Lenten reflections | Ott Observations

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Being less than two weeks away from Easter, it seems like a good time to reflect. We are called to reflect and pray during Lent as well as fast and give alms.

This is a relatively new practice for me, as my faith journey really didn’t start until I attended a religious retreat in 2016.

I now look forward to the scripture-based sermons, retreats and prayer meetings and the subsequent discussions about what Jesus is trying to tell us. As an experienced and reasoning adult, I thought this would be both interesting and simple. Instead, I am finding it extraordinarily difficult to apply some of these lessons to our real life. 

Here are some examples.

When Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment of the law, he replied with two: the first was to love God with all your heart, and the second was to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  

Both serve as the foundation of Christian faith. It gets tricky when you realize Jesus didn’t literally mean “neighbor” – he meant all the people of the Earth.

There is a Christian definition of “love” that is important to how we act.  Love is wanting and striving for what’s best for others. We can love someone we don’t like or trust. We can love our children and help them confront what is wrong or destructive in their behavior – even if they don’t like us when we do it.

One constant in our political dialogue for years now has been “securing our border.” This is specific to our Mexican border, not Canada’s, as we struggle with an increasing hoard of Mexicans and Central Americans trying to come to the U.S. to start a better life. 

How do we reconcile loving our neighbor and securing our border? As I write this, over 2 million Ukrainians are seeking refuge in other European countries. What if those countries were instead focused on securing their borders?

Another lesson from Jesus comes from the story about an adulterer about to be stoned as called for by the law. He is questioned about whether he supports the law.  His reply is that the person without sin should cast the first stone. Everyone left without a rock being thrown. 

For me this is a powerful lesson that it is not our place to judge, as we are all sinners. As I consider all my neighbors without judgment, I’m finding it a little easier to love them … including all the Russian people who will suffer great economic deprivation because of an evil leader they weren’t free to choose.

We seek mercy from God, but we are also called to provide mercy.  The best definition I’ve found of mercy is that it is a compassionate understanding of another’s unhappiness.  

Are political opponents evil or do they just have different priorities and solutions? Are immigrants lazy or do they just want a better opportunity to earn a good life? Are asylum seekers cowards because they won’t stay in their own countries and try to make them better?  Are the poor just freeloaders and undeserving of help, or have some never had the advantages and opportunities that I had? 

Speaking of advantages, I’ve always been strongly self-reliant. Until I went on a retreat, it never occurred to me that this self-sufficiency might be a gift from God rather than something on which to base personal pride.  Maybe not everyone was given this gift.

The retreat I went on is based on the Acts of the Apostles, the men who went forth to spread Christianity. To do this, they were called to give up material goods.  I know I need to earn a living to provide for my family, so what does this mean to me?  

I read that “we become what we love.” So do we love people and use things, or do we love things and use people? It seems this is a pretty important dimension of loving our neighbor, not to mention alms giving.

My reflections have come to one conclusion: we process our lives and act accordingly through different filters. Republican or Democrat? Conservative or liberal? Economically stable or poor? Black or white? 

Maybe the filter that will best bring us together and lead us on a productive path are the lessons of Jesus. If we truly want to love God AND our neighbors, why wouldn’t we want our government to do the same?  

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