Monday, March 7, 2022
Pope Francis, in his Message for Lent 2022, proposes that we live this “favourable time” doing good to all under the banner “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all” (Galatians 6:9-10).
It is interesting to note that Paul uses two different Greek words for ‘good’: the first is kalòn, which means beautiful and good; the second is ágathòn, meaning intrinsically good in nature. It is important to underline these details, because we have mainly identified the concept of ‘good’ with the ethical meaning of kalós, leaving out the aesthetic one. Yet ethics and aesthetics are two reciprocal imperatives which lead us to God.
The forty days of Lent represent our yearly pilgrimage in ‘Exodus’ from the slavery of ‘I’-ism (‘Me, Myself, I’) to the Promised Land of ‘Otherness’: the ‘You’ of God, of the people around us, and of creation at large in order that we may live in communion with Others as ‘we’ or ‘us’. The ubuntu African philosophy “I am because we are” should guide us in this liberating journey.
Lent is a kairós, as Paul writes in the quote from Galatians, a special time, a time of grace God gives us, a season of renewal leading us to the celebration of the Paschal Mystery through which Jesus becomes the Cosmic Christ: “[God] has put all things under his feet, and made him, as He is above all things, the head of the Church; which is his Body, the fullness of him who is filled, all in all” (Ephesians 1: 22-23).
Pope Francis denounces “the individualism of our post-modern and globalized era” (Evangelii Gaudium, No. 67) and underlines that “as a result, one can observe in many agents of Evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour. These are three evils which fuel one another” (ibid. 78). We are children of our own era.
Guji women in the past - and some even today - put three stones together in order to make a fire for cooking. The Gospel of Ash Wednesday tells us that the ‘three stones’ that make the fire for our Lenten Pilgrimage are prayer, fasting and almsgiving (see Matthew 6: 1-6. 16-18).
The Pope says “the soil is prepared by fasting, watered by prayer and enriched by charity” and translates this gospel passage into three imperatives: let’s not grow tired of praying; let’s not grow tired of uprooting evil from our lives; and let’s not grow tired of doing good.
Prayer: Pope Francis explains in his message that “we need to pray because we need God”. We are not self-sufficient nor self-contained. We need God and we need one another to face the burdens and tribulations of life. Lent should be a Season where we spend more time with God and more time with one another.
Fasting: The Pope holds that fasting, together with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, helps us to battle sin and concupiscence “that – as he writes – induces us to selfishness and all evil”. He invites us to fast from digital media in favour of human relationships, “to cultivate instead a more integral form of human communication (Fratelli tutti, No. 43) made up of ‘authentic encounters’ (ibid., 50), face-to-face and in person”.
Almsgiving: The Pope invites us also “not to grow tired of doing good in active charity towards our neighbours”. He defines almsgiving as caring “for those close to us and reaching out to our brothers and sisters who lie wounded along the path of life”; seeking out the needy instead of avoiding them; meeting those who need to be listened to and a good word instead of ignoring them; visiting the lonely instead of abandoning them. “Take time to love the poor and the needy, those abandoned and rejected, those discriminated against and marginalized” – he underlines.
We may have been tempted to reduce almsgiving to dishing out money, food and medicines to the needy, a practice that some of us feel uncomfortable with, because of paternalism, maternalism and dependency. Instead, the Pope urges us to give ourselves, not our things.
CALL TO CONVERSION
The Ash Wednesday Liturgy invites us to “repent and believe in the Gospel” – Jesus’ very first words in Mark’s Gospel (1: 15). He uses the imperative of verb metanoéo which is composed of two words: metá – beyond and noiéo – to think. We have moralized conversion as leaving bad things to do good things.
However, to convert is much holistic. It is above all a change of outlook, to go beyond our own thinking. Pope Francis underlines this. He writes: “Lent invites us to conversion, to a change in mindset, so that life’s truth and beauty may be found not so much in possessing as in giving, not so much in accumulating as in sowing and sharing goodness”.
Czech theologian Thomas Halik, says that to love is to “self-discentre”, to put the other at the heart’s centre. This is also conversion. As Richard Rohr writes in his Eternal Diamond, “Every time you choose to love, you have just chosen to die. Every time you truly love, you are letting go of yourself as an autonomous unit and have given a bit of yourself away to something and someone else”.
