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Patriarch Emeritus

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Message for Lent 2004

Our spiritual life

1. The time of fasting is a time of repentance and return to God. It is a time of presence before God. “The Kingdom of God is among you”, Jesus says. God is present among you. All your life and not just during Lent, should be a time of perpetual purification in order to better perceive God among yourselves and in all His creatures, beginning with every brother and sister who has a part in your daily life.

Fasting is a spiritual path in the life of the believer, in the midst of daily preoccupations and the complexities of life, of its joys and its trials. The Spirit of God that sustains us and gives us the true strength to persevere and remain constant in our daily spiritual combat is our guide in the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth. Thus, every land and every parish might indeed become the abode of God on earth and a holy land. 

In the daily life of the believer there is faith. However, there is also a perpetual combat with various challenges, both within us and in every manifestation of evil in our society. After forty days of fasting, the tempter says to Jesus: “Tell these stones to become loaves of bread” (Mt 4:3). In Jesus’ response: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”, we understand that material needs need not become an obstacle to listening to the word of God. It is the word that reminds us of God’s presence within us. The construction of God’s Kingdom is to be pursued in all circumstances, whether easy or difficult. God’s grace shall be given us in all circumstances, whether easy or difficult. “My grace is enough for you” (2Cor 12:9), God says to Saint Paul, who was also struggling between weaknesses in the face of evil within himself and the grace of God who had called him to preach the Gospel.  

The criterion of a just Christian life, which is on the path to sanctity, is in the accomplishment of the single commandment that Jesus left us: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 19:19). If we want to know whether we are on the right path or not, we must question ourselves, we must review our positions and our behaviors, in order to see whether we really love our neighbor. It is he or she who shows us and tells us, according to our actions and our feelings with regards to him or her, whether we are on the right path or not. This neighbor is every neighbor without exception, every person in our life, a member of our church or of another church or of another religion. Christian love, conforming to the love of God, has no limits. Jesus says: “You must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Elsewhere, he also says: “Love one another just as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). The example that must be imitated is God’s example, nothing less. If Jesus gives us this commandment it means that we are capable of fulfilling it and he will give us the grace to sustain us and make us capable of imitating him. Just as God loves all God’s creatures, so we too love all our brothers and sisters, members of all churches, belonging to all religions.  

Fasting is to return to God and thereby to return to all our brothers and sisters. It is to rid ourselves of all the evils that have accumulated in us, so that we acquire the strength of the Spirit in order to be strong in all the areas of our life. The others will then respect our strength, which will be then the fruit of love and not the fruit of pride or the oppression of others.

The conflict in the Holy Land in our lives in these days

2. Lent is a time of sharing. In the difficult times we are living and in face of the various deprivations imposed on many, sharing is a duty. On the other hand, and spiritually speaking, we cannot build up the Kingdom of God that is among us alone. We build it up with all those that suffer. By living, within our souls and within our prayers, the oppression of some and the fears of others and by becoming conscious of our part in the responsibility for putting an end to this, we carry out our Lent. Thus we are involved in constructing the Kingdom of God among us and within our society that is at war.  

The circumstances within society that we have to face in the Holy Land are in fact circumstances of war: siege imposed on all, death imposed on some, prison and torture, various deprivations, house demolitions, destruction of agriculture, attacks and killings of innocent victims. In the midst of all this, our life is a difficult and painful search for justice and peace. It is an unceasing demand to put an end to oppression and fear and to the cycle of violence that is their consequence. One day, God will get rid of all these but human beings will do this as well. We will participate with God, each of us, by refusing both the oppression of a people and the spilling of innocent blood, and leaders too, through their wisdom and their lack of vested interests, becoming the servants of the people instead of serving themselves and their own interests.  

Those responsible for war in this land seem to be acting in these days as if they were planning for a permanent war and not for a permanent peace. However, the human person in this land is not called to live in a state of permanent war. God has said: Live in the land in peace, peace with God, who chose the land for his abode, and peace with those who live in it. Peace cannot be established while oppression and the violence that results from it continue. Depriving a people of its liberty and of its land is oppression that no conscience can accept. Likewise, no conscience can accept killing innocent people in order to protest oppression. Let us not become twofold victims of the war, first victims of material destruction and second, victims of a hatred that demolishes the human person, Palestinian or Israeli. No person is better than another when he or she is transformed into a carrier of hatred and revenge. Sadly, this is what is happening in this land, holy for the three religions and towards which the entire world looks because it is holy. This is why those who impose oppression have the duty to put an end to it so that the land might then know the security and peace that are so much desired.  

Parish priests and men and women religious in the various parishes spend long hours at the military checkpoints in order to carry out their pastoral work in their parishes and throughout the diocese. We say to them: be patient and pray to God for every human person, Palestinian or Israeli. Make your trial a prayer for all, for all those who suffer on both sides of the conflict. Your trial is little compared to death, torture, attacks, demolitions that are faced by so many other victims. Accept these difficulties as a sharing with all the poor ones of this land, to whom God has sent us in order that we might serve them and share in their sufferings and their hopes.  

Brothers and sisters,

3. Lent, a time of fasting and prayer, is a time to return to God. It is a time to be conscious of the Kingdom of God that is among us and that we are to establish in our society. It is a time when all believers in God might be filled both by His love and His force.  

In the difficulties we face, let us continue to live and to believe. St Cyril of Jerusalem used to say to his faithful, who also were carrying a difficult cross at that time: “Do not rejoice in the cross in time of peace only, but hold fast to the same faith in time of persecution also. Do not be a friend of Jesus in time of peace only but also in time of persecution” (St Cyril of Jerusalem, 2nd reading, 4th week of the year).  

                                                                                  + Michel Sabbah, Patriarch  

Jerusalem, Ash Wednesday 25.2.2004

 

 

 

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