When we look at the three traditional “disciplines” of Lent, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we know that almsgiving gets the least attention. Yet, the Bible places emphasis firmly on almsgiving: “Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness … It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life” (Tobit 12:8-9). Almsgiving is simply an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given us, and a realization that as a member of a community of faith, it is never just “me and God.”
For disciples of the Lord, almsgiving means much more than simply throwing a little change in the poor box. It is part of cultivating an attitude of generosity. It challenges us to examine how we are using our time, abilities, and money to better the lives of those around us. It urges us to share what we have been given by God with others in love and justice. It reminds us that Jesus blesses those who seek to be “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3).
Almsgiving opens our hearts to the realization that God blesses us through those we serve. It is here that we find the great mystery of Christian service. We see God in the life of Jesus, and we see Jesus in all those who are in need of our care. It is especially during these uncertain times that we can look around, see those who are in need, and ask God to take away those obstacles and distractions that keep us from being generous with them. In turn, we will receive Christ’s blessing, a blessing we need to receive.
Almsgiving ideas for Lent as is appropriate and safe during this time of pandemic:
- Show an act of kindness to someone you don’t speak to often.
- Reach out to an elderly person who may be lonely.
- Reflect on the regular contributions you make to the parish. Could you do more?
- Do an extra chore for your parents one day each week during Lent.
- Go through your closet and find some clothes in good shape and offer them to a clothing bank or homeless shelter in your area.
- Write a letter or create a card for someone who is sick or might be lonely.
- Buy some cans of food to give to our Parish Pantry or another food bank or soup kitchen of your choice.
- Talk with your family about eating one simple meal each week of Lent and offering the money you save for an organization that serves the poor such as Catholic Charities
- Volunteer to clean the yard or wash windows for an elderly person in your neighborhood
- Prepare a meal or baked goods for a soup kitchen or homeless shelter (Brother Benno’s, Bread of Life)
- Make a gift to the Diocesan “Annual Catholic Appeal”.
- Volunteer to read books and magazines to the elderly
- Donate diapers, formula, baby clothing, baby furniture, and maternity clothing to a local crisis pregnancy center.
In this weekend’s Gospel reading, you may hear the story of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, a familiar story. The prophets Jeremiah, Zechariah and Malachi prophesied that when the Kingdom of God was at hand, the Temple would be cleansed of all activities unworthy of an encounter with God. Christians are often referred to as “Temples of the Lord.” As stewards of a “Holy Temple” God has entrusted to each one of us, what are we doing to be cleansed of activities unworthy of an encounter with the Lord? This week, reflect on one thing you can do to cleanse the Temple God has given you so that it becomes a more inviting home for Christ Jesus.
Katharine Drexel, the second American-born canonized saint, was born into great wealth in Philadelphia in 1858. Her mother died soon after Katharine’s birth, and she was raised by her father and stepmother, both known for their philanthropy, especially their generosity to the poor. As a young heiress, Katharine traveled extensively across the U.S. and became aware of the difficult circumstances faced by Native Americans and African Americans. After her father and stepmother died, Katharine determined to use her inherited wealth to help these groups. Traveling in Europe in 1887, she asked Pope Leo XIII for help in sending missionaries to the many institutions she funded, including a school in South Dakota. The pope challenged the heiress to undertake the mission herself. After much discernment, Katharine decided to devote not just her fortune (worth more than $200 million today), but her life to the poor.
In 1889, at age thirty, she entered the Sisters of Mercy. But Drexel continued to feel a special call to serve African and Native Americans. In 1891 she started her own religious congregation, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People (S.B.S). The order’s first American Indian school was launched in Santa Fe, New Mexico, three years later. Mother Katharine eventually created eleven more schools on Indian reservations, nearly a hundred for African Americans in rural areas and the inner cities of the South, and in 1915, established a teachers college that would eventually grow to become the first and only Catholic university for African Americans, Xavier University in New Orleans. In 1922 in Beaumont, Texas, the Ku Klux Klan threatened to tar and feather the local pastor and bomb his church if he did not close down one of Mother Drexel’s schools. The sisters prayed for God’s intercession to resolve the threat. Within days a tornado destroyed the Klan’s headquarters. Two Klansmen died, and the Klan never bothered the sisters again.
