In every home and every marriage, there are good times and bad, sickness and health, riches and poverty, somewhere in the journey of man and wife. In good times one is not tried and tested but in the bad times, one can so easily become upset, angry, critical, judgmental, disillusioned and frustrated. It is so easy to blame the other or to give in to guilt because you have not measured up to what you would like to be as a spouse or parent.
Lent is a beautiful time the Church gives us every year to hope again in hard times and to turn our mourning into dancing. I just received a beautiful gift from a kind friend of a book with the title:"Turn my mourning into dancing" It is compiled and edited by Timothy Jones from the writings of Henri Nouwen who died recently. I would like to share some thoughts from it to whet your appetite to read it yourself. Apply at www.wpublishinggroup.com for it. It costs US$ 13.
Some of us have seen the famous statue of the Pieta at St Peter's where the lifeless body of Jesus rests in the arms of his blessed mother. Though there is pain in this Mother's eyes, there is still hope. God has a plan for her precious son, even though she cannot understand it. Mary will not take back her yes to God. The faith-filled couple say YES to each other and to God on their wedding day. That yes is repeated daily by many, even in hard times. God has a plan for their marriage. God's grace is sufficient for them. With faith in God and in each other, they strive to live that yes, with hope, even in painful moments.
When people mourn, they weep and moan or give in to despair. Graham Staines was burnt alive together with his two young sons. His wife Gladys mourned their loss. But she sang: "Because He lives I can face tomorrow" at their funeral. God gave her hope to sustain her in that moment of grief. All of us are tempted to complain and curse when we face terrible loss. But our hope in God is not shaken, when we believe He has a plan.
Henri Nouwen speaks of 5 movements that we can make when we face hard times with hope. What are they?
1) Take the focus off "our little selves" and refocus on a larger world. Recently when we saw the great tragedy of the Tsunami in which so many lost their lives, we realized how little are our losses, by comparison. In reaching out to others in their greater loss, we receive new life ourselves.
2) Move from "holding tight" to security of persons, possessions and honors to "letting go" like a trapeze artist who has to let go and believe that the catcher is there to prevent him from falling. Another writer says "Let go and let God"
3) Move from "Fatalism" to "Hope". God does not abandon those who turn to him in trust. So many couples allow Him to provide for them as He does for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. They believe they are precious in His sight and allow Him to carry them in His arms.
4) Stop manipulating others, trying to control and get things done your way and begin to love, trust and be transparent in your communication. Be open to each other and learn from one another. We find the qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13.
5) Stop worrying about a "fearful death" and focus rather on a "Joyous life" that Jesus offers us. After all He is the Resurrection and the Life. The cross is not a symbol of shame but is the tree of new life. Joy is not an absence of suffering but the presence of God. Many will agree that moments of sorrow brought them closer together and helped them turn to God in child-like trust.
Everyone has to face suffering of some sort or another. Do not deny it or focus on how to get rid of it. Rather look at how you can make it an occasion of growth and insight. Perhaps one has to pray, turn to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God for counsel, learn to trust in God, love, communicate, listen, share and create a life-giving atmosphere in one's home. Or one may have to change one's unhealthy habits, work harder, have more discipline in one's life or be more friendly and patient.
Jesus came to call not the (self) righteous, but (repentant) sinners. Only those who face their wounded condition can receive healing and enter into a new way of living. Let this Lent then be more than reciting more prayers, eating less food and acting sanctimonious. Spend more time listening to God and contemplating His great love as you ponder the mystery of the cross. Reach out to share your table with those who are hungry for love and understanding. Be generous in sharing God's gifts to you and remember the greatest gift is love.
Let the Word of God dwell in your heart and act in your life. The Holy Spirit will help you to live the Gospel and become a more fervent disciple of Jesus. This Lent will be a time of greater joy, peace and love for you. The gentle Spirit of Jesus will guide and lead you to be more Christ like towards your spouse, children and neighbors.
Be joyful and sing hymns and praise and thank God for His wonderful love that we experience as we pass over from slavery to freedom and from death to life with Jesus. As a family, make more time to be together, to share the good news with each other, to pray together and to show your love to the others in your home. In doing so you will receive many opportunities to die to selfishness and self- centeredness in your life.
Lent is also a time of building the Community by sharing with neighbors and creating a fellowship with others in Jesus' name. Visit the sick and the aged and reach out to single and broken homes. Let your parish come alive by your active participation in the liturgy and the life of the whole community. You will make many friends and find God helping you to grow as you share His love with others.
In a special way examine how you treat the poor. Do you respect them, give them just wages and make allowances for them in their difficulties? If you were in their place how would you like to be treated? It is no use crying over the crucified Christ if we do not recognize Him in the least of His brothers and sisters with whom He identifies today.
Do you serve others through your work at home, in your own profession and in a voluntary way as well? Is this service done graciously, joyfully and generously?
Lent is a time to make a good confession and to experience the new life that Jesus offers us as He washes away our sins and pours His spirit into our hearts. Do not put this off to Holy week and make it a meaningless recital of sins, but let the Holy Spirit lead you to put on the Lord Jesus. Lent is a time for all in the family to say with St Paul: "I am crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. I now live my mortal life through faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." Gal 2:20.