The Holy Church is leading us into the Great Lent. It tells us not to focus on our visible achievements or impressing others. Instead, it instructs us to nourish our inner selves. Christ reminds us: "when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face". He asks us to be full of stamina, look bold and fresh, and keep our sorrow and weeping out of everybody’s sight. Nevertheless, many are too keen to show how hard they are fasting. They want to amaze others with their endurance and ascetic feats. But the Gospel tells us to fast invisibly and seek God's grace within ourselves.
The preparatory weeks for the Great Lent are now over. This past Sunday, we commemorated the expulsion of Adam from paradise, and in the evening, we asked each other for forgiveness. To say "forgive me" to the Lord and the people, and do so from our hearts, is a remarkable achievement of our inner self. Too often, our hearts are silent, empty and fatigued. But we cannot begin to transform from within unless we have made peace with the others. We must forgive even those who caused us great pain. There must not be a trace of bitterness left. Only then can we open our hearts to the grace of God.
We look inward and appreciate the extent to which sin has distorted our nature. We know that we had to go to paradise right now, we would be miserable there. Sin still fills our lives and controls them to a large extent. Painfully, we realise the corruption of our past lives and the need to live differently.
But many more of us are still indifferent. They do not believe in heaven or the immortality of our souls. Nor do they have the slightest idea that we are only strangers in this world. They entertain the vain hope of building a paradise on earth. The gains and enjoyments of this world are their sign of progress. They take for proximity to paradise the current gains in public and private wealth. Neglecting their inner selves, they dedicate themselves to the pursuit of their worldly well-being.
But the Bible leaves us in no doubt about the future of this world: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” (Matthew 24:29, Luke 21:33). The end of the world will not come as a punishment from the Lord, but rather as a natural result of our attempt to live meaningless lives in separation from Him. A world where everyone lives self-serving lives in pursuit of their self-interest inevitably becomes a tyranny of sin.
The Bible also tells us to seek the Kingdom of God within us. As the Great Lent begins, we will be looking closely in our hearts and seeking communion with God. We will be having a conversation with Him, one on one. The first week is a critical period to get it going. Every day in our churches, we will read the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. We will hold longer worship services and make prostrate bows. The whole atmosphere of the worship will dispose us towards repentance.
Now is the time to work even harder to advance our future and become better servants of Christ and our neighbours. We pray that the Lord will strengthen us in our faith, hope and love, grant us the power to overcome our selfishness and pride and overcome the enemy within. The Lord will give us this victory because he has defeated death on the Cross. Mount Golgotha was the highest point in the struggle for our salvation. For the next forty days, we will be proceeding in His footsteps to our Golgotha, and relive the events of the Bright and Holy Week that led to His resurrection. Our victory over death will be our prize, and it will be ours to keep.
The Lord acts on us with His love. It is love that keeps us alive and delivers us from worldly fear. For we have the kingdom of God in our hearts.
The Lord became flesh to defeat death and sin, but He also came to restore true worship of Him. He worked miracles to bring it home to all the people that He was the true Son of God.
Even if we have good intentions, sometimes we stumble and fall into the pit of sin. We feel pride and get a sense of superiority over other people. We have to be very careful.
We have two windows on the world - our minds and our hearts. Our eyes and ears tend to see or hear what we want them to. Therefore, we are all learning to pray so we can connect our minds with our hearts.
Today, we commemorate in prayer the great prophet Saint John the Baptist. He directed us towards Christ. He put his hand on Jesus' head and baptised Him in the river Jordan. With his repentance, St John called humanity to a new life.
And yet, every soul wants to live forever. That is why God allows us to face some troubles. We have to accept those troubles as a cross to carry till the end. [H]e that endureth to the end shall be saved (Cf. Matthew 10: 22).
Do we realise the importance of articulating before God the actions that are essential and indispensable for us...?
Living in God gives us the freedom to be ourselves. So let us throw off our masks by becoming more genuine and sincere. Let us own up to our weaknesses and admit our need for transformation.