Lent 2021: Starting Again

Since it’s been just about been a year since my last blog post, this post is long overdue. (The blog post about my terrible quarantine haircut doesn’t count 🙂 )

So much has happened since the beginning of the Lenten season in 2020, and in some ways, the past year feels like one long and neverending Lent. I recently read the book of Ruth in the Old Testament, and did I ever relate to the start of the biblical story. Naomi is a woman living in a foreign land due to famine in her home land of Judah. After experiencing the death of her husband, both of her two sons also die ten years later. Heartbroken and destitute, Naomi insists that her two daughters-in-law return to their parents while she makes the journey back to Bethlehem to find her way amidst tragedy. While one of the women relents and returns to her parents, the other woman, Ruth, refuses and accompanies Naomi back home.

When Naomi reaches Bethlehem, the town stirs and questions her return. However, Naomi tells them to call her “Mara”, which means “bitter” – not “Naomi”, which means “pleasant” – because the Lord has brought calamity upon her and her house.

Living through 2020, I can’t help but relate to Naomi’s sentiments when I think about what our country has experienced:

the racial reckoning that occurred as a result of the killing of African-Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; 
the hundreds of thousands of lives lost due to the global pandemic; 
the financial fallout resulting in lost jobs, closed businesses, evictions, hunger, and people finding themselves in desperate situations;
the devastating impact of closed schools, isolation, loneliness, and separation;
the political turmoil that erupted into the January 6th insurrection.  

So much has occurred that I can’t help but feel the Lord has brought calamity upon our collective house, our nation.

And though it’s felt like one long Lent, I believe that observing Lent 2021 is even more important this year. We started the season with having ashes sprinkled on our heads, which symbolize penance, mourning, and mortality. I’m going to use these forty-something days to really let that truth set in. To repent for my sins, to mourn all the death and destruction in our midst, and to acknowledge that my time on earth is finite, so I need to be about my Father’s business while I’m here.

I pray, on a national level, we do the same. In many ways, our country has been brought to its knees. So this Lent, I hope that Americans turn away from racism, xenophobia, and prejudice that has plagued our country since before its inception. That we acknowledge and mourn all those who have died from the pandemic due to a lack of health care infrastructure and the politicization of a deadly virus. And that we understand that our democracy is fragile, and we have to be committed to living out and protecting the principles that we claim our country is founded upon.

Though Lent is hard and long, it always ends the same: with Easter and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Likewise, Naomi’s story doesn’t end in despair. Through God’s providence, Ruth is redeemed by a man named Boaz. He marries Ruth, and takes both her and Naomi into his home. By God’s grace, Ruth has a child who becomes the generational line to King David and ultimately Jesus. Though Naomi went through trying times and hardship, God never left her or forsake her, just like He never leaves or forsakes any of His children.

Scripture and knowledge of God give me confidence that when I am obedient to Him, and when I persevere in faith, my story will be redeemed. Jeremiah 29:11 states, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’” declares the Lord, “’plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Amidst the uncertainty and trials of the past year, I’ve seen God’s plans unfold in my life. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with faithful people in the Black Catholic community, co-founded Black Catholic Messenger, grown my Youtube Channel, and signed a contract for my third novel, Last Place Seen, which is slated to be released in Winter 2021. 

I know it will take time and patience to see our nation redeemed. However, I hope we don’t go “back” to the way things were before the pandemic. I hope we move forward and build a solid infrastructure for our country that includes equal rights, protection, and opportunities for every person regardless of skin color or economic status. 

This Lent, I’m going to continue my prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, with the confidence that Easter’s coming.

Message to the Black Community

[Transcript of Message]

From my heart to yours, I’m sending love, peace, and the promise of hope to everyone who is hurting right now. The trauma we are experiencing as a community is palpable. Our hearts are aching. We are exhausted. We’re beyond angry. It feels like there is no relief in sight. 

There are attempts by people to say that supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement are anti-Christian. That’s completely false. Seventy-nine percent of Black Americans identify as Christian. We’ve always drawn upon our faith to give us strength – even when White Americans forbid Black people to practice Christianity or even read a bible. We all know the stories of our enslaved ancestors drawing solace and strength from the biblical story of the exodus. Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom with hopes of resting in the Promised Land. Today, I draw comparisons between how Black Americans are treated and the Hebrews during the Babylonian captivity. Taken from their home, living as exiles, uncertain if they’d ever return to a safe place for them. See, even though Black people have been in the United States for centuries and literally built this county, we are still hyphenated. We’re told if we don’t like the unequal and unjust way we’re treated, we should go back to Africa. Our citizenship is questioned because of our skin color. 

The book of Lamentations is the exiled Hebrews calling out to their God in the midst of grief and suffering. Even in their pain, they hope in God. The writer said, “My soul is bereft of peace. I have forgotten what happiness is. But this I call to mind, and therefore, I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:17, 21-23, 26). The prophets during this period pointed the exiles to the hope of a messiah. 

Unlike them, we have seen the fulfillment of God’s promise realized in His son, Jesus Christ. Jesus who was a person of color. 

Jesus who came to seek and to save the lost. 

Jesus who said when you see the sick and visit the imprisoned, you see me. 

Jesus who said the last will be first, and the first will be last. 

Jesus came for us. He’s calling us. He’s waiting to heal us, love us, and give us his peace that passes all understanding. 

Pope Benedict said being a Christian is not the result of an ethical or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Being a Christian is not about identifying with a political organization or a single issue. You don’t have to be perfect and without sin. In fact, Jesus said he came to call not the righteous but the sinner. (Luke 5:32). All we have to do is open our hearts and say, save me Lord. 

We need God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit now more than ever. Scripture says, seek the Lord while he may be found. Call on him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6) He’s near to us now. He has promised to never leave or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6). Through a relationship with Jesus, we find a home. We are heirs to a Kingdom. Not just in the next life, but we work to build God’s Kingdom on earth and reap the benefits while we’re here. 

But God isn’t a genie or jukebox that plays what we want to hear. He wants our hearts. He wants to heal our trauma and wounds, but we have to let Him. When we spend time reading his word and meditating on it, we know Him and grow to trust Him. Especially right now during a global pandemic and national unrest, we can call on Jehovah-Jireh our provider, Jehovah-Rapha our healer, and Jehovah-Nissi our banner in whom we are victorious.

Last Friday there was a March on Washington that marked the fifty-seventh anniversary of the historic March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his I Have A Dream speech. Dr. King said, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” And he cautioned us, “Not to seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. 

Dr. King didn’t say this out of fear or cowardice, he said this out of love for us. We’re living in the most armed nation in the world, and the current president has demonstrated he’s willing to roll out tanks and troops to silence our cries for justice. We need to call on God as our protector. We need to love each other, care for each other, and know God has a plan and purpose for each of our lives. What God spoke to Jeremiah we can apply to ourselves. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5). Our lives matter. Black lives matter. So, we pray, Thy Kingdom Come. Thy will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven. If you know someone who needs to hear this good news today, please share.