THE HARVEST OF GOODNESS
The Pope invites us this Lent to do good to all, to sow goodness in order to harvest a bountiful crop of goodness.
In this sowing-harvesting process the Word of God has a very special role, because God sows it in our heart. The Roman Pontiff explains that “during Lent we are called to respond to God’s gift by accepting his word. […] Regular listening to the Word of God makes us open and docile to his working (cf. James 1:21) and bears fruit in our lives”.
And he goes on: “This brings us great joy, yet even more, it summons us to become God’s co-workers (cf. 1 Cor 3:9). By making good use of the present time (cf. Eph 5:16), we too can sow seeds of goodness. This call to sow goodness should not be seen as a burden but a grace, whereby the Creator wishes us to be actively united with his own bountiful goodness.”
Pope Francis says that we sow goodness in order to ripen kindness, underlying that good works are a shining light (Matthew 5: 14-16). He also reminds us of the Gospel dynamics: one sows, another reaps (John 4: 37). We are all humble workers working together in God’s fields.
“Sowing goodness for the benefit of others frees us from narrow self-interest, infuses our actions with gratuitousness, and makes us part of the magnificent horizon of God’s benevolent plan” – the Pope writes.
As we pray for our daily bread, we have also to pray for the strength of our daily goodness. The Pope wrote in Fratelli tutti (No. 11): “goodness, together with love, justice and solidarity, are not achieved once and for all; they have to be realized each day”.
MISSION IS DOING GOOD
Let’s look at what our inspiring Founder and Father wrote on the theme of doing good in order to draw inspiration and strength in our commitment to it, during this Lent and in every day of our lives, because Mission is about doing good.
Daniel Comboni defined his missionary work simply as doing good (see Writings 1238, 2231, 3648, 6028). He also underlined that “one should always do good for the sole glory of God and for the good of souls” (Writings 1004).
From Cairo, he wrote to Bishop Luigi di Canossa, in February of 1868, this note: “I haven’t time to write to you except to say that we are all well, and hope to do good with God’s grace” (Writings 1574).
He explained his mission to a Nuba chief called Said Aga who visited him in Khartoum in these very terms: “Yes, this Supreme Chief of all the Christians of the world who is the Vicar (Ukail) of God on earth, loves you very much and has sent me to your country to do good to you, so that you may know the truth and be eternally saved” (Writings 4846).
In the September of 1881, and one month before his death, when Comboni sent a map of Dar Nuba that he had drawn after a visit to the very beautiful hilly region in today’s South Sudan, he wrote to Stone Pasha that the Nyama, one of the tribes of the Nuba Mountains, say “missionaries never do any harm and always do good” (Writings 7203).
Doing good calls for its own mystic. Writing on August 24th 1881 from El Obeid to Fr. Giuseppe Sembianti, the Formator of his Missionaries in Verona, Comboni spells out the mystic for goodness: “I know your spirit and your intentions very well indeed: holy and capable. Saintliness without capability or capability without saintliness are of very little value to a person who wants to undertake a missionary career. The missionary man or woman cannot go to heaven alone. [Alone they will go to hell]. They must go to heaven in the company of the souls they have helped to save. So in the first place holiness, completely free from sin and offence against God, and humble. But this is not enough: love too is necessary to make these men and women do good work” (Writings 6655).
So, in a nutshell, holiness, capability and love enable us, Comboni’s children, to do good!
TIME FOR PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE
To gather a good harvest of goodness, to be missionaries who do good with God’s grace and for His sake and the sake of His people, we need the farmer’s patience and perseverance. These are two virtues drawn from this Lent’s banner in order to reap an abundant harvest when the time for gathering comes.
Our Mother Mary lends us a helping hand on our Lenten journey as Francis prays: “May the Virgin Mary, who bore the Saviour in her womb and ‘pondered all these things in her heart’ (Lk 2:19), obtain for us the gift of patience. May she accompany us with her maternal presence, so that this Season of Conversion may bring forth fruits of eternal salvation”.
We join in the Pope’s prayer.
Fr. Joe Vieira MCCJ