Brothers and Sisters,
The grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.We are entering the Lenten season. With Jesus we go to the desert of Jericho which, today, is telling us two things: first, that the desert which still surrounds it is the same one where Jesus went to fast and pray before bringing his message to the world; and second, that Jericho is a small prison city, like all the other Palestinian cities, a symbol of the conflict situation that has become the context in which we live, generation after generation, and day after day.
On the one hand, during this Lenten season, we want to pray and encounter God in solitude, and on the other hand, we want to meet people in order to overcome the conflict and to see the face of God in everyone.
In the desert, we free ourselves for a while from the weight of the preoccupations of our private and public life in order to enjoy a time of interior freedom that will allow us to see: to see God and to see, in the depths of ourselves, the good or the evil that we carry so that we can purify ourselves and come to know better the vocation to which God is calling us in our Church and in our society.
The Church invites us during Lent to abstain from food, not just for the sake of abstaining from certain food or from all food, but in order to learn how to deprive ourselves from one thing in order to attain another, and in order to regain our freedom. We free ourselves from the pressures of the body and of matter and from the feelings that prompt us to hate and destroy so that we can restore the strength of the spirit that is in us, and that helps us live the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
To be sure, this life comprises trials, "Whoever wishes to come after me must take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34), but it also includes a love that makes life abundant: "I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (John 10:10; John 13:35).
We fast in order to enable us to reconcile ourselves with God, as St. Paul tells us: "Let yourselves be reconciled with God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). And reconciliation with God cannot take place without reconciliation with all of God's children, our brothers and sisters, friends and enemies. We fast in order to renew our acceptance of the faith with all of its liberating force and its demands because the vocation to be leaven, salt and light is a vocation to a difficult life. But Jesus also told us: "If you have faith, you will be able to move mountains" (cf. Matthew 21:21). Authentic faith, fully accepted and lived, makes up for small numbers, drives fear away, and enables believers, even if they are alone in their society, to contribute to the common work of building up that society.
The vocation to be leaven in the dough of Jesus' own land requires that we stay in this land, even though life in other lands might be easier. The vocation to be leaven is a vocation to live the commandment of love in order to forgive, while at the same time demanding all the rights that have been lost, and in order to transform life into a sharing of goods and sacrifices. This sharing can make all of us, with all of our differences in religion and nationality, true builders of the new society that must arise in this Holy Land for all of us, Jews, Druze, Muslims and Christians.
We are called to a difficult life in the midst of a conflict that still continues in Palestine, and that has repercussions in the other countries of our diocese, Israel and Jordan, [and the] occupation and all that it implies: the restrictions on our freedom, the wall, the military checkpoints, the deprivations, the Israeli soldiers who, at any time, enter our Palestinian cities, kill people, take prisoners, uproot trees, and destroy houses.
And add to that, the lack of vision within Palestinian society, and the lack of security which is exploited by some who permit themselves to disobey the laws and to oppress their brothers, especially those who bear arms and who use them to oppress and to steal the money of others, and the internal struggles that are not going away. Added to that, the non-response or the inability of the international community to respond to the many voices in this region that are calling for peace. And the numerous prayers that are taking place everywhere and that continue to be made in this time of trial: In them and in all people of good will we place our hope.
In the face of all this, Lent reminds Christians that this situation can be one of death or of new life, and that they are called to transform it into a situation of new life. In this context, the purpose of our fasting is, first of all, to meditate and search for the will of God and his Providence in the midst of the trials we are undergoing, and secondly, to renew our love for one another.
By adding the weight of the concerns of our brothers to our own, God becomes present among us, because as Jesus said: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). We are therefore three to carry our concerns: ourselves, our brother, and God. With that, we become stronger and the burden becomes lighter.
Thirdly, with the presence of God in our midst, we will come to see the meaning of the events we are experiencing; we will see how to transform trials and oppressions into love for each other, which will give us more strength, a strength that will unite us more and that will allow us to carry out a true resistance whose purpose will not be to destroy the adversary, or to fill our hearts with rancor against him, but to put an end to the evil of occupation, with all of its oppression, and in this way to begin a new life for everyone, the occupied as well as the occupiers.
Brothers and sisters, I ask God to grant you his grace and blessing. May he bless and accept your fasting and may it be a source of renewal for you. I ask almighty God to grant you the gift of loving life despite the difficult circumstances in which he sent you to build a new life and a new society for all. Amen.
Archbishop Michel Sabbah,
Ash Wednesday, February 21, 2007