A sacred space in Catholic households in Trinidad and Tobago was so common a few decades ago that it seemed almost mandatory. They were referred to as “chapelles,” (usually a small shelf on a wall, most times in a bedroom, with one or two small statues, a holy picture and a candle stick). On special Feast days, fresh flowers and a lit candle prevailed. So when Archbishop Joseph Harris spoke about “sacred spaces” on Ash Wednesday, it went straight to the hearts of many older Catholics, who grew up with such spaces as an integral part of their lives. The statement also sent a subtle message that here was an expression of Catholic culture and identity that was being slowly evicted from Catholic homes. The Archbishop made the link to Lent with the admonition that the season was a time for “introspection and meditation” and urged “all of you believers in Christ Jesus” to provide this special place—this sacred space—where you can go and in silence and “meditate on God’s word.” Archbishop Harris also referred to another tradition when he said many Catholics had been taught that the “discipline of Lent” was about “giving up things which we love.” He added that while such a practice was good, he urged Catholics to make this Lenten season different.
Significantly, several other priests also exhorted members of their flock to create new paradigms for their observance of Lent. Monsignor Christian Pereira in his homily on Ash Wednesday in San Fernando, told his congregation to make this Lenten season a time to show concern for each other and to make goodwill and love permanent realities in our lives, the lives of our families, our communities and our cities. Pereira, parish priest of our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) said too many people, Christians included, were wrapped up in their own selves and thinking they were doing so good. “We are concerned about what good I can do; what good can I achieve; what contribution that I can make and more and more the I becomes so dominant that regardless of what other people want to do and are capable of doing, what I and I have to do, is what is important.“Human life,” he continued, “is not just about the survival of the I; human life is not only about the survival of the individual, the God whom we worship is a community of persons—Father, Son and Spirit.”
At the Sacred Heart RC Church in Port-of-Spain, Fr Michael Cockburn, following in the same theme, said, “When ego takes over I will do anything, nonsense, just to gratify myself. Whether it is to beat up people, whether it is to shoot people, or steal motorcars.” He added that “ole talk” and “mauvais langue” also served for self-gratification and when taken to the extreme could create hostility. Fr Cockburn told his congregation Lent was not just about receiving ashes and the external pressure to do right. A return to Christ must start with an inner decision and conviction to do good. He added that through being reconciled with God, people discovered peace and love and that love was about reconciling to God and “getting rid of self-centredness and rising to a new life.” Monsignor Urban Peschier told his congregation at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Port-of-Spain, Lent was a time to practise prayer, fast and help those most in need of God’s mercy, and urged them to be genuine in their prayers and acts of faith. The underlying message from all four priests is the great need for love in our beautiful country. The question is, can we begin once again to love our neighbour?
Vernon Khelawan is the media relations officer of Catholic Media Services Limited (Camsel)