One word that spoke to me very strongly from the recent Synod over in Rome was the word ‘accompaniment’ – when we as Church were encouraged very much to accompany every family in their struggles and their joys of family life. I think the word ‘accompaniment’ fits the season of Lent perfectly. Together we wear our ashes, together we keep our fast and together we pray our prayers. Ash Wednesday makes us in some respects a ‘marked man’ or ‘marked woman’ as we take on the discipline of Lent by wearing the ashes, and even more importantly adopting a Lenten mindset. Ash Wednesday begins a journey that culminates at the Easter Vigil and continues onwards towards Pentecost.
It’s very much left to the gospel writer Matthew to set the tone for this Lenten accompaniment. And he sets the bar very high – “when you give alms” … “when you pray” … “when you fast” . He doesn’t leave any room for ifs or buts – he doesn’t say ‘if you fast’. He doesn’t even leave room to wonder ‘if you have time to pray’ and he certainly offers no options around almsgiving. This year’s Trócaire campaign is simply and aptly entitled ‘Join the Fight for Justice’. The customary box is a montage of several photographs of Irish people – you and me – people who have joined Trócaire’s fight for justice, quoting Pope Francis “a little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just” .
Lent falls right into the lap of the recently inaugurated Jubilee Year of Mercy. Mercy is in fact the language of Lent. I see it as a kind of undeserved kindness. Mercy doesn’t come to us because of any sort of merit on our part, it’s undeserved. Yet our actions in Lent can deepen our sense of being both doers and receivers of this undeserved kindness. We try to do something like giving up sweets, cutting out alcohol, passing on those luscious desserts. Equally, during Lent people try to take something on, like being more attentive at Mass, maybe spending more time in prayer or engaging proactively with a charity like Trócaire.
This Lent, I think our Year of Mercy offers us a timely opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with what are known as the ‘Corporal Works of Mercy’. There are seven of them in total, and I am proposing that we as a diocese adopt the C.W.M. acronym this Lent – Corporal Works of Mercy. I will suggest during Eastertide that we will address the seven ‘Spiritual Works of Mercy’. Why not take on a different ‘Corporal Work of Mercy’ as your Lenten project during each of the seven days of the week? Let’s see how it might work …
On Monday ‘feed the hungry’, perhaps supporting your local food-bank appeal. On Tuesday ‘give drink to the thirsty’, helping someone you meet with something generous out of your own pocket. On Wednesday ‘clothe the naked’, giving a percentage of your earnings that day to Trócaire. On Thursday ‘shelter the homeless’, a walk down any of our streets at night time tells a story of its own; volunteer with or support a charity which addresses homelessness. On Friday ‘visit the sick’, be aware of the sick in your community, family or parish, call to them, visit them, accompany them. On Saturday ‘visit the imprisoned’, it may not always be possible to call into a prison, but in a diocese where one third of the national prison population is imprisoned, let’s play our part in raising consciousness and supporting the rights of those who need our concern and prayers. On Sunday ‘bury the dead’, let’s simply visit the cemetery, the grave of a loved one, let’s remember them at Mass.
So next time when you are asked – ‘what are you doing for Lent?’, say that you are taking on ‘The Kandle C.W.M. Challenge’! In meeting this challenge, may we more consciously accompany one another and may we come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of mercy, and in particular God’s mercy, in our lives. To this end, a significant part of our Lenten journey as a diocese will also be to lay down our burdens on the mountain of God’s mercy. Whatever stone you take from the prayer space in your church, may it remind you that none of us carries burdens alone, that God is at our side, walking with us, often carrying us. And when we are ready to bring that stone back, may we appreciate the mountain of mercy that awaits all of us this Lent. Together we wear our ashes, together we carry our stone, together we keep our fast, together we lay our stone down and together we pray our prayers. It is that experience of a faith community on pilgrimage together which encourages and supports each of us on our personal Lenten journey. As I say every year ‘Happy Lent’; may we all be up to the challenge.
Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin