We’ve entered that special time of the liturgical year when we, as followers of Christ, seek to experience an intense spiritual renewal. It should be a time of grace and conversion for each of us.
Medieval Europeans saw Lent as a time for prolonged prayer, severe bodily discipline and generous almsgiving. From this history, we can see the origins of our three traditional Lenten practices — prayer, penance and almsgiving. While these practices need to be maintained, we also need to focus on repentance and baptism.
Lent helps us and catechumens to be better disposed to celebrate the great paschal mystery. The Rite of Election, the scrutinies, and catechesis lead catechumens to the sacraments of initiation. As followers Jesus, we need to listen more intently to the Word of God and devote ourselves to prayer to prepare ourselves, through a spirit of repentance, to renew our baptismal promises at Easter.
A good way for us to listen intently to the Word of God is to attend daily Mass during Lent. The first readings allow us to reflect on God’s covenant with his people, his promise and gift of the Suffering Servant, and his call to repentance and conversion. The Gospel readings help us to reflect on the major events in Jesus’ life and ministry — his temptation and his transfiguration. After reflecting on the readings, we must ask ourselves: “How am I going to apply them to my life?”
In grade school the good sisters used to make sure that we were giving up something for Lent. They also reminded us that it had to be something that we liked. As a child, I wanted to give up Brussels sprouts (I hate them), but was reminded that wasn’t a good idea. We must look into ourselves to understand what foods, drinks, habits, etc., are controlling us. Therein lies the problem. We should be controlling these things and not vice versa. During Lent we need to rid ourselves of things that pull us away from God rather than bringing us closer to Him, but don’t set the bar so high that at the end of Lent we lament not achieving our goal.
Lastly, during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are given a wonderful opportunity to grow closer to the Lord, experience his mercy, and put mercy into action. How many of us remember the corporal and spiritual works of mercy? Corporal: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, burying the dead. Spiritual: admonishing the sinner, instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving all injuries, praying for the living and the dead. Just think for a moment how you can put these works of mercy into practice in your daily life!
As Catholic businessmen and women, would it be appropriate to incorporate the spiritual works of mercy into your everyday business life? Ask yourselves: Do I instruct the ignorant? Counsel the doubtful? Bear wrongs patiently and forgive all injuries? The corporal works of mercy give each of us the opportunity to practice almsgiving by feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and providing shelter to the homeless. Let’s find new ways to improve our spiritual lives this Lent. Many graces can come to us if we but open our minds and hearts to the Lord.
Let us keep before our eyes the words of the prophet Isaiah: “All who are thirsty, why spend your money for what is not bread; come to the water! You who have no money, heed me, and you shall eat well. Come, receive grain and eat; you shall delight in rich fare. Come, without paying and without cost, come to me heedfully. Drink wine and milk! … So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Isa 55:1-3, 11). May your Lent be fruitful and may you experience the great mercy of our God!
FATHER ROBERT RIPPY is the rector of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Va., and chaplain of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter.