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A season of change and mellow fruitfulness
It is Lent. A time of the year when the Church preaches repentance through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. We all are familiar with these terms as they come up often during our meditation, prayer, preaching and conversation.
We talk about who can or must keep the Lenten observance and who is exempted; we discuss what to eat or what to drink and so on. All these topics express our willingness to spend this time with clean hearts and benefit from it.
Let me start with the reason behind this sharing. To set the record straight, it is because I came across a line from an unknown author that says, “Fasting without prayer is just dieting.”
This caught my attention! And as you may guess, the central message is about prayer, not fasting.
However, it does not suggest that fasting is meaningless. On the contrary, fasting wears its meaning when it is accompanied or motivated by prayer.
Father Philip Chan Tak-hung, from the Hong Kong diocese, is a man known for his creativity and his sense of humour. He took the time to make a Lenten calendar, including a suggestion for a good deed for each day.
I saw it as an invitation to a more living Lenten season, because Father Chan wanted to put an emphasis on what we do, the kind of things that impact on the lives of the people and at the same time purify our minds and turn us into living witnesses to the gospel in today’s world.
As I mentioned before, the traditional trilogy, almsgiving-
It is not only sharing with the poor just because the Church tells us to during this time, but because the disciple understands that sharing is at the centre of our lives, since Christ himself shared his own life with us.
With this in mind, Christ’s follower in today’s world will always believe that sharing is a timeless action that is lived in a special way during Lent.
But getting back to Father Chan’s calendar, we find suggestions for good deeds like “Don’t complain. Bring some positive ideas” (March 15).
This means fasting from complaints and feasting on good ideas, if I may use the Fast and Feast formula.
Yes, looking at the way a colleague is working, a classmate is singing, or a mayor is handling the city’s problems, the tendency is to be quick to criticise, but without proposing new and positive ideas that can help.
Not every criticism is bad in itself. Criticism is meant to improve the way we do things, because where people come together, something better can always come out of it, if the motivation behind the gathering is positive.
This invitation to positive thinking can help build a positive life, because as someone said, “It is not possible to live a positive life with a negative mind.”
This Lent may help us to go deep into ourselves and find reasons behind what we do. And that needs courage.
Other suggestions include a prayer for the children of Palestine and Syria, those innocent souls threatened by a war that is having a devastating impact.
Some of our initiatives, personal or collective may include a reaching out to them in charity.
For sure, they need it more than we can possible imagine, but to have a special, day-long prayer intention for them will be a gift that expresses the state of our hearts: the hearts that feel, the hearts that console.
As a matter of fact, you can give, but without thinking deeply about its meaning. You may just give money to a charity on the street without even looking at its name.
But a prayer or a meditation about what we do will connect us with those who are suffering and may lead us to find a solution to the problems that affect them, even if we live miles away from their reality.
And this makes us brothers and sisters of the same Father, even if our faiths differ.
April 4 reminds us that bullying is wrong. Bullies are everywhere. But let us limit our reflection to schools. The strong should use their potential to help the shy or the slow to get into the right bus.
But we all know this is not always the case. Those who deal with students know that there are some who have lost the joy of going to school out of fear of being bullied by others.
And bullies will always do their best to be feared by others. And to say it openly, because it frustrates those who do not have the courage to stand up for themselves, the consequences are not always easy to describe.
Those who watched the presentation of the Oscars know perfectly well what happened at the end of the show. After an unprecedented on stage mix-up, Moonlight was awarded Best Picture, the show’s highest prize. Those who watched the movie know how bullying is wrong.
If you check the suggestion for March 26, you will see that people are invited to reflect on this question, “What makes mum special? Let her know she’s loved.”
It is tough being a mum. But are you going to spend the entire Lenten season without mentioning your love for her? Situations might have led some of us to have mixed feelings about their parents, and I am aware of that, but eternal anger is not a solution to our problems.
And we all know that too! Life is made of effort and sacrifice. A positive word to her will certainly encourage her in turning the family into a better place.
We too can have our own personal plan for this Lent. I chose to share Father Chan’s with you, because of the newness of some of his ideas. May they inspire us in our quest to live a meaningful Christian life.
Lent is well spent if the motivation behind it is clear to us. Are we fasting or just dieting? The answer lies deep in our own hearts.
But I believe we are fasting for a noble reason that goes beyond the condition of our health, because dieting does not need Lent. And to finish, let me tell you a short story about my friend Tom:
Tom is a hard-working guy. But sometimes he spends money without thinking. Once his mother realised that something had changed with Tom and without hesitation, she asked him, “My son, you have changed a lot. You don’t spend much like before. Can you tell me why?”
After a while, Tom answered, “Mom, you know it is Lent. I am saving my money to buy a motorcycle after Easter…”
“O my God”, the flabbergasted woman said …
I’ll let you think about how the story ends.
I wish you a happy Lenten season. May it be marked by change and a mellow fruitfulness.
• Father Dominique Mukonda CICM