by Bishop Jose Luis
Two words help us journey through the Lenten Season. Two words give the spirit to the Lenten season we are starting today: REPENT & REKINDLE. You might find others. I just chose these two ones. They are easy to remember and I believe they immediately click in you.
Enough for us to remember one of the possible formulas we use today. It could be: “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “repent, believe the good news”. Repent. Change way. Turn back. You want to go to Mzimpofu from Manzini. You take the Mbabane road. You are not sure it is the right road. You stop to ask for directions. Someone will tell you: turn back. You have taken the wrong way. You have made the wrong choice or choices. I remember one evening going to the Pilgrimage in Florence. It was misty. I missed the road on the right. I kept on driving with the feeling that … something is not right.
Lent is an invitation to become aware of that feeling… something is not right in us and we need to turn back.
When I was a teenager there was a love song (today is Valentine’s day by the way) called: You don’t bring me flowers. It is a dialogue between husband and wife. It starts: “You don’t bring me flowers… You don’t sing me love songs… You hardly talk to me anymore…”. Couples might go through those moments in which what used to be so natural, it is no longer there.
It is a great image of Lent.
We are called to “rekindle our love”. In the book of revelation there is exactly that message to one of the churches. It says: “Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first.” (Rev 2:4)
It is not about doing anything wrong but a love that has lots its warmth. It is not the same. It is not natural. It has become cold. We might even do the same things but they are no longer natural or we do just what we have to do to make sure we have fulfilled our obligations.
TURN BACK TO THE LORD
In one way or another, we are called to turn back to the Lord in the words of the prophet Joel in today’s first reading: “Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.”
It is a matter of the heart:
“Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent.”
and a matter of faith in a God who is all tenderness.
Every year on this day the Church invites us to pray, to fast, to give alms.
Prayer makes us one with God. We are therefore asked to see the way we pray (and if we do pray!). Maybe you realise you always ask for what you need but are never grateful. Maybe your prayer is just for yourself and never includes anyone else around you. Maybe you just talk but never listen. The Word proclaimed to you never remains in your heart and never leads you.
Fasting strengthens our power to choose. We always make choices. You chose to come. Others chose to stay home.
We are all aware of the call to fast some days of Lent. We normally hear about fasting meat. Some people always do it because they just cannot afford it. I believe each one of us is called to choose what to fast from during Lent. It could be:
- giving our cellphones and particularly “WhatsApp” a break so that we can lift up our eyes from the screens and see those around us (just make sure you keep on following the diocesan news on WhatsApp!!!);
- fasting from our “evil” thoughts about other people and trying to learn to see the goodness in others;
- fasting from envy… Some people are unable to see God’s blessing in other people without being envious
Whenever you go to the doctor because you are see, you might be told to change the way you eat or the way you live and you do it because… you are afraid of dying. Lent invites you to fast from what is hurting you so that you can live more fully.
Helping the poor not only makes you closer to them but also make you an expression of the merciful love of God. From the very beginning our church cared for the poorest, particularly the orphans and the widows.
Our diocese has an amazing number of projects which are also fruit of your Lenten sacrifice:
- I believe we had more than 700 requests this year of bursaries for high school. Out of these 700, Caritas Swaziland chose 260 to whom we are giving a little help in order to start the year at school;
- Rain is back but not all over the country and therefore we have been providing water tanks to families who are struggling with water. When water comes they will be able to collect it but if it does not they can buy it and store it at home;
- We are all familiar with our St Joseph’s. Not sure who cares for children with disabilities like our Church does. Society does not and there are times when not even their families care. We are grateful to God we are able to continue running this project.
- First of all, choose what you plan to do during the coming 40 days. It is your personal journey. I have mine, you have yours. We will support each other during this time. Chose what you plan to do regarding prayer, fasting and giving alms;
- Second, make sure these choices do not finish like the “new year resolutions” which you probably have already forgotten. It is just for the next 40 days.
Keep your eyes fixed on the Easter celebrations and on God who is merciful, full of tenderness and compassion.