In 1935, a severe heart attack forced Mother Katharine into prayerful retirement at her motherhouse in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, she continued to fight for, and fund, civil rights causes. During the 1950s, her sisters in Harlem and New Orleans were jeered at as “Nigger Sisters,” and Mother Katharine’s response was to ask the sisters if they prayed for their detractors. She died in 1955, and was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1988 and canonized in 2000. Her feast day is March 3.
The Gospel story of the transfiguration of Jesus holds many lessons; the most prominent being the transformation of Jesus from simply being perceived as a wise and gifted prophet to the one who has fulfilled the sacred traditions of the Mosaic law and the hope of the prophets, the Messiah, the Christ. The Lord calls his stewards to participate in His redemptive activity. Heeding this call requires transformation, being willing to renounce patterns of behavior that draw us away from God. In this coming week of Lent, let us pray for the grace to be transformed, so that by our goodness and generosity, we may walk more authentically in the footsteps of Jesus.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola offered us these words of wisdom, which seem particularly relevant as we come closer to the season of Lent: “He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor.” Christian stewards are, by nature, reformers. We attempt to live our lives in a way that makes the world a better place. We open our hearts to the Gospel. We contribute to charities that we believe in. We build up our Catholic parishes so that they might shine the light of truth into our weary world. We work to alleviate poverty and injustice. We witness to Christ’s healing presence in our homes and places of work. Many of us work in schools, parishes, and diocesan offices where we bring a passion for reforming our world. Christian stewards who work in a secular environment endeavor to bring Christian values into the marketplace.
Lent doesn’t ask us to stop any of these efforts. But, as we listen to Saint John the Baptist in the Gospel, “the voice of one who cries in the desert” proclaiming the beginning of Lent, we know that the Church in her wisdom has given us a compelling season to look inward, to seek quiet time in our own desert. Saint Ignatius, Saint John the Baptist, and the season of Lent remind us that trying to change the world will not work if we don’t first of all change ourselves. Lent points the way to what really matters: Christ. We are asked to experience Him who is the reason for our endeavors, our passion and our work in this world.
The Church provides some traditional guidelines: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Saint John the Baptist provides a challenge: “Anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone with something to eat must do the same” (Luke3:11). How we integrate these three guidelines into Lent’s forty days is a personal decision, but one which should take us on a journey into our own hearts, where we ask ourselves why we labor, what our work and our life really mean, to whom we and our life’s work really belong.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus urges his listeners to do two things: to believe in the Good News and to repent. The steward is called to repent, to be humble enough to open their hearts so they may begin anew, to change existing attitudes and habits, and to act with faith in the Gospel. In this season of Lent, now is the time to ask ourselves whether or not we truly believe in the Gospel; and if we do, to what extent are we willing to change our prevailing habits and be more faithful to the Gospel?
Blessed Giovanni da Fiesole, more popularly known as Fra Angelico. Fra Angelico is well known as an Italian painter of the early Renaissance who combined the life of a devout Dominican friar with that of an accomplished painter. Originally named Guido di Pietro, he was born in Vicchio, Tuscany, in 1395. He discovered his God-given gifts as a child, and as a young teenager was already a much sought-after artist. Angelico was a devout young man who entered a Dominican friary in Fiesole in 1418. He took his religious vows, and about 1425 became a friar using the name Giovanni da Fiesole. He was called “Brother Angel” by his peers, and was praised for his kindness to others and hours devoted to prayer. He spent most of his early life in Florence decorating the Dominican monastery of San Marco.
In 1445, he was called to Rome. But before leaving, he completed one of his most beautiful works in a nondescript upstairs cell that may have been his own bedroom in the monastery. It’s an Annunciation painted high on the wall against the vaulted ceiling. The angel Gabriel is positioned near the center of the arched composition, announcing God’s favor on Mary. Off to the left stands Saint Dominic. The effect is that of a vision within a vision as Saint Dominic’s prayers conjures up the vision of the angel and Mary while the whole painted scene is that of a vision seen by the occupant of the cell. Like the man who painted it, the scene can best be described as “holy” because of its beautiful simplicity.
At the time Angelico was called to Rome, Pope Eugene IV was in search of a new archbishop of Florence. He eventually chose the bishop of San Marco, Antonio Pierozzi. Two hundred years later, when Pierozzi was proposed for sainthood, it was revealed that the pope’s first choice as archbishop of Florence was Fra Angelico, but that the painter’s humility caused him to decline and instead suggest Pierozzi to be archbishop. Angelico reportedly made what was considered a profound stewardship declaration during his life: “He who does Christ’s work must stay with Christ always.”
