18 February 2021

Faith Matters - Healed

Article by Mr Brendan Nicholls

Faith Matters - Healed

As we enter Lent this year we pause to gather our thoughts and reflect upon five days of lockdown. Ash Wednesday focussed our attention on Lent and also coincided with the announcement that lockdown was to end and life was to go ‘back to normal’; sort of. For our community this time was quite a shock. Even though we have experienced similar, on this occasion the inclusion of 5km travel limits and the closure of almost all shops and services alerted us to the great freedom we have and how fortunate we are to be able to access all we need at will. Ash Wednesday reminds us of the need to continually examine our lives and draw more to our centre; Jesus.

The Gospel last Sunday described Jesus’ miraculous healing of a leper. During his time lepers were outcasts. Excluded to the point of being forgotten and avoided when seen. In our society and even in our personal lives we see this today. The reading challenges us to consider who are lepers in our daily lives and how can we heal them. The answer of course is rhetorical. We cannot heal these people like Jesus did and in-fact who we need to heal is ourself. We need to call upon the Spirit to be more generous and merciful in every way to be able to heal as Jesus did. In accepting and loving those rejected or outcast by society we heal them because we have healed ourselves. This profound insight is a beautiful prompt as we enter into Lent.

Ash Wednesday heralds the beginning of Lent and coincided with the announcement made that we were to be ‘released’ from lockdown. This news led to a moment of great joy and the realisation of what being free means. On Ash Wednesday we also entered into the tradition of eating fish rather than meat. We do this as a symbol of fasting or giving up and because we have the freedom to choose. As we have recently experienced, freedom is intoxicating and beautiful.

When we become aware of the freedom we have we become more aware of God’s love and the needs of others. Making the decision to eat fish on Ash Wednesday is not guided by guilt but upon a decision based upon awareness of those who go without every day or as an action that turns our attention to the changes we need to make during the next forty days.

I suggest that Ash Wednesday is best framed by the Great Commandment:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” - Matthew 22:36-40

Jesus commands us to do these things and live within, and bring to life in the world the Kingdom of God. He taught many things during his life and offers us much guidance but the Great Commandment is truly all we need. As we enter into Lent we are prompted by this commandment to consider what changes are needed in your life and what you need to do during Lent to live ever more according to God’s will.

During Lent we are asked to consider and respond to three things: fasting, alms giving and prayer. 
Fasting is about giving up things that are not needed or not helpful to us. In giving up these things we open up time in our day and space in our hearts for God. Fasting might help us help others charitably as we ‘save’ money through our choices.
 Alms giving is an ancient Christian tradition of caring for others through charity. In our modern day people still live in poverty and we can make a significant difference by giving a little each week financially, just as we can make a difference through our charitable actions of compassion and kindness. 
The third aspect of Lent is prayer. A practice which most of us experience an ebb and flow because of our busy lives. During Lent we are encouraged to contemplate how we can encounter God in prayer. From an Ignatian perspective we are encouraged to find God where we encounter him most easily and do so more and more often.

Change however is not easy. Lent prompts us to enter into a process of change. Scientific study has shown that new habits take on average 66 days to become automatic and ongoing. The 40 days of Lent may seem have biblical meaning but leave us a little short if we are to be truly transformed. Just like all New Year’s resolutions we ‘hit the wall’ after a month or so and go back to our old ways. In our Tradition though we are reenergised at Easter and for the next 50 days walk with the Risen Lord. We then celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In total our Tradition offers us 90 days to be transformed which is more than enough according to science! When considered there great wisdom can be found in our centuries old Tradition and how the observance of Lent and Easter can truly transform us.

As we rejoice in the freedom we now have post-lockdown we look forward to experiencing Lent in communion with our friends, colleagues and loves ones. We are challenged to become more whole and transform our lives for the good of ourselves, others and our relationship with Jesus. As we prepare for Easter our experience of lockdown has made us aware of the joy of the Resurrection that we wait for as our stone has been rolled away after five days of being cloistered.

To begin this Lenten journey I encourage you to pray for those in great need at this time.

Jesus, you travelled through towns and villages curing every disease and illness.

At your command, the sick were made well.

Come to our aid now, in the midst of the pandemic, that we may experience your healing love.

Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health.

Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbours from helping one another.

Jesus, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.

Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.

Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.

St Ignatius, Pray for us.

Yours in Christ,

Brendan Nicholls  Liturgy Coordinator