A truly South African loving Lenten fast.

A truly South African loving Lenten fast.
Because Lent came early this year it coincided with the President’s State of the Nation Address on the national front but also with Valentine’s Day on the more popular day-to-day front.
My own Lenten experience began as usual with Pancake Tuesday. As it happened my granddaughter came around and, only being able to find chocolate muffin mix in the store cupboard, for a change we had chocolate muffin pancakes, a bit doughier and browner but still tasty. Wednesday is Radio Veritas day for me and Fr Emil was reading a favourite passage from the prophet Joel, “turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, mourning” yes but “tear your hearts and not your garments.” In my show following on from his, I focused in part on World Marriage thornroseDay, a Marriage Encounter commemoration which this year coincides with Valentine’s Day. So, what kind of a loving merciful fast can we practise this Lent? The couples who have just experienced a Retrouvaille weekend for troubled marriages in Johannesburg know well the tearing of hearts, the conversion, sacrifices and changes required. The secular world, even kids at school, are fussing over Valentine’s Day and red roses. We know that it’s not just a romantic red roses occasion but that roses have thorns and that loving relationships too have thorny issues and rocky patches.
jacob-zumaMaybe Valentine’s has become a commercial racket but when is expressing love and commitment not a necessity in life? And even if it is doing so with red roses. I noticed that the only red to be seen in Parliament at the State of the Nation address was the customary red overalls of the EFF party who, not unexpectedly, because of unruly and disturbing behaviour were forced to withdraw from the house before the president could get started. One of the first points he made, calling us Compatriots, was the need to address the thorny issue of racism as a scourge dividing our society. At any level this must be done through communication, dialogue, listening and sharing from all sides. That’s mercy in practice. So is the need to conserve water during this time of drought and economic hardship for many.
Our February MARFAM Mercy Minutes’ daily reflections on the theme “Love is at the heart of mercy” taking St Paul’s 1 Cor 13 passage line by line reflect on qualities of true love. They are expressed in positive and negative terms, e.g. love is kind, love is not jealous, love rejoices in the truth, not in wrongdoing. What better way to start Lent then to take to heart the words, “turn to me with all you heart,” yet Sunday’s Isaiah reading also says, “do not turn away from your own flesh.” Give all the merciful love you can to your most loved ones, asking and granting forgiveness too for the sins we commit through a lack of love. What you get in return is experiencing God’s own merciful love. What you can do together is to share the love which is at the heart of mercy in non-wasteful yet meaningful ways and reach out to others wherever you can, fasting not just from chocolates and expensive gifts but from indifference, from greed and self-centredness, from hard words and violence and here in South Africa too from racist thoughts and words, as Pope Francis and our beleaguered president suggest. Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Lent! TR

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