Lenten Season and Flow of Peace: Fr. Dr. Bijesh Philip

During the Parliament Election Campaign ten months ago, the slogan of Sri Narendra Modiji “Sabke Sath Sabke Vikas” was soothing to all especially to the minorities. Tragic Communal events and acts of religious fanaticism which continued one after another from the time he formed the Government was disappointing and disheartening.
The fascist forces, in the name of cultural nationalism and certain exponents of Hindutva ideology were humiliating Gandhiji – the Father of the Nation, by glorifying Godse. It was a humiliation to India, which has a glorious culture of religious pluralism. Our Prime Minister Modiji has broken his silence regarding these communal issues which is really an exhilarating good news.
His speech at a function to celebrate the Sainthood of Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia on Feb 17th, 2015 was underscoring his Government’s commitment to protect the right of every individual to adopt and retain the religion of each one’s choice. It is worth quoting his words:

  • “My Government will ensure there is complete freedom of faith, everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice, without coercion or undue influence.
  • My Government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. My government will give equal respect to all religions.
  • We consider the freedom to have, retain, and adopt a religion or belief is a personal choice of a citizen.”

It seems to be a powerful intervention to uphold the culture of pluralism and respect to all religions which is characteristic of this ancient Bharat. This is very meaningful and comforting in the context of the Sangh Pariwar’s aggressive Ghar Vapasi campaign and the string of attacks on the churches. We hope that this is not a bogus attempt to regain the lost image in the recent Delhi election against AAP, but an indication of a real commitment. We are looking forward to see how his government will translate this value of peace & harmony into practice.
The faithful of religions and especially religious leaders must also take pains to bring about harmony and unity in society. The genuine religious spirit nqeeds to be protected from the encroachment of fascist and fanatic forces. Rooted openness seems to be ideal in this context. Rooted openness visualizes a deep commitment to one’s own faith while maintaining openness to other religions and ideologies and also a strong concern for Justice, Peace and Harmony.
This season of Great Lent is a time for Christians to strengthen their roots. This time of fasting and repentance is a desert experience for them. Jesus was in the desert till he manifested himself to his community (Luke 1:80); Jesus’ 40 days fasting was also in a desert. At the beginning of his transformation, Paul also was in a similar experience (Gal 1: 17-18) for a few years. Early Christian monasticism was also literal a movement to deserts.
Desert gives a training to say ‘NO’ to many things including prosperity. By saying ‘no’ to luxurious foods, drinks and devices, will power is sharpened to say ‘NO’ to evil and dehumanizing forces also. In the desert where there is no sensuous beauty to experience, human senses will be withdrawn in such a way that inner senses will be opened to see one’s own self and also the face of God. By minimizing the bodily nourishment, inner life is nourished by intense prayer and meditation on the word of God. Lent prepares an artificial desert for the transformation of the faithful. Like the stone jars in which water was filled by the instruction of Jesus at the wedding at Cana prepared the ground for transformation of water, Lenten desert prepares a ground for spiritual awakening. But it is Christ who transforms us in accordance with our response. We move to desert also to see the people who suffer there and also to help them. The Prophets remind us that serving the marginalized and liberating the victims of injustice is the fasting pleasing to God (Isaiah 58: 5-7). In the deserts of the Middle East today, fighters of the Islamic State and Jihadists are turning prayers and fasting for strengthening their inhuman and aggressive powers. But the goal of true fasting is to make us fully human like Jesus Christ.
As the liberated Israelites were moving to the joyous experience of the Promised Land through the desert, we progress to the heavenly joy through this Lenten desert. It is noteworthy that the end of this Lenten journey is the feast of feasts which commemorates Christ’s victory over death.

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