Once again we are in the season of Lent. Today is Ash Wednesday but without the ashes as it the eve of Chinese New Year. Our Church, which is so strict with its rich traditions, is willing to give up its practice of fast, abstinence and imposition of ashes for the worldly celebrations of the lunar New Year. We don't even have the usual evening mass to mark this very important day in the calendar of the Catholic Church.
If the Church is so convinced that these traditions are so important in our worship, how can it give in to material demands? The contradictory stand of the Church at times really puzzles me; can man's laws over-ride God’s? It looks like they can under certain circumstances.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said, "'Love (agape) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." ( Matthew 22:37-41).
In keeping to this commandment,Jesus demonstrated his extreme form of love for us by dying on the cross.He has shown us the type of love we should have for God and for one another,not the love that we see in our material world today,but a love that is divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional and thoughtful.
This type of love has been described as agape, which is one of several Greek words meaning love.
As expounded on by Jesus, agape is a form of love which is both unconditional and voluntary; that is, it is non-discriminating with no pre-conditions and is something that one decides to do without compulsion.
This, self-sacrificing love for God and for one another is what Lent should be all about.
Lent takes us through a number of important events that should make us reflect on our lives to see whether we possess the type of love as propagated by Jesus himself.
It begins with Ash Wednesday, when the imposition of ashes on our foreheads reminds us of our mortal bodies. However rich and powerful we may be, one day our bodies will be reduced to nothing but dust. This should remind us that the the culture of greed that has inflicted us today is a folly. Instead we should strive to cultivate the love of Christ that is within each and every one of us.
The weekly stations of the Cross is a reminder that it is not enough to just to recollect the agape love of Christ for us but that we should also develop that love for one another. There is no way we can love Christ without loving those around us.
The act of washing of the feet on Holy Thursday is a demonstration of extreme humility by Christ; where the master goes down to wash the feet of his subjects. To many of us it may be just a ritual and even appear ridiculous but in actual fact it is a great lesson for us in life. Jesus is trying to tell us how we should treat one another, especially our subordinates and those less fortunate than us. As the followers of Jesus, do we have that humility and love for those below us?
Death on the cross on Good Friday is a reminder of the ultimate self-sacrificing love of Jesus for mankind. His crucifixion is the real act of agape. As the followers of Christ, we are asked to emulate that ultimate sacrifice of Christ. Are we prepared to do that?
We need not literally lay down our lives for others but surely we can sacrifice some precious possessions of ours - our time, energy and wealth for the betterment of those around us. At the same we can give up something which we all possess in abundance - pride, selfishness, ego, anger and greed which impede our endeavors to serve others.
Do we possess that love for those we encounter daily in our homes, the office and neighborhood?
Are we willing to forgive and offer our hands of friendship to those who hate us? Are we sensitive to the needs of others around us? Are we willing to go down to the level of the downtrodden to help them? Are we willing to patiently listen to those in distress? Are we willing and brave enough to speak out against injustice wherever it occurs?
Lent is a time for us to ponder on all these. It is a time for unselfish sacrifice of love, agape, not for our well-being but that of others.
Christ's resurrection at Easter has given us the hope in our battle over "death”. Fasting, abstinence, prayer and rituals may be the tools in this battle but the key to victory over death is AGAPE..