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Ash Wednesday: The Season of Lent begins today

Mar 9, 2011, 2:22 PM | Article By: FR. EDU GOMEZ - Parish of the Resurrection, Brikama, General Secretary Gambia Christian Council

Every year, the Christian calendar places Ash Wednesday as the day in which lent begin. Today being Ash Wednesday, we begin the forty days Lenten season. Christians will go to church in the morning, afternoon and evening to worship, pray and mark themselves with ash. The ash is a sign of unworthiness and repentance before God who is merciful and compassionate (Psalm 50). Lent is the Christian time of fasting and penance. The Christian Panorama will in this edition bring you the Catholic Bishop’s Lenten Pastoral 2011:

LENTEN PASTORAL LETTER 2011

Let us build the Christian family on Christ

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

During Lent, each year, the Church invites us to take a close look at our lives in the light of the Gospel. As we receive the ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, we are told: “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. These simple words are a far greater challenge to our faith than the older formula that we used to hear: ‘Remember that you are dust and into dust you shall return’.

As so this year I invite you to take this ‘acceptable time’ to pray, to reflect and to work together on building up the Christian Family on Christ who is our Rock.

The Church has always reminded us of the importance of the family as the foundation of its own life as well as that of society itself. Even outside the religious sphere, the family has, until recently, been accepted as the basic building block for a healthy society. Unfortunately, in the last ten or twenty years, we have witnessed the adverse effects of the breakdown of family life especially among young people. Suicide, drugs, delinquency and other various forms of violence have become a major cause of concern.

On the 30th September, 2010, Pope Benedict gave us an Apostolic Exhortation ‘Verbum Domini’ (The Word of the Lord) subsequent to the Synod of Bishops that took place in Rome in 2008 on this very subject. With the Word of the Lord, he says: ‘we find ourselves before the mystery of God who has made himself known through the gift of his word’ – especially when that Word was made flesh with the birth of Jesus. ‘Your word O Lord is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path.’ Let us begin by turning to the Book of Genesis to revisit what God intended when He created man and woman in His own image and likeness.

The Bible tells us in story form about the special union between man and woman – a union that was designed by God and was also something innate or instinctive for man. Adam is almost in ecstasy before Eve when he awoke from his deep sleep: ‘This at last is bone of my bone and flesh from my flesh’. Then light is shed on the nature of their union: ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body’.

Thus, the image of God is found not only in each individual but even more so in the coming together of man and woman, united in love, as one body. The image and likeness of God is only fully complete in the union of both man and woman - where both are equal yet each is distinct.

This then was the ideal created by God and given to our ‘first parents’. Then came along ‘the serpent who was the most subtle of all wild animals; and said to the woman: did God really say that you were not to eat the fruit of a certain tree…? Both succumbed to the temptation and immediately they felt naked before God and each other. They experienced a sense of alienation from God and from each other. They were ashamed and went into hiding. And so, sin entered the world because man abused the gift of freedom given to him by God. This is a story – a powerful story that tries to portray the dis-order, the dis-grace, the di-vision that wounded our ‘first parents’ and ultimately the whole human family. We call it the ‘original sin’. It is a story that points to the breakdown of human relationships - of trust, fidelity, openness and honesty. It is a story that echoes experiences that are all too familiar to people in every age, in every corner of the world.

The history of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament records the ways in which the original plan of God was affected by the original sin: polygamy, divorce, infidelity… However, the Covenant which God made with this people through Moses would become a sign of the total fidelity of God to his chosen people in spite of their infidelity towards him - ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people’. This constant fidelity on God’s side became the ideal or model for the fidelity which God intended between man and woman in the marriage covenant. The prophet Hosea was inspired by the Spirit of God to speak about this in the moving words: ‘How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong’ (11.8). Hosea’s own experience of a disastrous marriage to an unfaithful wife also inspired him to speak with such authority.

The Pharisees confronted Jesus one day with the question of divorce which, according to the law of Moses, was permissible in certain circumstances. Jesus replied by reminding them of how God created man and woman at the beginning and then added: ‘So then what God has united, man must not divide’. Marriage therefore is something SACRED (it comes from God), it is UNIQUE (between one man and one woman), and it is INDISSOLUBLE (a lifelong commitment). These are the foundation stones on which God wanted to build the fundamental unit of all society - the family.

However, when Jesus’ disciples heard this teaching, they reacted strongly and said. If that is how things are between husband and wife, then it is better not to marry! To which Jesus replied: ‘not everyone can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted’. Jesus is unbending with his teaching about marriage; but he does not condemn those who fail to live up to this high ideal. He understands our human weakness. The story of the woman caught in adultery reveals to us a Saviour who teaches us the truth about sin who is always ready to forgive the repentant sinner. ‘Woman, neither do I condemn you, but go now and sin no more.’

Parents: communication, communication, communication! Misunderstanding hurt, neglect or other difficulties have surely come your way. Learn how to share your feelings with each other and how to listen to each other with respect and courtesy. It is a mutual obligation. This is how you can continue to build trust and confidence in each other. ‘Forgiveness is the needle that knows how to mend’.

I strongly recommend that you set aside a quiet time together at least once each week. Begin by praying and sharing the Word of God together. ‘If anyone listens to my Word, my Father will love him and we will come and make our home in him’ (John 14, 23).

If as parents you can learn how to grow in your understanding and respect for each other, then I believe that you are in a stronger position to educate your children to appreciate the Gospel message as well as the social and traditional values of Gambian culture. ‘How often in my long career has this great truth come home to me! It is so much easier to get angry than to be patient, to threaten a child rather than persuade him. It is so much more convenient for our own impatience and pride to punish them than to correct them patiently with firmness and gentleness’ (St. John Bosco). This can be a formidable task; but that is no reason to shy away from it. You have a responsibility before God and our Gambian society which cannot be left to others.

PASTORS: I urge and encourage you to take your Marriage preparation programme seriously and involve Religious and Laity in those areas where they have their own gifts and experience to contribute. A minimum of three months should always be respected and this should include twelve sessions with the parties concerned. These should begin with some prayer and reflection on the Word of God.

Finally, I would like to make an appeal to our lay faithful to revive the CATHOLIC FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP. ‘Carry each others’ burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6,2).

God, Creator and Father of all, bless and protect our Christian families as well as all families in The Gambia.

Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, you learnt how to live for thirty years at home in Nazareth in obedience to your mother and father, even though you also experienced the call at an early age to be about your Father’s business.

Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Christian parents with your gifts of wisdom, understanding, courage and piety. Amen.

Robert P. Ellison CSSp. Bishop of Banjul.

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