Lenten Message – Combating the Deficit of Hope

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone
who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3: 15-16).

  1. Like all the other years, our Lenten season this year will be lived in a context. This year our context is that of living between the two synod sessions on synodality and the recently proclaimed year of prayer in preparation for the Jubilee 2025. It is in the light of these two that, once again, like our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, we willingly withdraw to the ‘desert’ to pray and reflect, fast and give alms. These three acts we embrace so that we may grow in faith, be enlightened and empowered to impact our world. In his 2024 Lenten message, “Through the desert God leads us to Freedom,” the Holy Father counsels that, “If our celebration of Lent is to be concrete, the first step is to desire to open our eyes to reality.”1 Though prayer, fasting and helping others can be done at a personal level, they are linked to the reality that surrounds us and have a communal benefit to all.
  2. Taking a cue from the Holy Father, we ask: ‘What is it that we see when we open our eyes to reality?’ The reality around us can be viewed from two perspectives, namely, the global and local perspectives. These two cannot be separated. Our world is witnessing protracted wars that have seen many displaced people, innocent lives lost,
    an unwillingness to condemn wars, the devastating effects of climate change, the political unwillingness to address climate issues, the insurgency of economic refugees, high inflationary economies, looming droughts, communicable diseases, polarized political environments, alarming levels of poverty to name but a few.
  3. Our local environment has not been exempted from the global challenges noted above. Our country continues to suffer from the displacement of families due to the non-performance of the economy. The decision by the government to raise taxes at a time when ordinary people can hardly afford a meal a day has worsened the family situation. For the majority of the elderly and the poor in particular, it has become unbearably expensive to live. Prices of basic commodities are increasingly expensive. The unresolved political contestations since the August 2023 elections have not  left the country in a good space. Locally, there are fears among people that we are moving towards a one-party state, with democracy dying a slow death. Regionally, there remains a belief that we can resolve these political challenges if we are willing to put our heads together as people of good will. Whereas some of these ills are a result of natural disasters, most of them are ‘man-made’ and are not accidental. For “Poverty in the world is a direct result of political and economic policies of governments, political parties and big businesses…it is a result of particular policies and systems.”
  4. In the light of bad politics, failed economic systems and their devastating effects, many people despair. They feel let down by their leaders, institutions and others and as a result, they lose hope. It is this loss of hope that can be damning, for as they say, ‘If you have no hope, you have no reason to live.’ It is in a people plunged into despair, a world characterized by the ‘deficit of hope,’ that the Holy Father suggests a year of prayer, that the Synod urges us to continue walking together. Prayer is not an escape from what we see. It is a way of finding solutions to challenges we are grappling with in our world and in our country. We all are aware that our challenges can never be resolved by simple intelligent solutions, but essentially by wise solutions. Wisdom is the realm of the divine. It is what the Holy Spirit, in and through prayer, gives us to find lasting solutions to our struggles. In the Christian tradition prayer fans hope and solidarity inspires it. In prayer we put our trust in God who is our Hope and the source of our hope. As the psalmist put it, “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, in whom there is no help…. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” (Ps. 164: 3 & 5).
  5. At the beginning of Christianity there stands not an idea, an ideology or a philosophy but a person. That person is our Lord Jesus Christ and has to be related to. In prayer, we turn to God, our maker, who has a purpose for each and every one of us. It is that intimate relationship with God and his Son that attunes us to the will of God. Living in accordance with the will of God, we begin to see as God sees. Prayer draws us into the mystery of God, leading our hearts to beat with the ‘heart’ of God. At the heart of God is the good of all his creation. We become, therefore, men and women inflamed by the pursuit of the common good. It is this that draws us closer to each other and invites us to live in solidarity.
  6. The challenge with our modern society is that we have become so secular that we envision a world without God. We have relegated God to the fringes of our world. We worry about God’s world and its problems and we are seeking a solution to it that does not involve God. We now have more faith in the things of God and we have forgotten the one who gives us those things. As we celebrate the year of prayer, the challenge is that we discover the beauty of having a relationship with God. That relationship can be more revealing. It speaks of who God is and who we are. The more we are drawn into the mystery of God, the more we awaken, we get to order our priorities and are drawn closer to one another.
  7. It, therefore, will be to our benefit that in this Holy season of Lent and for the whole of this year, we intensify our spiritual practices and devote more time to prayer. To help people grow in their prayer life and, consequently, their relationship with God, we recommend a special kind of prayer. This is a prayer that comes down to us from the ancient tradition of the Church. It is called Lectio Divina. This prayer is dialogical and holistic. It incorporates our yearning for God, listening to his Word, reflection and a response to God’s Word. We, as it were, ‘listen’ to God speak to us in his Word, and having listened, we reflect on what has been said in the context of what has been said and in our reflection, we respond. Our response to be complete has to be both an ascent to God and a call to action in the world in which we live.
  8. That prayer proposes another way of knowing conjures hope for our world. As Christians in a country and in a world that is full of despair and is becoming hopeless, we can be beacons of hope. Ours is a stubborn faith that, even in the absence of the visible signs of hope, continues to hope. This is not a denial of reality, nor is it some kind of optimism. Christian hope springs from God. We are convinced that the whole of history is in ‘God’s hands.’ Chaotic as our world may be, God is at work in it. As Christians, we deliberately put our trust in God, knowing that our God can and does act in favour of his creation. It is this ‘’overarching” God who, through the ages, has revealed himself as the faithful one. With such a God as the basis of our Christian hope, we, in the words of St Paul, “hope against hope.” (Rm. 4:18).
  9. The season of Lent has, in the tradition of the Church, been described as the “Springtime,” a season that speaks of hope. It is, however, also a season of penance. These two aspects of the Lenten season need to be kept before us as we journey in this Holy Season. With all our good intentions to be beacons of hope, we also need to reflect on what has gotten our country and world to where it is. We need to ‘repent’ of our policies, systems, strategies and actions that have fueled the deficit of hope in our societies. With our political leaders across the political divide, we, as the people of Zimbabwe, need to reflect on our realities and envision ways that will deliver a better future and thus combat the deficit of hope.
  10. As we get engaged in this Lenten spiritual warfare, we urge our communities to pray about the realities around them. Reflect on those realities in the light of the Word of God and discern what actions can be taken to improve the situation around you. As we do so, let us take on board the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.

Wishing you a blessed season of Lent and assuring you of our prayers.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing: God alone never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God obtains all things.
God alone suffices.

+Rt. Rev. Paul Horan, O. Carm., Bishop of Mutare Diocese, ZCBC President.
+Mt. Rev. Archbishop R.C. Ndlovu, Archbishop of Harare Archdiocese, ZCBC Vice President.
+Rt. Rev. Raphael M.M. Ncube, Bishop of Hwange Diocese, ZCBC Secretary and Treasurer.
+Mt. Rev. Archbishop Alex Thomas S.V.D., Archbishop of Bulawayo Archdiocese.
+Rt. Rev. Rudolf Nyandoro, Bishop of Gweru.
+Rt. Rev. Raymond Mupandasekwa, C.Ss.R., Bishop of Masvingo Diocese and
Administrator of Chinhoyi Diocese.
+Rt. Rev. Eusebius J. Nyathi, Bishop of Gokwe Diocese.