Monday, 10 March 2014

Lent and Mission

Editorial of Sahayatra December-February 2014 

We are in a Lenten journey which leads us to experience crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this process we are also crucified and resurrected with a new vision and life. This vision is different from the vision spread through the market economy with a missionary zeal today.

 Being the body of Christ, the church needs to constantly remember Christ and reflect life in accordance with the vision He imparted to us. The vision of priorities in the light of Gospel inspires us to commit to the welfare and fullness of  life to the disabled, the poor, the illiterate, the victims of injustice and casteism, the sick and the suffering. This is a vision of mission to serve as agents of peace-making in the context of conflicts of communalism and to promote sustainability of environment. This vision facilitates freedom and communion with God, the Ultimate Mystery. This is a vision of the joy of relationship and loving, motivated and empowered by Jesus Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Exercises like fasting and lent must give spiritual nourishment to fulfill this mission.

Separation of spirituality and mission or witness, is a dangerous rift. Sacrificial service to the rest of the world also needs to be part of the vision of spirituality. H.H. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world beautifully affirms this holistic vision. Just to have a taste of this let us have a look at a few sentences from it: “ When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened aside to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God … If we want to advance in the spiritual life, then, we must constantly be missionaries.”

The usual  separate understanding of spirituality and mission are overcome with an integral vision here which is a true echo of ancient Christian wisdom. The fourth century saintly Bishop, Basil the Great, while interpreting the rich young man’s failure to follow Christ’s instruction to share his wealth with the poor, says “when the great physician of souls and bodies, seeing your deficiency in this vital area, wishes to make you whole, you do not accept the joyful news, but rather turn sad and gloomy”. In the same treatise ‘To the Rich’ he further says, “ When I go in to the house of one of these newly rich individuals, and see it bedecked with every imaginable hue, I know that this person possesses nothing more valuable than what is on display, such people decorate inanimate objects, but fail to beautify the soul.”

Today, these words needs to be understood not only in connection with the insensitive individuals but also with the parishes and churches which rejoice in accumulating money and fail to do the mission of God. May the Lent enlighten us to regain the mission of simplicity and sharing in accordance with the Gospel. As we grow in Christ, it is essential to progress in sharing the joy of the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Efforts for both inter-religious dialogue and personal evangelization need to be understood as part of spirituality or Divine Love for a new world.

The Church as a whole has been called as  the body of Christ to make the presence of Jesus Christ present in today’s world.  All the members of the Church received baptism and anointment with the Holy Mooron  as a commission to grow in Christ and to continue the mission started by Him. Traditional understanding of the Church as an institute which prepares its members towards heaven in the  life after life experience needs to be compensated with a vision of the Church as a sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God in history.  Church is to be God’s Jesus to give freedom and fullness of life to the world.  When the Church fails to remember Christ and the  calling of it  to continue His ministry, it may fall to be a party or race or club or a business firm which is concerned about its own name, fame and welfare. 

Lent is a season of repentance which need not be limited to a few personal evil habits or failures.  Parishes need to repent for using its money for luxurious flag posts and other constructions,  for not using its potential and wealth for enhancing the life of the marginalized and restoring justice to  the victims of discrimination, corruption and other injustices.  The churches need to repent for being insensitive to peacemaking and for ignoring the weak and the poor for being extremely luxurious in its vestments, worships, meetings and constructions. Late H.G. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios continue to remind us of “the sin of being rich in a poor world.”  Those who have a vision of mission cannot be excited about being rich or luxurious. Christians have also  to repent for not leading a life in accordance with the Gospel and also not to share Jesus Christ  as a source of freedom, joy and fullness to their relatives and friends.      

A few papers originally presented in the Seminar on the vision of Mission held at St. Thomas Orthodox Seminary on February 3rd , 2014 are reproduced in this issue for further reflection on the theme.    The seminar was one of the programmes organized by the seminary to celebrate the blessed memory of H.G. Pathros Mar Osthathios,  one of the greatest missionary of Malankara Orthodox Church who was deeply committed to the liberation of the Dalits in 20th century  and to evangelization.                


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