SATURDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2016
“The season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy.”
These words of Pope Francis in his message for Lent are an invitation to each one of us to look truthfully at our lives, to listen attentively to what God is saying to us, to be converted and to believe in God’s promise of New Life.
“Existential alienation” are big words but they do describe what most of us experience a lot of the time. During this past year we have heard of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes in Syria, in South Sudan and other places. At times in our own country we have to deal with the scourge of zenophobia. To be an alien in a strange land, to be homeless and without shelter, to be far away from family and friends must be amongst the most tragic experiences that human beings have to deal with. The physical hardships can be horrendous.
There is also a spiritual alienation, what Pope Francis calls “our existential alienation”, an alienation of the soul. This is when we feel alienated or separated from God, from the people around us and even from our deepest selves. Spiritual loneliness is probably the worst form of loneliness and often we seek to deaden the pain through various addictions or ‘idols’. We use material things – food, drink, drugs, media, possessions, inappropriate relationships – to distract us from our emptiness and deep longing; what some call “the hole in the soul”.
The Lenten fast is about putting aside these excessive forms of behaviour and coming face to face with our true need and so “to overcome our existential alienation”. It is to stop hiding our woundedness and instead to rediscover where we can find healing and to recover our hope in the mercy of God. Pope Francis says in his message: ‘Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him.’
Our prayer and fasting this Lent, listening attentively to the word of God, experiencing the “24 Hours for the Lord” and confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, participating in pilgrimages through the Holy Door during this Jubilee Year, as well as participating in the Mission in our parishes, are all ways of breaking out of our existential alienation and finding our way back home to God, to our neighbour and to our deepest selves. Forgiving and being forgiven restore us again to our true human dignity and to being temples of the Holy Spirit. And then when we come together to celebrate the Easter Triduum we can say to one another “Welcome Home! We are no longer aliens!”
We also overcome our existential alienation by “practising the works of mercy”, because as Pope Francis says “God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged.”
During this Jubilee Year may God be merciful to you and give you peace!
+Francisco de Gouveia
Bishop of Oudtshoorn