by MICHAEL OTTO
Lent is all about working to restore relationships with God, our neighbour and all of creation.
In a nutshell, that was the message Auckland Bishop Stephen Lowe delivered in a homily at an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service at Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral in Parnell on February 22.
Bishop Lowe began by referencing the death and destruction seen recently, from Cyclone Gabrielle, from the Auckland flooding, from the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, from the war in Ukraine and more.
“Throughout the world, wherever there is poverty, destruction and death is never far away. It is not how it should be. Surely, this is not God’s plan,” Bishop Lowe said.
He said that he tended to disagree with those who hold that climate change is not happening. The reality is that our relationship with “Mother Earth is being distorted”, and Cyclone Gabrielle and the recent Auckland floods are a reminder of this.
Bishop Lowe spoke of being with other Oceania Catholic bishops in Fiji last month, and hearing a bishop from the low-lying Caroline Islands recount “how one of the women in his diocese said to him – you bishops, all you do is talk. Talk is not enough. Just build a damned wall – I don’t want to lose my home”.
Bishop Lowe quoted from paragraph 49 of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, pointing out that problems that arise out of ecological damage especially affect the excluded – and these are the majority of the world’s population.
“. . . A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (LS49)
Referencing the damage to food-producing areas like Dargaville, Poverty Bay and Hawkes Bay, Bishop Lowe asked “who is going to struggle to pay for vegetables this year?”
“It is going to be the poor.”
But Bishop Lowe noted Pope Francis stating that everything is connected. The season of Lent is about restoring broken relationships.
“We have been given hearts that are called to love God, to love our neighbour as ourselves. And to love our neighbour, we also have to love the earth, because we are all creatures who are part of creation and creation is a sacred taonga to be handed on to the generations that follow,” Bishop Lowe said.
The symbol of the cross calls people to destroy within themselves everything that hinders relationships – with God, neighbour and creation.
Preaching on prayer, as well as on almsgiving and fasting, Bishop Lowe said that Anglican Bishop Ross Bay said to him before the service that “before Covid there would have been hundreds more people here. Increasingly in our world and in our country in particular, are losing sight of God at the same time as losing sight of each other”.
“Poverty is not diminishing in Auckland, it is growing,” Bishop Lowe added.
“Some 2000 years ago,” Bishop Lowe said, “Christ embraced the cross, destruction and death to restore the relationship with humanity that was broken. Tonight, as we receive the ashes, a symbol of destruction and death, let’s pray for the grace to restore relationships that are broken from us”.