March 3, 2017


Serve Christ present in those in need

As we begin the season of Lent, let’s see what we can do to really prepare for the celebration of the mysteries of our redemption on Good Friday and the Resurrection on Easter. Let’s face it, many of us usually start out like a house on fire, but soon grow lackadaisical.

Pope Francis is trying to help us. On Feb. 7, he issued his Lenten message titled “The Word is a gift. Other persons are gift.” He steered away from preaching about the usual Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Well, perhaps not almsgiving since his message was that we must “serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.”

The pope encouraged us to reflect on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in the Gospel of St. Luke (Lk 16:19-31). Lazarus is not anonymous in this parable, the pope points out. “His features are clearly delineated, and he appears as an individual with his own story.”

By contrast, Jesus doesn’t give the rich man a name. However, he describes his life as one of wealth, greed and vanity. The pope wrote, “For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.”

This is hardly a new message from Pope Francis. He has emphasized the importance of serving the poor since he was elected pope—and far beyond that while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. But it’s a timely message for us this Lent.

Wealth or money isn’t wrong in itself. As St. Paul wrote, “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tm 6:10). And Pope Francis added in his Lenten message, “Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity toward others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.”

Perhaps this Lent, we can find ways to help the Lazaruses in our communities. Perhaps they’re the homeless, or immigrants trying to make a decent living for their families, or those who find it difficult to put enough food on the table for their families.

But the pope’s message isn’t just about recognizing other persons as gift. He also wrote that Lent should be a time “for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor.” That’s where prayer and fasting come in.

All of our parishes try to make it as easy as possible for us to improve our prayer lives during Lent. Whether it’s the Stations of the Cross, or praying before a monstrance or tabernacle, or praying the rosary daily, we can try to find some new devotions this Lent.

Penance services in our parishes make it easy for us to get to the sacrament of reconciliation, and we certainly should do that during Lent. We should also try to do more spiritual reading.

As for fasting, there was a time when Catholics fasted every day during Lent except Sundays. Those days are past, but surely we can give up more than just meat on the Fridays of Lent. We can to do better than that.

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man doesn’t learn to care for others, including Lazarus, until it’s too late—after his death. Perhaps during this Lent, we could spend some time contemplating what will happen to us after our death. As the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel spells out so well, we will be judged by how well we served others—if we fed the poor, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, or visited the ill and those in prison.

As Pope Francis said, this Lent may we “rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.”

—John F. Fink

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