The unholy union
As a child growing up in Jamaica, on my way home from school in the afternoons, I would usually pass the elderly standing by their gates “catching some afternoon breeze”. It was the expectation that each child as they passed by would say, “Good afternoon”. Failure to acknowledge an elder would result in some form of punishment later. Nothing would go unnoticed by them. It puzzled me how they would spot me from so far out, but then again, I was never small in stature.
As we prepare to walk with Jesus for 40 days and 40 nights, this Lenten season, I find myself imagining that elderly person standing at his/her gate looking out. What would that person be seeing today? Without much pondering, I think they would be seeing the two pandemics at work; COVID-19 and an ever-increasing crime rate. A cursory glance at recent headlines in any of our major print or electronic news media would support this observation. The truth be told, in recent times, Jamaicans have grown accustomed to what some would describe as a high crime rate. However, the unholy alliance of an increasing COVID-19 infection rate and crime rate are new to the Jamaican landscape. It is in this context that we find ourselves this year walking with Jesus in the wilderness.
Lent, we are told in Pope Francis’ Lenten Message 2021, is a time for believing, for welcoming God into our lives and allowing Him to “make His dwelling” among us. In said message, the Holy Father urged the faithful to make this Lenten season one of hope. Where can we find hope as we isolate ourselves from COVID-19 and the criminal elements? In what I would describe as Lenten actions, in the midst of what might seem like pure darkness, we have to become intentional about speaking “light”, that is, “speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation, and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger and show scorn”. (Fratelli Tutti, 223). Maybe we can make these actions inform our Lenten journey, “talk niceness”.
Returning to the elderly persons standing at their gate; what they taught us, without us even being aware, is the art of being kind to each other. Being a bearer of hope requires that we be kind to ourselves and each other. This involves, but is not limited to, showing genuine interest in the other, giving a smile, speaking words of encouragement and to listening amid a world that can be indifferent. The ‘crab inna de barrel mentality’ that can be so pervasive in our culture needs conversion. Maybe instead of speaking down to the other, we should affirm their dignity and speak light. We are reminded that, “only a gaze transformed by charity can enable the dignity of others to be recognised and, as a consequence, the poor to be acknowledged and valued in their dignity, respected in their identity and culture, and thus truly integrated into society”. (Fratelli Tutti, 187)
So, let us acknowledge the God in each other and, by so doing, cultivate an atmosphere of hope at a time when many are in despair. Usually after greeting the elderly at their gates, they would encourage us to “walk good”. So, let me end by saying, walk good and walk with God (but also remember to sanitise, keep social distance and wear a mask).
Rev Fr Rohan G. Tulloch, SJ