I knew at the beginning of Lent that I wanted to take seriously the invitation this season offers to turn away from sin and believe the Gospel. And I wanted to be with you in our common effort to join the whole church in the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I do believe that those practices help to open our hearts to God’s grace.
And so, I made some commitments to those practices with the knowledge — at least the hope — that the Lord would nourish them through the ordinary events of life during this special time.
I’d like to mention three experiences of recent days that have cast fresh light on those three classic Lenten practices and have helped me to understand more deeply their spiritual significance:
1. I’ll long remember Jean and Andy Sperr and their presence at the funeral liturgy of their son, A.J. You’ll recall that A.J., a trooper with the New York State Police, was shot and killed in the line of duty.
The courage and concern for others that shone through Jean and Andy Sperr were great gifts to all present, including me. I can only begin to imagine the pain they were experiencing at the loss of their son. Yet, through it all, they had the ability to calm and reassure those who came to pray and grieve for them.
I can make sense of that only when I remember that sharing themselves — being there for others — was one of the deep habits of their lives. People can’t do that without some self-emptying, without making room in their hearts where others can rest.
2. Recently, I celebrated liturgy with the community at Bethany House. Inspired by the Catholic Worker Movement, Bethany House is a place of hospitality for women and their children who need the care of the community.
I always leave there with the conviction that I have been in a holy place. There is an unspoken but moving spirit in that community of humble dependence on God and of generous service to one another.
At Eucharist, and later at the table for the evening meal, I had a sense of being fed. And, at both, I know I was nourished by the respect and gracious generosity those present manifested to one another. They were wonderful bread for my spirit. I think that it is true because they are willing to be empty before God. They know something that we all can easily forget — that God is the source of all good gifts. Such knowledge inevitably leads the one who possesses it to share generously with others whatever she or he possesses.
3. I recently saw a bumper sticker that declared: “There are no foreigners.” No doubt the idea for it emerged from the ongoing, sometimes heated discussion we’re having in this country around the question of immigration.
Our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, and numerous religious congregations including our Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of St. Joseph have been working hard on the issue. Our common goal is to persuade members of Congress that the best policy on immigration is one that honors the dignity of every human being, respects the integrity of the family and opens the door to new possibilities rather than slamming it in the face of sisters and brothers in need.
It has been a wonderful Lenten meditation to center on this issue. It’s a theme that runs deep in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which demands a special care and compassion for the widow, the orphan and the resident alien.
No two of us have exactly the same life experiences, nor does our experience remain constant and homogeneous through the course of a lifetime. But God speaks to each of us through it all. I do believe that God has spoken to me this Lent through Jean and Andy Sperr, the community at Bethany House and through those from other lands who are part of our local family.
How has God chosen to speak to you?
Peace to all.