By Most Rev Salvadore Lobo, Bishop of Baruipur –
The church minus sacrifice, fast and penance coupled with prayer and discernment lacks faith and courage to stand up at the time of trials and tribulations. See if this story makes you to stand up for Christ and his church in this Lent and thereafter.
There is a little chapel on the border of Venezuela and Columbia in South America. One Sunday morning, when Mass was about to begin a group of guerrillas fully armed with machine guns, rushed from their hideouts in the jungle and stormed into the chapel. The people were accustomed to these interruptions during the services, and no one had been harmed so far. Yet the priest and congregation were totally horrified and afraid because anything could happen.
Some of the soldiers ran up to the altar, grabbed the priest, and dragged him outside to be executed. A hefty-looking guerilla, who was obviously the leader, challenged the congregation in a booming voice: “Those of you who are deeply convinced of your Christian creed, stand up.” There was long pause. The people were frozen with fear. No one stirred. Finally, one man stood up, turned to the guerilla chief and said simply, “I love and follow Jesus.” Immediately, the soldiers pounced on him and took him out to be executed. Slowly, one by one, several others took courage, stood up and expressed their belief in God and the Church. They were all driven out. Then came the sound of machine-gun fire. When there were no more people who wanted to identify themselves as Christians, the Guerilla chieftain ordered the remaining congregation to leave the chapel.
“You have no right to be here!” he shouted. As the people filed out the door they were astonished to see their pastor and the others, assembled there. Strangely, the commander instructed the priest to lead his ‘faithful’ back into the chapel to continue the service. Once they were in, the commander turned to the ‘unfaithful’ who cowered in his presence and admonished them in a piercing tone: “Stay out of this chapel until you have the courage to stand up to your beliefs and convictions.”
Then he turned and rushed back into the jungle, with his men. Forty days of Lent are special days when we are invited to love Jesus and follow Him by additional prayer, fasting, acts of penance, daily attendance at mass and extra reading of the Bible. This is the time when we try to recognize the invisible hand of the Lord in works of darkness which are plenty in the world. Like the serpent the story of creation in the book of Genesis, lips of Satan often camouflaged with sweet words, deeds with noble cause.
Salvation history is a story of light and darkness, holiness and sin, commitment and non commitment. The line between light and darkness, holiness and sin and commitment and non commitment is thin, it is very easy to make mistake. St. Paul reminds us, “It is not surprising, if Satan disguises himself as angel of light, his servants an easily disguise themselves as ministers of salvation. (1 Cor 11-14).
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), the author of Robinson Crusoe tells us, “Where ever God erects a house of prayer, The Devil always builds a chapel there, And ’twill be found upon examination, The later has the largest congregation.” Let this season of Lent be a special season of conversion for us. Conversion helps us to love Jesus more dearly and follow him more clearly. A Lent that helps us to cast away sin and put on holiness. This does not happen automatically. It needs an effort. When we do not make a positive effort our religion gets mixed up with superstition, our commitment with lethargy. The church remains simply an organization, authority, a matter of domination, mission a matter of propaganda. Liturgy becomes only an empty memorial and Christian living a slave morality.