Later known to art historians as Fra Angelico, he died in 1455. Saint John Paul II beatified Fra Angelico in 1982 and declared him patron of Catholic artists. The late pontiff suggested that he be declared “Blessed Angelico” because of the seemingly perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted, especially those of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fra Angelico’s feast day is February 18.
Ash Wednesday has always been a special day of devotion for Catholics. This year, of course, will be different as Ash Wednesday, to be celebrated on February 17, is situated in a time when health and safety precautions are of the utmost importance. We are in the middle of a pandemic.
Nevertheless, Ash Wednesday continues to be an outward sign of the beginning of a season of penitence and we embrace the call to conversion that Ash Wednesday heralds. Christian stewards will greet Lent with the best of intentions. But sometimes, we reach Easter disappointed in our own efforts.
Here are some suggestions for keeping us on task during this Lenten season:
- Plan ahead. Give thought and prayer to what will most help you draw closer to Jesus during this special season. Write your intentions down, and review them often.
- Keep it simple. Like those folks who sign up for gym memberships on January 1 and give up by January 15, sometimes we approach Lent with too many resolutions. For Christian stewards, the search for God in our lives can never be a half-hearted, tepid response. It must be all or nothing. The search is a lifelong commitment. Thomas Merton offered a basic principle of stewardship: “A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all.” What is the stewardship question for me? Am I ready and willing to commit to the long search for God in my life? It is important it is to identify what you truly value and then pursue it.
- Simplify something tangible in your daily life, like your closet or your schedule.
- Place a special candle on the dining room table, and when your family says grace each evening, encourage them to share the struggles and joys of their Lenten resolutions, or perhaps an act of kindness they did that day. This is a good activity for kids. realistic and don’t set yourself up for guilt.
- Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars of Lent. Try to do one thing in each of these categories. Stretch yourself a bit and come up with something new and challenging.
- Keep your eyes on Jesus. Coming closer to him through his passion and resurrection is our goal.
- Prepare your home with Lenten reminders. If you have no crucifix in your living areas, place one there. If you have a crucifix, perhaps affix a spot of purple to it as a reminder of Lent. Find a special picture or holy card that speaks to you and display it.
- If possible and safe, take your family to the Stations of the Cross at least once.
- Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and encourage your family to do so.
- Make it a point to prepare for and participate in the beautiful Triduum liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and even the Easter Vigil even if you can only do this online. Celebrate the completion of your Lenten exercises.
- After Easter, reflect on your Lenten practices. Remember, God’s mercy to us is unlimited. It’s not all about what “we” did, but what God does within us.
The fate of a leper is a great tragedy at any time and place. In Jesus’ time, lepers were considered condemned, part of the plagues God sent as punishment. They were cast out of society and abandoned. Saint Mark’s Gospel reveals the unthinkable. Jesus reaches out and touches a leper. He risks catching the contagious disease and heals the man. As the Gospel story teaches, no one is abandoned by Christ. Are there those in our society or in our personal lives for whom we ascribe no hope, who we have abandoned, treated like lepers? Or as Christ’s stewards of our sisters and brothers, do we risk reaching out and touching those who may seem to us to be “unclean” or not worthy of our time or attention?
This February two events will take place in the same week. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are just three days apart. Valentine’s Day encourages us to offer written expressions of our love and affection to others through cards and letters.
Why not express our love for the Lord by keeping a prayer journal during Lent? The season of Lent can be a great time of spiritual growth and keeping a prayer journal can help strengthen our prayer life. Journaling can help us listen more intently to God’s voice, track our spiritual growth, and deepen our relationship with the Lord.
There are different ways to keep a prayer journal. You can simply reflect on a passage from scripture, then write down your thoughts and feelings. Or, you can write down what the Holy Spirit places upon your heart during prayer. It’s important to commit to a specific time and place each day to pray and spend time in silence with God. Then, as part of your prayer experience, write a few lines. Whether you want to express your gratitude, challenges, praises or laments, share them with the Lord in writing.
As Valentine’s Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on and express ourselves to those we love, prayer journals accomplish the same thing in our relationship with the Lord. If you’re not already in the habit of keeping a prayer journal, try it. You’ll be surprised by the spiritual awareness cultivated within yourself as you journey with Christ toward Easter.