Return to the Lord
By Father Dominic Emmanuel SVD, a founder-member of Parliament of Religion
On the threshold of the Holy Week and Easter next week, one sits to evaluate about how one has experienced days of fasting, abstinence, prayer and acts of mercy. We recall the Bible passage of the first day of Lent, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God…”
In ancient biblical times, people expressed their sorrow and repentance for their sins by applying ash on their bodies, fasting, tearing their garments and putting on sackcloth. While ash is still applied symbolically on the forehead on Ash Wednesday, the faithful in the church are reminded to turn to God by focusing on matters of heart rather than just outward things.
Acts of fasting, prayer and mercy, though external, are supposed to lead one to an inner journey reaching the recesses of one’s heart. This is the most difficult part of the Lenten season where one attempts to come clean with oneself. Like the turner on the lathe, one works hard to find the source of evil. Quite a few Christians spend the Holy Week in silent retreat, pondering on the gospel, finding therein Jesus’ admonition, “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
The busy life of the rich and worries of basically filling the stomach for the poor, unfortunately, make the journey into the heart difficult. The truth is that inner purification is a tedious but rewarding voyage for those who do not tend to satisfy themselves with external physical and ritual purity.
The Holy Week services begin this Sunday, remembering Jesus’ death on Good Friday and culminating in his resurrection on Easter Sunday. People will be making a beeline to churches not just to pray, but also to confess the wrongs in their life as a result of rending their hearts. A lot of people break down confessing their sins to God through the priest who patiently hears them out in the confessional. For the person going to confession, it is a return to God, a reconciliation of sorts by shedding those things that prevented one from having a transparent relationship with God and with one another.
Cleansing one’s heart through the sacrament of confession to receive the Risen Jesus on Easter, having gone through other Lenten practices, is then the icing on the cake. And it is precisely for this reason that it is a journey worth setting off on.