“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13)
This year the beginning of Lent coincides with Lunar New Year, a time of growth and love, a time to care and share. In his recent Lenten Address to the universal church, the Holy Father invites us to contemplate anew the stupendous mystery of God’s love for us. He reminds us that this love does not derive from any merits of ours but is purely gratuitous. Even though we had separated ourselves from Him and forfeited His friendship, God has graciously sent His Son into the world to draw us back into communion with Himself. He has stopped down to us in our weakness and, on His sole initiative, has made a new and everlasting covenant of love with us. Jesus has sealed this covenant with His Blood showing just how infinite His love is.
Love should evoke love. So we ask with the Psalmist: “What return can I make to the Lord for all the good things he has given to me?” (Ps. 116:12). Taking as our guide the Lord’s own admonition: “You received without paying, give without pay” (Mt. 10:8), I offer three suggestions for your special consideration during this Lent.
Firstly: that we respect the gift of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that human life is sacred because from the beginning it involves the creative action of God. It quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer. 1:5). Life can never be regarded as one’s own property or possession. Hence the human embryo, from its conception, must be defended in its integrity; it must be cared for and healed, like any other human being. (Nos. 2270 & 2274)
Likewise the sick or those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Our faith tells us that life is a gift and that it remains precious even when marked by suffering or limitation. Modern technology has already achieved the cloning of animals. The day may not be far off when we will have the cloning of humans. Though science may devise methods of improving the quality of life and this is laudable, it should never usurp God’s sovereignty over life and death.
Secondly: that we help the underprivileged. Most of us enjoy the good things in life and are afforded the benefits of civil society. Not all, however, are so blessed. Especially in recent times, with the downturn in the economy, there are people who are badly off and hardly able to afford the necessities of life. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening and there is a big disparity in the incomes earned by the different segments of our society.
Two examples give further evidence of this unfairness. The first example is our foreign domestic helpers, the long working hours, poor accommodation with meager remuneration and other forms of exploitation are surely an injustice. The second example is that of mainland children of Hong Kong citizens seeking right of abode here. Despite reasonable expectations the courts have decided to send them back. This would seem to offend the canons of natural justice, if not international law, and surely is a reflection on Hong Kong and its people who still strive to become a community of compassion and love.
Thirdly: that we share with the needy. In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus answers the question posed by a lawyer, “Who is my neighbour?” (Lk. 10:29). Here he goes much further than the Old Testament concept in which the neighbour was a friend, one who shared the same religion and nationality. For Jesus the neighbour is one in need, irrespective of ethnic origin or creed. God is our common Father; we are brothers and sisters to each other. In his account of the Final Judgment he confirms this teaching and adds to it a decisive element: that whatever is done to a brother or sister is done to Him. He identifies Himself with the poor person. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, as long as you did to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:37-40).
A practical way of showing that we are ‘neighbours; is to support, in spite of the present financial hardship, the Lenten fund-raising campaign, organised each year by our diocese through Caritas-Hong Kong, to help those in need both here and elsewhere. The contribution you make, great or small, will enable many poor people to experience in some way the compassion of Christ. We are the instruments of his love and concern, ambassadors of hope, like the good Samaritan, to our brothers and sisters in need. Our sacrifices may cause us pain but in no way be nearly as painful as Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, when He laid down His life for our salvation.
God of mercy, who sent your Son into the world not to condemn but to save it, open our eyes to behold Jesus lifted up on the Cross and to see in those outstretched arms your abundant compassion. Let the world’s poor and deprived come to know that by your gracious gift we are saved and delivered, so great is the love you have for us. Grant this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
+ John Baptist Cardinal Wu The Bishop of Hong Kong The Presentation of the Lord 2002