As We Prepare to Live the Mystery of Our Redemption
To our brothers, Archbishops and Bishops,
Fathers of our Holy Synod of Antioch,
To the Priests, Deacons, religious consecrated men and women,
To all the faithful people in Lebanon,
In the Middle East and the Church of Extension
Peace and love in our Lord Jesus Christ
“Pray constantly” (1Thes 5:17)
The Lenten season is a time of grace par excellence, offered each year to us by mother Church. It revives the covenant with God, by the prayer, sacrifice, repentance and acts of mercy. It is the return to God the Father, by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as we prepare to live the mystery of our redemption, in celebrating the passion and resurrection of Jesus, Lord and Savior.
The Lenten Season is a time of spiritual renewal, of hunger and thirst for righteousness, inviting us to pray, meditate, repent and abstain of certain foods, in order to share in some of the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in need: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God…” (Rom. 12:1).
II. FASTING AND PRAYING
Just as Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness, where He spent forty days and forty nights fasting and overcoming Satan’s temptations, we are called to emulate our Redeemer by fasting, praying and opening our heart to the same Holy Spirit who is “The exemplary Master of Christian prayer. He is the artisan of the living tradition of prayer… It is in the communion of the Holy Spirit that Christian prayer is prayer in the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2672).
The marvelous effects of prayer are well known in the Bible: Moses, with his prayers and supplications divided the sea, Joshua stopped the sun and the moon, Jonah repented in the belly of the whale pleasing to God and David was forgiven and given back the prophecy.
The prayer of the tax collector whom the Lord much praised, because he considered himself unworthy to approach and stand before God while repeating: “God, be merciful to me!” (Luke 18:13). “This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone, who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up” (Luke 18:14).
James the apostle calls us to unite prayer with righteousness: “The prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5: 16) Saint Paul emphasizes to be “faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12) and “Pray constantly” (1Thes 5:17).
Saint Ephrem, recommending his disciples in his last will testimony, emphasizes the need of the constant prayer:
“Keep up the prayer day and night… for those love the prayer, will be answered in both worlds”.
III. JESUS, THE PRAYER ICON
By words and example, the Lord Jesus is for us Christians the Icon of Prayer. The Gospels tell us that Jesus was constantly in intimate relation with His Father. “And after He had sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone” (Mt 14:23).
Jesus taught his disciples the prayer which Christians around the world learn and mostly recite. “The Lord’s Prayer”, in which we glorify and praise the Father in heaven, we beg him for our daily bread and supplicate him the forgiveness of our sins. It is highly inspiring prayer that children address to their most loving father.
Our mother, the Church, urges us to keep praying without ceasing, individually, in the family and within the ecclesial community. She reminds us that God is a loving Father full of mercy, who waits for the return of sinners and answers the demand we address to Him with full confidence and insistence. Like the one knocking on the door of his friend in the middle of the night asking for some loaves to feed his guest, (Luke 11:5), we should pray as Jesus recommend us: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you" (Luke, 11:9).
Based on humility, the prayer enables us to realize an intimate union with the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Although weak and sinners as we are, God full of mercy waits patiently our return as the prodigal son and welcomes our good resolutions. Jesus urges us to persevere in prayer (Luke 18:1). Our prayers, however, should not return into routine or repeating empty words, but should help us meditate the mystery of our salvation and live up to our baptismal calling, as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus the Lord.
The Fathers of the Church describe eloquently the acceptable prayer to God:
“If you pray, humbly gather your mind and hold deep your thoughts. Do not be physically present while your heart is dissipated. Your body should be a church and your mind a glorious temple. Let your mouth be an incense and your lips of aroma and let your tongue be a servant that please to God” (Syriac Evening Prayer of Monday).
IV. FASTING, PRAYING AND ACTS OF MERCY
In his Lenten Message 2019 entitled “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8:19), Pope Francis stresses the importance of prayer associated with fasting and almsgiving: “… The prayer to know how to refuse self-worship and self-sufficiency, and to recognize that we need the Lord and His mercy…”.
Today, the devil's attacks, the hatred of the Christian faith and the many challenges both inside and outside the ecclesial community around the world, are the main cause of a very painful spiritual and moral crisis in the universal Church. It is “the time of God’s favor” (2 Cor. 6:2) that we recall in a very special way the message, the Blessed Virgin Mary gave to the children of Fatima in 1917. We have to keep praying the Rosary, beseeching “Maryam, ܝܳܠܕܰܬ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ , Yoldath Aloho”, “Mary the Theotokos”, Mother of God, to protect the Church and spare her of the internal dissensions and the horrendous consequences of divisiveness.
V. LET US PRAY FOR PEACE
We cannot neither please to God, while closing our eyes face to the injustices and the sufferings of many innocent people in the war-torn regions near to us! The blessed Lenten we are to begin should bring us much closer to our brothers and sisters who suffer pain, endure persecution and fear violence, in the Middle East: most particularly in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, the Holy Land, Egypt, Turkey. Let us also remember our brethren who were forced into exile and have to struggle to live with human dignity, in Europe, the Americas and Australia. May we all begin the journey of Lent with courage, following the Savior on His Way of the Cross, in order to celebrate with renewed hope and great joy the glory of His Resurrection.
May we offer our fasting and prayers for peace and stability in the beleaguered countries and, most particularly for our youth facing many challenges and struggling for their future.
VI. PRAYER AS A WORD OF CONCLUSION
Lord Jesus, we raise our prayers in this holy Lenten Season to grant us strength over weakness, light in the darkness and consolation in tribulation and grieve. Lead our steps in the path of justice, peace and love, that we may praise with Saint Jacob of Sarouj the Holy Trinity as follows:
“Glory to the Father who taught us by his Son how to pray. Adoration of the Son who prayed for us throughout his passion. Thanksgiving to the Spirit who receives the prayers and answers all the good requests”.
We ask God to accept your fast, your prayer and your charity, and qualify us all to celebrate the joy of His resurrection. On you and your beloved ones we impart our apostolic blessing: May the Almighty One God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Ignatius Youssef III Younan
Patriarch of Antioch for Syriac Catholic Church
This item 12092 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org