.”

The central vision of world history in the Bible is that all of creation is one, Walter Brueggemann writes in Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom. “Every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature.” … “That persistent vision of joy, well-being, harmony, and prosperity is not captured in any single word or idea in the Bible; a cluster of words is required to express its many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness. But the term that in recent discussion has been used to summarize that controlling vision is shalom.”

When asked years later what he saw as a vision of shalom for Christians today, Brueggemann said, “I think it means peaceable life together among the nations and tribes and religious traditions, and economic justice so that everybody has enough resources to live a life of safety and dignity.”

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

* Photo credit: “Masais” by Flickr/Leon Cabeiro, licensed in the creative commons 2.0 and available at http://bit.ly/2F3F30f.