February 11, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Lent reminds us to share God's love with others

It’s hard to believe that Lent is already here and this past Wednesday we observed the ritual of receiving ashes. Most of us choose to do extra good works for Lent. Once more, we heard the words, “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” They are a sobering reminder that we do not have ultimate control over our lives and our deaths. In fact, many of us miss loved ones who were with us a year ago.

Lent is a time to remember that we come from God, that life is God’s gift, not our selfish possession. Lent is the season during which we refresh our memory that God has called us to life in order to share in his love and mercy. His dramatic love and mercy became flesh and was nailed to a cross in the person of Jesus Christ. God calls us to accept the love of Jesus in our hearts and to reach out with that love and mercy to others.

On the First Sunday of Lent, we hear about how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan. But angels came and ministered to him. Sometimes the Spirit leads us through the wilderness. And, like Jesus, we are tempted by Satan, and sometimes there seem to be the terrors of living in a wasteland. Yet our faith tells us, like Jesus, we are also waited on by the angels, the messengers of God’s love.

During this Lenten season, like Jesus in the desert, we fast and do works of penance and, above all, like him, we pray in a special way. The discipline of Lent awakens us and alerts us to the angels of mercy who wait on us.

Prayer, fasting and sacrificial charity make us more alert to the messengers of God who come our way in the crossroads of everyday life. Prayer, fasting and sacrificial charity make us alert to another fact: We are called to be messengers of God’s love; we are called to be angels of mercy. It is especially the vocation of the lay person in the Church to be a messenger of God’s love, an angel of his mercy in the workplace, at home, on the street, at the mall.

I think of a Catholic layman, a successful engineer in Bogotá, Colombia, who would spend nights going underground into miles of sewers under the city in scuba gear in order to find hundreds of homeless children of the street who hide in the sewers at night. Perhaps he still does. His story began when he came across a girl having an epileptic seizure on the street and everyone just stepped over her. As he was helping her, he discovered that she lived under that street. He adopted hundreds of children who lived in the sewer system of Bogotá in order to lead them from evil to another way of living.

I think of an elderly African-American woman, now deceased, who was a friend of mine in Memphis. She was an angel of mercy of another kind. She was an extraordinary teacher who had to fight her way to get an education because in her day young women, especially young black women, were not supposed to become educated. “Mama Dora” became a great teacher in the public school system. And when there were fewer religious teachers in our Catholic school system, she sacrificed the extra income to teach in Catholic schools, one of the first lay teachers.

In retirement, I would say Mama Dora became a preacher. She lectured many of us, lay people and priests, about the Catholic faith and how we should live it. Sometimes she was hard on us, yet we respected her because she cared about our faith. She was a teaching angel of mercy.

I think of an airline pilot who called once and asked if he could see me. He wanted to inform himself better on a couple of matters of our faith because he wasn’t sure about how to answer some complicated questions of his friends. Straightforwardly he said, “I consider myself an angel of the Lord, and I try to do good wherever I go.” I was amazed.

At baptism, every Christian receives a calling to become “an angel of the Lord” on the journey of life, wherever that leads. Lent is a time for us to remember our vocation. It is sobering to remember that we can also be messengers of evil. And sometimes we are. Either we are angels of mercy or we are not.

During Lent, through the Church and the sacraments of the Church, Jesus calls to us: “Turn away from sin and return to me—and don’t forget, you are called to be angels of mercy.” †

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