From feast of love to Lenten season

•Experience Lent with love to those affected by pandemic —Pope Francis

The year 2021 seems good for Christianity as it affords the Church as a body to explore the significance of events across the world. St. Valentine’s Day which falls on a Sunday when people converge to worship, serves as a great opportunity for Christians to reflect on the essence of the celebration.

Today, February 14, will be widely celebrated across the world, even among Christians, in showing love to all men. The event places a significant responsibility on the Church in laying emphasis on the precedence of the love of God towards the human race.

Interestingly, the memorable event will be ushering Christians in the Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, Presbyterian, Oriental Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic churches into the solemn religious rite in the Christian liturgical calendar known as Lent.

The two events which will hold in an interval of two days is best described as unique obligations among Christians in rejuvenating the concept of love, the Church, as well as rekindling the spiritual life of Christians through fasting and prayer.

Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter, stands as believers’ preparation for Easter through prayer, penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, alms-giving and self-denial.

The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday. Following the New Testament story, Jesus’ crucifixion is commemorated on Good Friday, and at the beginning of the next week, the joyful celebration of Easter Sunday recalls the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During Lent, many Christians commit to fasting, as well as giving up certain luxuries in order to replicate the account of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s journey into the desert for 40 days; this is known as one’s Lenten sacrifice. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw themselves near to God. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ’s carrying the cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches remove flowers from their altars, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious symbols are often veiled in violet fabrics in solemn observance of the event.

Throughout the Christian world, some adherents mark the season with the traditional abstention from the consumption of meat, most notably among Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans.

However, the consecration exercise might witness an unusual form as the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world will also affect the Church in observing the Lenten season.

Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to practise charity during Lent this year by caring for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

In his message for Lent 2021, the Pope asked people to “experience Lent with love,” which “rejoices in seeing others grow.”

“To experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to his Servant, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you’ (Isaiah 43:1). In our charity, may we speak words of reassurance and help others to realise that God loves them as sons and daughters.”

The Pope also emphasised that even a small amount of almsgiving when offered with “joy and simplicity” can multiply, as did “the loaves blessed, broken, and given by Jesus to the disciples to distribute to the crowd.”

“Love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers, or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness,” he said.

Catholic Bishop of Oyo Diocese, Most Reverend Emmanuel Badejo, while speaking with Sunday Tribune Church, noted that the Church is always Lent-ready and Lent-compliant because the church is composed of human beings who will always need repentance as the period affords people the opportunity to forsake negative things.

“Lent is a period of repentance, regeneration, and refreshment. It is a time for rekindling our love for God and our neighbours. We just need to take a look at creation to realise that Lent is not just for Christians. Its message is universal. All around us, the vegetation is dry and famished. The old garb and colours of nature have been discarded and creation longs for a new life.

“At Lent, therefore, the children of God are also called to change for the better to jettison their old ways and seek newness of spirit and soul. In the Bible, John the Baptist called people to repent because the kingdom of heaven is close at hand (Matt 3:1). Jesus came and delivered the same message (Mk 1:15). Long before them, the prophets did the same.

“The reality of the present time of COVID-19 pandemic persuades us even more of the need for repentance. Every devastating disaster like the current pandemic occurs with some responsibility of the human element. If everyone had been doing everything correctly and rightly, perhaps this would not have happened,” he said.

Speaking on whether the use of nose masks guards against the spread of COVID-19 or not, Bishop Badejo said that though it is quite difficult to decipher, fasting serves the dual purpose of focusing on our spiritual faculty and the energy on God and of freeing our resources for the work of charity to one’s neighbours and the needy (Isaiah 58).

“Therefore, fasting helps to guide us away from selfishness and sin, from evil. The face mask is one of the means of curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Along with other precautionary measures, it is meant to protect people from contracting the virus and keep them from danger. It can be a lifesaver when properly and effectively used. If there is any connection at all between the face mask and fasting, it might be only that the two qualify in different ways to save lives, the mask protects from the virus, while fasting helps to avoid sin,” he said.

Bishop Badejo also stressed the importance of the Lent at this challenging time of the reoccurring pandemic, adding that, “We probably need Lent more at this time to remind us that whether we live or die, our life belongs to God. The ash administered on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday is really meant for that. ‘For dust you are and to dust, you shall return’ (Genesis 3:19). The COVID-19 pandemic cannot be an excuse for not celebrating Lent. Indeed, it should be an enhancement for it.

“There are so many people to help and support; many conflicts to resolve, and much injustice to redress. We all need to draw closer to God especially with the vagaries of this period. Many have died; so many more are sick and even a greater number of people, having lost their jobs, their relatives, or breadwinners are no longer sure what tomorrow may hold.

“At a period like this, we all need spiritual support and reassurance. Lent is a good period for that kind of re-evaluation of life and reinforcement with prayer, fasting, and a greater appreciation of the word of God. Christians should make the period of Lent matter and make a difference. Lent is a period of spiritual reinforcement for better Christian witness.”

Most Reverend Israel Afolabi Amoo is the Archbishop of the Kwara Province and Bishop of the Diocese of New Bissau Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), also spoke to Sunday Tribune Church explaining that the church at large is preparing spiritually for the Lenten period.

He noted that the Lenten season is not only a period to keep away from food and water, but it is a period to actually access our position with Christ and amend our ways, while implying that the importance of both the Valentine’s Day and Lent can’t be over-emphasised among Christians.

“The Church needs to show genuine love and of course this is what Christ represents. Christ is actually a gift to the world and Valentine’s Day is actually a representation of a man who gave himself for love. Valentine himself was a saint; a man of God who devoted his time and created love to help a lady. If you weigh the two, it is a way for the Church to show love to the world as well as to the nation at large,” he added.

Amoo stressed that the forthcoming Lenten period should not call for panic among Christians even in the face of the raging Coronavirus pandemic just because it affected the observance of Easter celebrations in 2020. Instead, Christians should be strong and seize the event to reconcile with God and also intercede on behalf of the entire world.

“Everyone should observe the rules and precautionary measures against the spread of the pandemic. We should continue to protect ourselves and others even as we observe the fasting period. COVID-19 is real and we as the Church must take caution, even with the use of nose masks and other measures as they observe fasting.

Above all, Christians should know that we have to live a life that will represent Christ and live a consistent life whether at the time of fasting or not. We are the light of the world and we must show the light to the world duly,” he said.

In his own take, the Bishop, Diocese of the Coast (Anglican Communion) Reverend Pirisola Oluseyi said that the coronavirus pandemic will only affect the church congregationally but not personally.

He explained that the church have to comply with the COVID protocols advised by the health experts to curtail the spread of the virus.

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