Being an ambassador for Christ
Our first reflection for Lent 2014, to mark Ash Wednesday, is written by Fr Michael J. Kelly SJ, a well-known writer, speaker and researcher on HIV/AIDS and its interplay with education and social justice issues in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Second Reading for Ash Wednesday tells us “we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20). An ambassador speaks with authority on behalf of the one he represents. At certain times an ambassador returns to the one who sent him to check that he is bringing the correct message and to hear if there is anything new he should be saying.
As Christians we speak to the world with the authority of Jesus Christ and on behalf of Christ. Periodically, and especially during Lent, we return to Christ so as to make sure that the message in our hearts, which we bring to people, really is his message and not just some human thinking. We also return to Christ to find out if there is any new message we should bring or something that in the circumstances of our lives or communities we should emphasize.
We make this return when we meet Jesus in our prayer, hearing the way He assures us of his great love for us. We hear him telling us: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that all who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). We learn again that we really matter to God and that in some extraordinary way God experiences a special kind of happiness when we let him make his home in us. And we deepen our understanding that, as Christ’s ambassadors, we are called upon to live, experience and share with our sisters and brothers this astounding message that God loves each one of us through and through.
This is a message we must constantly deepen for ourselves. It is also one that those who are in need must receive through us at all times, but very especially in this time of Lent. They are loved by God. God gets great delight in making his home with them. They are his favourites. They are of special concern to him. God loves them through and through. It does not matter if they have gone astray. God never ceased to love and care for them and cherish them, just as he never ceased to love and care for and cherish us.
And during Lent, we try to let this message take firmer root in our hearts. We try to recognize once more how great is God’s personal love for each one of us. We try to help all of our sisters and brothers come to the same realization, especially those who are most in need and neglected by society: the poor, those who are despised or shunned, those living with HIV, those who are suffering from a troublesome illness, those whose marriage is broken, those who are suffering because of violence or human greed, those who impose violence or trouble on others, those who are in prison, those who struggle and fail, those who are bitter and disappointed, those who are well-off but almost empty in their hearts, those who feel abandoned.
We also return to Christ through our acts of penance and self-denial during Lent. In themselves these may be small, not much more than gestures. But they speak of our desire to go along with what the prophet Joel proposes to us in the First Reading for Ash Wednesday: “Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping and mourning … Turn to the Lord your God again for he is all tenderness and compassion” (Joel 2:12,13). How wonderful that our small acts of self-denial can lead us to experience “the loving-kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high” (Luke 1:78).
And the Gospel for Ash Wednesday reminds us of an infallible way in which we can turn to Jesus, encounter him and hear what he is saying to us. It is the way of sharing, the way of reaching out to people in need, people who look to those of us who have some of the material goods of this world to help them. Every time I reach out my hand, with a few coins, with food, with clothing, with help towards school or medical fees, with a job or some piece-work, and do so with kindness, courtesy and respect for their dignity, I am reaching out my hand to Jesus: “as long as you did it to one of the least of these sisters or brothers of mine you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
Pope Francis has invited Christians everywhere to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ (The Joy of the Gospel, §3). He reminds us that the joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who make this encounter and that this is the way for us to be set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. This Lent, through our prayer, penance and sharing, let us proclaim that we are indeed ambassadors of this joyful Christ. In this way, we will enter more deeply into his joy so that this same joy may enter more deeply into our lives.
To read this reflection in French, please go here.