In this reflection for CatholicCare Sydney Sandie Cornish reflects on how traditional Catholic Lenten practices are good for us and for our world.
Prayer, penance and charity are the three things that Catholics do in Lent, and they are linked. Lent starts on 5 March, so it’s timely to consider why these practices are good for us, and for our world.
Through prayer we focus our on our relationship with God and consider whether we are really living our faith. In his Message for Lent, Pope Francis challenges Christians:
“In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.”
CatholicCare acts for the whole Church when it touches the lives those who use its services, but we are also called to make their poverty and marginalisation our own.
Penance helps us to share the experience of the poor and marginalised in a small way. It is good to know in our own bodies what it feels like to be hungry, or to want something and not have it. I was shocked to read in the research behind a new diet that people often mistake the feelings of thirst, boredom or sadness for hunger. Reacquainting ourselves with the feeling of physical hunger can help us to express solidarity with those for whom hunger is involuntary – and to identify our spiritual and emotional hungers. We fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but other forms of penance can be chosen for other days of Lent.
Doing penance releases resources of time, attention, or money, for the needs of others. Self-denial helps us assess our real needs, and to reconsider our lifestyle in the face of other’s needs, and those of the earth. CatholicCare knows that its advocacy for structural change to address the causes of poverty and marginalization calls for some to relinquish power and privilege. It will cost us something. As Pope Francis says:
“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
Lent leads us through the transformative pain of the crucifixion to the joy of the resurrection and the justice of God’s Reign.