A CALL TO RECONCILIATION, JUSTICE AND PEACE
- Dear Venerable brothers in the priesthood, dear Deacons, the Religious Men and Women, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, greetings and peace to you all.
- We begin this Lenten season in what has been rightly designated as the Year of the Priests. At the same time, our memories of the Second African Synod that took place in Rome last year in October 2009 are still fresh. The themes and importance of these two events cannot be underestimated.
- The theme of the Second African Synod: The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:13-14). It is not mere coincidence but the grace of God that we can reflect on the theme of the African Synod even as we pray for and commend our priests to the Lord who has called them. The theme of the Synod must continue to reverberate ever more loudly in us. The season of Lent this year comes as an appropriate occasion for us to reflect on the theme of Reconciliation. We will do well to remember that the ministry of priesthood is basically a ministry of reconciliation.
- The Evangelist Luke gives a most compelling picture of the meaning of Reconciliation. In Lk 15: 4-32), Luke presents three parables in which we are given a picture of what Reconciliation is and what happens when genuine reconciliation has taken place; great re-union, a spirit of joy and a sense of starting anew! Reconciliation inaugurates a new era of life. It ushers in the dawn of a totally new creature.
- We also see, in the three parables of the lost sheep (Lk 15: 4-7), the lost coin (Lk 15: 8-10) and the loving (forgiving) Father, the prodigal Son or the jealousy brother (Lk 15: 11-32), that the work of Reconciliation is, more often than not, the initiative of God, the Father. It is neither a consequence of our good will nor the natural effect of our own piety or holiness. The spirit of God is the one who takes up the initiative so that we are at peace with God Himself. Hence the need for intensified prayer asking God to help us convert and believe, in a newer way, the Gospel as preached by his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
- In the most famous of the three parables, the story of the Prodigal Son is most intriguing. We meet three characters who are worth reflecting about. The two sons and the father all give us different perspectives of looking at Reconciliation. The younger son represents those who do not fully consider the consequences of their decisions. These are decisions made without much reflection. At the same time, his attitude shows us the kind of respect God has for our free-will. God does not force us to love him; it is our choice to follow his commandments or abandon his ways. We also see, reflected in the younger son’s attitude, the sense of remorse and feeling of abandonment when we have neglected the ways of the Lord.
- When he comes ‘back to his senses’ (Lk 15: 17), he begins to realise that the relationship he severed with his father through his desire for freedom and pleasure has caused an inner imbalance in him. The ‘hunger’ he feels for food is more psychological and spiritual than a mere hunger for bodily satisfaction. It is the loss of a relationship that gives balance to one that makes him experience this emptiness. Our relationship with God should matter more than anything else. We can never be too self-sufficient to remain whole. Our involvement and connectedness with the Christian community not only completes and sustains us but also defines us and gives expression to our true identity as worthy followers of Christ.
- The attitude of the elder son is symbolic of the judgemental character that could be a common place within us as individuals and in the larger Christian community. He weighs his brother’s wrongs against his ‘apparent’ holiness and obedience to his father. Differences in opinion and approach to life’s various issues should not separate us or build walls between us, but instead initiate understanding and appreciation of the abundance of gifts (charisms) among us. The elder son displays an attitude of one who closes the door of reconciliation to another who has realised his sinfulness and wishes to return. In his disappointment with the father he displays the wish to condemn and punish the ‘sinner’. In the spirit of reconciliation, the desire for revenge and retaliation must be condemned. When we realise our own shortcomings and sinfulness, we will be able to open the doors of forgiveness and love.
- This aspect of forgiveness and love is exhibited in what could be termed the ‘scandalous’ aspect of the whole story; the father unconditionally and seemingly inconsiderately, welcomes and embraces the younger son. The father does not even care to examine the depth of his son’s sense of remorse and repentance but swiftly expresses joy at his son’s return (Lk 15: 22-24). From the father, we learn that reconciliation is an act of unmerited pardon and an exercise of merciful love.
- During this Lenten season, we are all encouraged to look deep into our lives and realise and experience God’s compassion for us. At the same time, we need to share this experience with those we may have had differences with and move towards reconciliation with them. We should not wait for the other to move towards us. Instead, each one of us must take the initiative in the spirit of love because, as St. Paul teaches us, ‘all this is the work of God who in Christ reconciled us to himself, and who entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5: 18).
- The Lenten period is a ‘joyful season’ for us to further strengthen our bonds and revisit our Christian commitment to follow Christ with renewed heart. Like the prodigal son, Lent is a time of ‘getting up and coming back’ home to our Father’s house. There, forgiveness is assured and the experience of love is beyond description. Without doubt, we keep to the traditional aspects of the practices of Lent which are a renewed commitment to and intensified prayer, fasting and works of charity or almsgiving. To these we add, in a particular way this year, or resolve to reconcile with God and one another (Mt. 6: 14-15).
- I wish each and every one of you a fruitful and prayerful Season of Lent. May the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of our Blessed and Glorious Mother, Mary be a constant source of strength as you observe the Lenten period.
+Dr. Alick Banda
Bishop of Solwezi