Saturday, March 10, 2012

Persons of Concern

…This [Lent] I would like to propose a few thoughts in the light of a brief biblical passage drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews:  “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works”. These words are part of a passage in which the sacred author exhorts us to trust in Jesus Christ as the High Priest who has won us forgiveness and opened up a pathway to God… I would like to reflect on [this] verse, which offers a succinct, valuable and ever timely teaching on the three aspects of Christian life: concern for others, reciprocity and personal holiness.

This first aspect is an invitation to be “concerned”: the Greek verb used here is katanoein, which means to scrutinize, to be attentive, to observe carefully and take stock of something. We come across this word in the Gospel when Jesus invites the disciples to “think of” the ravens that, without striving, are at the centre of the solicitous and caring Divine Providence (cf. Lk 12:24), and to “observe” the plank in our own eye before looking at the splinter in that of our brother (cf. Lk 6:41). In another verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find the encouragement to “turn your minds to Jesus” (3:1), the Apostle and High Priest of our faith. So the verb which introduces our exhortation tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters.

All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for “privacy”. Today too, the Lord’s voice summons all of us to be concerned for one another.

Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2012

Reflection – Well, I thought it was time I blogged a bit about Lent, since we’re at the end of the 2nd week and all. I’ll be going through the Pope’s Lenten message over the next few days here.

This business of being concerned for one another is so important, of course. It’s a beautiful word: ‘concerned’. The way we use it normally provides a good basis for reflection: ‘What concern is it of yours?’; ‘Business concerns’; ‘Concerned parties’.

In other words, to be concerned is to have a stake in something, to have some ‘skin in the game’. It matters to me because I have a concern. A whole sense that this person or thing counts in my world.

Well, we should be concerned, then, for every human being on the face of the earth. Right off the bat, the Pope is calling us to be aware of how deeply inter-connected every one of us is. Your life, even if you are a total stranger, is of deep concern to me. How are you today? I hope all is well with you… can I help you?

This goes against a basic human tendency which is alive and flourishing today. Namely, to only care about one’s immediate circle of family and friends, or at best one’s ‘tribe’, however one defines that term. The rest of the human race is of no concern to me. As long as me and my little group are OK; the rest of you can go to Hell.

This is not a new attitude, of course. But it is an attitude that has no place in a Christian. For the Christian, every human being is one who God the Father loves, God the Son died for, God the Spirit desires to rest upon and give life to. Everyone. And if we are following this God, every human being is for us an object (really, a person) of concern.

So, Lent! Right away then we see that Lent is not just about giving up chocolate or saying a few extra prayers. It is a question of asking God to enlarge our hearts, so that we truly are concerned for everyone: for obscure African tribesmen and the person next to me on the bus. For the Chinese and the store clerk. For Afghanistan and for my next door neighbour. This is the challenge of Lent, because it is the challenge of the Gospel. All the self-denial and prayer is meant to bring us into a space where God is able to pour his love into us, so we can at least start to love, a little bit, the way He loves.

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