What are you doing for Lent?
Over the years, I’ve fallen into a rut. Here’s what my usual Lent looks like:
- Fast on Ash Wednesday and Fridays, give up alcohol and sweets and unnecessary shopping.
- Strive for more fervent daily prayer, especially with lectio divina. Add Adoration to my weekly schedule, and Stations of the Cross. Make a good confession more than once.
- Give more money than usual to the parish and the poor.
Prayer, check. Fasting, check. Almsgiving, check.
It’s beginning to feel stale.
Pope Francis has made me look at Lent in a new way with all his talk of Mercy. Focusing on my sins and neediness always moves me to be grateful that God is merciful. But God doesn’t have mercy on us so we’ll be grateful. He pours out his mercy to enable and equip and inspire us to act as his Body and show that mercy to others.
“God’s mercy transforms human hearts,” Pope Francis wrote in his recent message for Lent. “In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.” The Holy Father asked us to reflect on these works of mercy as “a way to reawaken our conscience … and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel.”
Christ becomes visible in the poor and calls us to serve him in them (see Matthew 25:31-46). Am I focusing so much on my own poverty, that I ignore the poverty of others?
Practicing mercy in Lent goes way beyond throwing more money in the plate or giving extra to the diocesan Lenten Appeal. It involves being sensitive to the needs around us and meeting them, when we can, out of what we have been given. It means emptying ourselves not just for our sakes, but for the sake of the Body of Christ.
Mercy is love when it encounters suffering.
In latin, misericordia—“miserable heart.” It means “having a pain in your heart for the pains of another, and taking pains to do something about their pain” (Fr. George Kosicki, CSB)
Pope Francis reminds me that I’m not on this journey alone. So this Lent, I want to step out of myself and reflect on and live the works of mercy. There are seven corporal works of mercy, in which he says “we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited.” Then there are seven spiritual works of mercy that correspond to spiritual needs like teaching, prayer, instruction, and consolation.
The corporal and spiritual works of mercy should never be separated. To get through all 14 in the next six weeks, I’ll group them by type of need, beginning with the needs of the body and moving on to needs of the spirit (I will link these to my reflections when I post them):
- For nourishment (food and drink)
- For protection (clothes and shelter)
- For care in suffering (when sick, imprisoned; for burial)
- For guidance (instruction, advise, admonishment)
- For restoration (comfort, forgiveness, forbearance)
- For prayer
“Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favorable a time for conversion!” (Pope Francis)
© 2016 Sarah Christmyer