Shepherd's Voice March 2020


The season of Lent is always a reminder to us that God’s gift of salvation in Christ comes with the call to ‘repentance’, and repentance denotes the radical transformation of our life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence a sincere examination of our conscience without excuses and without alibis is what Lent stands for in our relationship with the Lord in faith and love. This annual liturgical moment in our life’s journey is likened to the Lord’s forty days and forty nights in the desert spent in prayer and fasting and during which he has clearly shown us the key to the victory over the Evil One. All our Lenten practices of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving are based on prayer which is foundational to our Christian life. They are not external ‘works’ alone but ‘works’ that flow from a heart that is attuned to God in humble submission to his will. Prayer as Christ has taught us opens to us the doors to our true self,unlocking inner spiritual resources we are usually unaware of due to our brokenness and enabling us to live an authentic life of grace centered on eternal life and the treasures of God’s Kingdom. We realise the transient nature of everything we are attached to here on earth and how only one thing is important, the better part that nobody can take away from us, the pearl of great price which surpasses everything our small self holds dear, the treasure that does not rust or can be robbed, the Kingdom of Heaven of which we are called to be inheritors.
Pope Francis has been continuously reminding us of the evangelical Beatitudes as the sure and essential path to eternal life. At his weekly Wednesday audience on February 19, 2020 he gave a marvellous catechetical reflection on the third Beatitude “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt. 5:5). The virtue of ‘meekness’ is often misunderstood as ‘weakness’ in today’s world but in reality it is the greatest strength as Christ has shown us in his Passion and Death and on which Mahatma Gandhijibased his spiritual philosophy of ahimsa. The season of Lent with the clarion call to ‘renewing and purifying of our hearts’ and ‘humbling our sinful pride’places Christ’s call to ‘meekness’ before us as the essential mark of our discipleship.
Explaining the term the Pope says it literally means sweet, mild, gentle, without violence. Violence manifests itself in moments of conflict, as can be seen from how one reacts to a hostile situation. Anyone may seem meek, when things are quiet, but how does one react ‘under pressure’, when attacked, offended, assaulted? That is the real test of our meekness and of our rootedness in Christ. The meekness of Jesus is seen in his Passion when he went to his death like a ‘lamb carried for the slaughter’. He did not utter a word in anger but endured all the torments in complete surrender to his Father’s will. St. Peter recalls the attitude of Jesus in his passion: He neither responded nor threatened, but “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1Pet. 2:23). And St. Paul in one passage says: “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2Cor. 10:1).
The other statement “they shall inherit the earth” is also very significant. The Pope points out that the word ‘meek’ indicates those who have no earthly property, therefore “they shall inherit the earth”. To be meek is to be a detached person for whom trusting in God is of a greater value than the fulfilment of all one’s desires on earth and the satisfaction that flows from there, which, as Christ has taught us, is not lasting. Therefore he has placed before us the challenge of self-denial and the total emptying of the self in surrender to God’s will. The third Beatitude in reality cites Psalm 37 which is a hymn of trust in God hailing ‘meekness’ as the identifying mark of the righteous person; the righteous person is also the meek one, the blameless one, the person of peace who refrains from anger, forsakes wrath and waits for the Lord patiently. Such a person will “inherit the land”. In this Psalm, meekness and earthly possessiveness are placed in relationship with one another. In our earthly context these two things are incompatible. Indeed possession of land is the typical context for conflict: people fight over a territory, to protect their hegemony over a certain zone etc. There are wars among nations over ‘territory’; and in history stronger nations conquered weaker ones and made it their ‘land’.
However, Pope Francis invites us to reflect closely on the verb used to indicate the possession of the meek: they will not ‘conquer’ the earth but they will ‘inherit’ it. In the Bible the Chosen People refer to the Promised Land as their ‘inheritance’. This land is a promise and a gift to the People of God but it does not end there. Our Lord Jesus Christ has revealed to us that it is only a sign of something much larger than a mere territory. It points to ‘Heaven’, which is the true ‘land’ towards which we walk: the new heavens and the new lands towards which we go (cf. Is. 65:17; 66:2; 2Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).
Therefore, in the words of Pope Francis, the meek is the one who inherits the most sublime of territories. Such a person is certainly not a coward, not a ‘slugger’ who finds a fall-back morality to stay out of trouble. No, the meek is a person who has received an inheritance and does not want to waste it. The meek is not an accommodating person, but a disciple of Christ who has learnt to defend a quite different land. The meek is the one who defends one’s peace, one’s relationship with God, one’s gifts which are God’s gifts to him/her, that is mercy, fraternity, trust and hope. A meek person is the one who guards these gifts with utmost care. The meek are people who are merciful, fraternal, trusting and hopeful.
In the context of his reflection on the third Beatitude, the Pope goes on to talk about the “sin of anger, a violent reaction whose impulse we all know”. Let me quote his exact words: “Who has not been angry sometimes? We all have. We must overturn the Beatitude and ask ourselves one question: how many things have we destroyed with rage? How many things have we lost? A moment of anger can destroy many things; one loses control and does not evaluate what is really important, and one can ruin the relationship with a brother (or sister) sometimes without remedy. As a result of anger, many brothers (and sisters) no longer speak to each other, they distance themselves from each other. It is the opposite of meekness. Meekness brings together, anger separates.” Do these words have a ring of truth in them? If so Lent is the time to come back to the Lord in repentance praying for the gift of a new heart, new vision, new spirit, new life. The Lord says: “Yet even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:12-13). And how many times St. Paul confronts the Church with this evangelical challenge in all his letters, because there is no other distinguishing mark of Christian discipleship than humility, patience, gentleness, forgiveness and love which make for peace andunity in all situations.
There is no doubt that meekness is the weapon that will defeat sin in all its ramifications and the source of sin i.e., the Evil One who never ceases to tempt humanity with delusion. The Pope concludes: “Meekness is the conquest of many things. Meekness is capable of winning the heart, saving friendships and much more, because people anger but then they calm down, think about it and go back over the footsteps, and so you can rebuild with meekness. The ‘land’ to be conquered with meekness is the salvation of the brother (or sister) of whom the Gospel of Mathew speaks (cf. Mat. 18:5). There is no land more beautiful than the heart of others, there is no land more beautiful to gain than the peace found with a brother (or sister). And that is the land to inherit with meekness.”
In the spirit of the Pope’s Lenten Message 2020, let us keep our eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified; let ourselves be saved over and over again; let us believe firmly in his mercy which frees us of our guilt; let us contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let ourselves be cleansed by it; in this way we can be reborn ever anew.Through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother may our Lenten celebration open our hearts to hear God’s call to be reconciled to himself, to fix our gaze on the Paschal Mystery of Christ and be converted to an open and sincere dialogue with our Lord, with ourselves and with our brothers and sisters so that we can become what Christ has asked of us to be: the salt of the earth and light of the world (cf. Mt. 5:13-14).

+ Archbishop Anil Couto
Archbishop of Delhi

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