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Preparing for a Merciful Lent

Yesterday, with the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, we officially closed out the Christmas Season. However, we will not have much time to catch our breath before the liturgical season of Lent is upon us. Ash Wednesday is February 6. This is the earliest start of Lent since 1856. Are you ready?

Now many use Lent as a vehicle to jump start their flagging New Year’s weight loss resolutions. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this if the focus is on cultivating the virtue self-control and banishing the vice of gluttony. However, if the goal is really to look good in our Easter finery, this strategy seems a bit spiritually lacking. Feel free to lose weight during Lent, but why not also try on some of these Lenten goals for size:

The Corporal Works of Mercy

* Feed the hungry
* Give drink to the thirsty
* Clothe the naked
* Shelter the homeless
* Visit the sick
* Visit the imprisoned
* Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

* Admonish the sinner
* Instruct the ignorant
* Counsel the doubtful
* Comfort the sorrowful
* Bear wrongs patiently
* Forgive all injuries
* Pray for the living and the dead

We need both the Corporal and the Spiritual Works of Mercy. There are countless ways to address both of these, but I would like to offer a few thoughts.

When meeting the corporal needs of your neighbor feel the sacrifice of your giving. For example, give up your coffee house lattes and donate this money to a favorite cause. Make it a family affair and give up the after-Mass brunch at a restaurant in favor of a donation to Catholic charities. If you are blessed with abundance, it is very easy to generously write a check to the soup kitchen or the crisis pregnancy center and not really think about it afterwards. Lent is a time to strip away some of our luxuries and humbly present ourselves to God.

It is common to add extra prayers or Daily Mass attendance to our Lenten spiritual life. Here is a Spiritual Work of Mercy challenge: offer these prayers for someone whom you find difficult to include in your prayers. Maybe there is a co-worker or neighbor that just drives you crazy. Offer one decade of your Rosary for this person. Is there someone who has hurt you deeply? Pray for them after you receive the Eucharist at Mass. During this election season, there may be a candidate that vehemently opposes your Catholic beliefs and values. Don’t just hope for this person to lose the election. Actively pray for his or her conversion.


Blessed are the merciful: They shall have mercy shown to them.


Rosemary Bogdan said…
Nice post. Good suggestions.
Sarah said…
Thanks for this post, Denise. You really spoke to my heart, especially at the end. For me, Lent has always been a journey, and it started six years ago when I converted and I journeyed the path to forgiving my mother for a lifetime of hurt. When you suggest praying specifically for someone who has hurt us, for someone we struggle with, you remind me of something I already know, but which I needed so much to be reminded of. Thanks for that.

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