We are a people of dialogue. As such we have the moral obligation to search for the truth in freedom, the truth about God, about life, about ourselves, our country, our society, our world and the events around us.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

What Easter Means, What Lent Must Bring About

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which is February 9 this year. It is a period of 40 days. It is called Quadragessima in Latin and Cuaresma in Spanish.

Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in prayer and fasting in the desert before He started His mission. In imitation of Him, Christians, especially Catholics, are enjoined to engage in intense prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, penitential practices and alms-giving. When done individually and in a disciplined manner, a Catholic can experience a renewed and transformed life; when done collectively, society is renewed and transformed as a result.

The renewal of minds and hearts and its life-transforming effects begin with the wake-up call to repentance. This is symbolized by the ashes on the forehead. As the ashes are put, the celebrant says: “Repent and believe in the Good News” (Mark 1:15).

How can repentance be evoked? How can a Catholic repent when his/her spirit has been stifled, his/her soul numbed? And his/her conscience has become callused by sin and immoral habits? How can a sinner be made to realize that, when committing sin in thought, word, or action, he/she is refusing God’s love or God’s offer of Himself that surpasses material lusts and cravings that enslave the soul and the spirit? How can he/she prefer God above the false self, the root of all evil?

The penitential practices of Lent, like the Way of the Cross, intense prayer and meditations of Scriptures, self-denials and mortifications, fasting and abstinence, sacramental confession, recollection and retreats, should help the Catholic to realize the malice of sin in order to repent and to evoke sorrow that leads to confession. Viewing again and again Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ is a powerful help to evoke such sorrow.

The malice of sin refers to the depth and intensity of the hurt and the pain it inflicts on Jesus. We really do not know to what extent He suffered. The film’s portrayal is only a small human approximation. The malice of sin also refers to the depth and intensity of our refusal or NO to God, to our relegating Him as below everyone and everything we love in life. This deep and sinful refusal disfigures the image of God in us, making us unloving and unlovable.

The penitential observance of Lent and Holy Week, if done well through a meaningful catechesis, should help us experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is why on the Cross, Jesus writhing with pain asked His Father: “Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23-34).

But we have been forgiven (Col.3:3). Our sins have been embraced by our Lord in His suffering Body. And even if sin has brought Him to death, He has overcome it by rising again to new life. With our sincere repentance for sin, this compassionate forgiveness is ready to be given to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Jesus invites us to follow Him. He says: “If you want to be my followers, you must deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). It is painful to deprive ourselves of many comforts and privileges that have weakened our spirit. It is painful to prefer God above everything and everyone else. It is a cross, a heavy one, to mortify oneself and to lessen our artificial needs. It is like dying to oneself, to my false self. But by doing this after the example of Jesus, I renew my mind and my heart, that is, I acquire self-control and will-power over myself. I become Christlike; a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). This is what Easter means. This is what Lent must bring about.

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

February 6, 2005