Let Us Not Turn Away February 23, 2024

The season of Lent invites us to pause and reflect on the life we live together. We are called to recommit to the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—practices that shape our lives and open our hearts and minds to the love of God.

In his 2024 Message for Lent, Pope Francis tells us “Prayer, almsgiving and fasting are not three unrelated acts, but a single movement of openness and self-emptying, in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us. Then the atrophied and isolated heart will revive.”

Pope Francis is clear: Identifying and surrendering all that keeps us from living in the joy and freedom of God’s love requires a “desire to open our eyes to reality.”  He states, “Today…the cry of so many of our oppressed brothers and sisters rises to heaven. Let us ask ourselves: Do we hear that cry? Does it trouble us? Does it move us?… Let us ask: Do I want a new world? Am I ready to leave behind my compromises with the old?” He goes on to admit: “This…entails a struggle.” We must face our fears, doubts, and limitations—and be willing to be uncomfortable.

How do we ferment a “desire to open our eyes to reality.” How do we resist the temptation to turn away, when there is deep suffering and pain in our world?

In her book Black Liturgies, Catholic writer and poet Cole Arthur Riley suggests that as we begin Lent and “mark ourselves with… ashes, we remind ourselves that no grief is solitary. That what has stricken you is also carried by me… It is not easy, but we cling to this: God has always seen sacred potential in the dust.”

Throughout scripture we see Jesus modeling a way of love that notices, listens, and responds with compassionate action. It is God’s initiative in us that creates desire. It is God’s love for us that animates our ability to see.

Reality has many facets and faces. While there are, indeed, many good things in our lives, the opportunities to heal, reconcile, and address suffering are profound in our families and communities. I know the pain as I spend time with my brother, suffering from ALS. His life is relentless loss and grief. His anxiety is heartbreaking. We meet people living outside in Minnesota winter as they come to the Rectory to ask for food and drink each day. How do we make peace with this inequity?

Pope Francis states, “At this moment in time, we face enormous risks; we hear the painful plea of so many people. Indeed, we are experiencing a third world war fought piecemeal.” As we pause in prayer, a revived heart will open our eyes and move us into loving action. He states, “love needs tangibility, love needs presence, encounter.”

Together, we can find the courage to see reality, and recognize possibilities and opportunities for loving action. Together, may we hold this prayer from Cole Arthur Riley in our hearts: Lord, “help us to become honest about the ways our societies and selfhoods are marred by injustice, cruelty, neglect, and greed. Help us to see our own role in the degeneration of the world; that as we push back evil around us, we might also admit those secret evils that dwell in us. As we name how we’ve been complicit in the ashes of the world, help us to bear them in solidarity and hope.”  Amen!

Janice Andersen
Director of Christian Life