We’ve just passed the middle of Lent, that time when we take stock of our intentions and fortify ourselves to do better in the next few weeks. I gave myself the usual tepid pat on the back and resolved to trim a few shavings from my comforts–for even in Lent, I have my little refuges.
And then I read about the Pakistani Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who has been jailed under blasphemy charges and thus cruelly separated from her husband and five children (now in hiding). How is her Lent going?
Asia Bibi is sick, in solitary confinement, and there are growing concerns for her life. The Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy on false evidence is sick with chicken pox, because of the appallingly unhygienic conditions she is being kept in. The complaint comes from Haroon Barket Masih, president of the Masih Foundation, who today issued a statement: “Asia Bibi was diagnosed with chicken pox, she has been kept in solitary confinement for more than three months. We have expressed concern about her health, because she spends24 hours a day locked in the cell. She needs medical care, hygienic and healthy conditions. She fell ill with chickenpox because of the dirty environment, and being unable to clean her room or bed sheets on which she sleeps. Despite her ill health she spends her time fasting and praying for everyone, she neglects her health and prays for everyone else. She is concerned about the current situation in Pakistan. We are trying to arrange a medical examination, and to ensure acceptable hygienic conditions. Until now she has had no medical care.”
Suddenly my little beer fast looked terribly shabby and my efforts to pray the Divine Office (when convenient) revealed the wobbly love that supported them. This woman, whose life had assumed the shape of one long Passion, found ways to fast from prison fare, to pray amidst deplorable conditions, and to add more sufferings to those already overpowering her fragile life. As our Protestant neighbors would say, I was convicted.
Maybe in these last few laps, we can intensify our prayers for those whose very faith is outlawed, whose religious expressions aren’t only met with occasional derision but bloody reprisals. Maybe we can join our sufferings to theirs and hope that God brings them to an Easter in which they can rejoice heartily and share the Good News freely.
For now, though, the desert is parched and taking its pound of flesh. Our Lady of Sorrows, comfort your suffering people.