Every Lent, we journey through the desert landscape of our souls endeavouring to strip ourselves of all that burdens, oppresses and encumbers us. This is so that we can free our hearts to welcome the graces of Easter, the greatest event of Salvation history.
Some of us enter into the Good Friday liturgy more wholeheartedly than for the Easter Sunday Mass. The Good Friday service seems to move our hearts more. It shows us that deep in our souls, we connect with the self-emptying act of Jesus Christ – Jesus stripped and tortured, cruelly crucified on the cross, the emblem and epitome of shame and pain. Somehow what Jesus went through resonates with our own pain and distress.
As we hear that “it is always darkest before the dawn”, we know that our spiritual dawn is ushered in by our God who never abandons us. Jesus’ painful passion and death are overcome by spiritual grace and new life. This is what Easter is all about! The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the realm of the dead so that suffering and death have no hold on us anymore.
Jesus rose to new life in a glorified state. Our destiny is also to enjoy this amazing resurrection of our own bodies! We profess this every time we say the creed, but have we given enough thought and reflection to this reality and destiny of our Christian journey?
Many of us struggle to free our hearts to welcome the graces promised to us. We struggle to free our hearts from sin, from unforgiveness, from doubts, from insecurities. So where and how do we begin journeying into greater freedom?
Our Lord Jesus shows us the way for he is The Way. He overcame the triple temptation that tripped Adam and Eve. They ate the forbidden fruit because they saw that it was
1. good for food (lust of the flesh = pleasure),
2. a delight for the eyes (lust of the eyes = possession), and
3. good for knowledge to be like gods (pride of life = pride).
The devil tried to get Jesus to turn stone into bread (pleasure), to take possession of the kingdoms of the earth (possession) and to throw himself off the temple to prove that he was the Son of God (pride). To no avail.
To have this same power over temptation, Jesus commanded us to fast, give alms and pray, and to do all these in secret. Fasting is the antidote to pleasure, almsgiving is the reverse of possession, and prayer is the remedy against pride. What incisive wisdom from our Lord who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Lent is a good time to take stock and prioritise what the Lord has shown us is the way towards a life that is freer and more life- giving, and to reflect on how we can integrate these practices wholistically in our lives.
For the friars, the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience we profess as Religious can be seen as addressing the three temptations of possession, pleasure and pride respectively. For Franciscan Religious, our appreciation of the vow of poverty is “to have nothing of our own”. St Francis used the term “sine proprio” (without appropriation, without the need to possess) to remind his friars that we are not to cling to even the little that we have so that our hearts are free. If our hearts need to cling, to possess and to hoard, then our hearts are not free to love generously, and we may be too self- absorbed and self-preserving to be attuned to the needs around us.
Many of you have integrated almsgiving into your spiritual life. You practise almsgiving not only during Lent, but throughout the year.
We Franciscan Friars are grateful beneficiaries of your practice of almsgiving. Your contributions support the formation of our student friars, and the efforts of our vocation promotion team to journey with young men who are aspiring to our Franciscan way of life. They support the ongoing formation of our Professed Friars through training conferences and formative opportunities, even post-graduate degrees.
I myself have benefitted from your generosity which helped make possible my studies in Dogmatics and Master’s degree in Formation at the Antonianum, the Franciscan University in Rome. Other friars have done studies in Franciscan Spirituality, Canon Law, Sacraments, Liturgy, Spiritual Direction and Psychology, and two friars are currently pursuing their Master’s degree in Psychology and Counselling to better equip our Custody in the areas of pastoral care and healing.
We are truly grateful that you have chosen to be part of our mission and ministry. It is because of your support that we have also been able to begin new ministries, maintain the places we live in as well as meet our obligations as a Religious entity and charity in both Singapore and Malaysia.
As we journey from the graced season of Lent into the liberating effects of Easter, may we truly allow Jesus our Risen Lord to set us free through the practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. And thus truly live life to the full, and accompany others in their journey towards fullness of faith and love.
Friar Derrick Yap OFM