Advancement in science and modern technology has led to breakthrough discoveries and improvement in many spheres of our lives. We know more about the universe than we have ever known before. Modern medicine has made it possible for people to live longer, look ageless and even replace parts of our body that are not functioning or deemed to be less than perfect. Technology has made it possible for people to be connected instantly across the world at the touch of a button. And yet, are we happier?
Are our relationships stronger? Do we have more time to enjoy the world we live in? Sadly for many, the family is no longer the bulwark against the travails of life. Relationships are strained, because people no longer have time for each other. We are consumed with work, the Internet, social media, etc, so much so that even when we do get together physically, we do not talk heart-to-heart.
As Pope Francis says, “the great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.
“This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.” (EG 2) We acknowledge that the human race has passed from a static concept to a more dynamic one (GS 5). This has given rise to a whole agora of challenges to be analysed in the light of transmitting a faith that is joyful and authentic.
How can we manifest the face of God in our city and transmit God’s love to others in a tangible way? What is Mercy then? St John Paul II encapsulates this in his encyclical Dives In Misericordia, “For mercy is an indispensable dimension of love; it is as it were love’s second name” (DM 7). We encounter the fullness of God’s mercy revealed through Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John tells us that, “No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). Bearing witness to the truth, the Church directs the gaze of humanity towards the mystery of God’s love.
The entire life of Christ bears testament to the Mercy of God the Father, revealed through Jesus Christ, Saviour and Redeemer of the world. As His disciples, we are called to be “Imitators of God, because we are His beloved children.” (Eph 5:1-2) Hence, through the traditional Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the Church invites us to enter deeper into the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
By imitating Christ’s kenosis (self-emptying), in dying to our sins and giving of ourselves more fully, we begin to understand and experience the liberation and joy of His resurrection. The message of the Gospel therefore is ever new, for “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:2)
It is in Prayer that we come face to face with Mercy itself. As St John Paul II says, “Our witness would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face. Prayer develops that conversation with Christ which makes us his intimate friends: Abide in me and I in you.” (Jn 15:4). The busier we are, the more we must pray, so that we will find strength and discernment to tackle what lies ahead of us.
This Lent, make time in your busy schedule to be with the Lord. Prayer requires commitment and discipline. Ask God to grant you this grace. As St Teresa of Calcutta says, “He is longing to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear him saying, “I thirst” in the hearts of the poor. Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person – not just the idea. How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say, “I love you” – impossible. Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air. If not, prayer is dead – meditation only thinking.”
Just as personal prayer is important; community prayer cannot be neglected. This is because our faith cannot be nurtured on its own but needs the community of believers for it to be challenged, supported and to grow strong. Hence, form cell groups within your communities for prayer and Bible sharing. If there are fellow Catholics at your workplace, you can pray with/for each other or attend lunchtime Mass together. Together, let us encourage one another on this pilgrim journey.
Fasting and abstinence help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart. (CCC 2043) Fasting reminds of God’s providence and puts us in solidarity with our needy brothers and sisters. However, fasting need not only apply to food but also to situations at home and work. We can “fast” from being calculative at work, politicking and gossiping, and focus instead on developing skills and teamwork. Build a culture of charity, respect, courtesy and support for one another, thereby making the office another home.
Similarly on the home front, more people are suffering from alienation, depression and loneliness. Divorce is on the rise, children are left to themselves or hired help, the elderly seen as a burden and abandoned. Hence, it is important to have a healthy work-life balance, to “fast” from distractions, unhealthy competition and entertainment that prevent us from developing and maintaining our relationships.
Almsgiving reminds us that we are stewards and that our blessings and profits are to be shared. Work should be viewed as more than economic remuneration but as a service to the economy and development of people. Almsgiving can also be in the currency of talent, time and love. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us in Deus Caritas Est that love will always prove necessary even in the most just society. More than material help, love provides spiritual refreshment and nourishment for souls, something more necessary than material support.
In this aspect, we can imitate St Therese Lisieux in the manner of doing small things with great love for God and others. Hence, we can sanctify our work at the workplace or at home, by giving our best with love – Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man. (Col 3:23)
“Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love.This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way.” (EG 114)
The Church teaches us that the seven corporal acts of mercy include feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, the imprisoned and burying the dead. This goes beyond performing these acts of mercy only in Lent, but constantly cultivating a disposition to manifest God’s love and mercy to those that we encounter through our witness and actions. This is how we can manifest “Mercy in the City” and contribute to the New Evangelisation for Singapore.
In conclusion, my dear brothers and sisters, I invite you this Lent, to renew your relationship with the Lord and with one another at home and at work, in the currency of love. May the Lord guard and bless you and let His face shine on you so that you may manifest His face of mercy and compassion to others.
I wish you a holy and blessed Lent and a joyful Easter to come.
Yours in Christ,
Archbishop William Goh