“This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” -Matthew 6: 9-15

 

All journeys have their setbacks, and Lent is no different.

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While journeying toward God, there are times that we refuse intimacy with Him. Instead, we choose selfishness, greed, pride; name any sin – they all disrupt our journey to God.

Thankfully, our good and merciful Father gives us an endless supply of second chances. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our relationship with Christ is reinstated. Our intimacy with the Father is renewed. Our journey is restored.

Looking to the Our Father, the prayer Christ taught us, we see that we boldly ask for our daily bread before asking for forgiveness. For us Catholics, this daily bread reminds us of God’s role in giving and sustaining life and of our Eucharistic encounter with the body, soul and divinity of Christ.

Soon after, the prayer indicates that our hearts must be willing to forgive others in order to receive the forgiveness of God.

Last week, I mentioned that Pope Francis would facilitate self-examination while hearing confessions. He says he would ask the penitent if he had given alms and if he had looked the poor recipient in the eye or touched his hand when giving the alms.

Why would the Holy Father make this point during confessions? Almsgiving is central to Christian living, especially during Lent. I think Pope Francis is emphasizing the centrality of a personal and merciful encounter with the poor, as it leads to an encounter with Christ.

When we journey outside of ourselves, as we do when we give alms, we see Christ journeying toward us.

In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis answers the question, “What are the most important things that a believer should do during the Holy Year of Mercy?”

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He answers, “He should open up to the Mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, and allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with faith. And he should try and be merciful with others.” (Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy, page 97)

To maximize these opportunities for growth laid out by the Holy Father, we can…

  1.   Open up to the mercy of God with prayer and fasting.
  2.   Approach the confessional with faith by participating in “The Light is On” campaign hosted by the Diocese of Arlington and our neighboring Archdiocese of Washington. Throughout Lent, all parishes will be hosting confession every Wednesday night.
  3.   Be merciful with others by seeking out the poor or marginalized. Catholic Charities is a drawbridge that can lead you to a personal encounter with the flesh of Christ in his distressing disguise as a brother in need. These interpersonal exchanges transform our hearts to allow a genuine encounter with others and with God. You could be…
    • Participating in picking up a refugee family at the airport and taking them to their new residence.
    • Furnishing an apartment at St. Margaret of Cortona for a homeless family that’s about to move in.
    • Welcoming a depressed client with a smile and asking if he wants to start the session with a prayer.
    • Giving legal advice to an immigrant family and asking if they have enough food or if ESOL classes would help them find a better job.
    • Helping a dad who’s recently been laid off find a new job by volunteering at Christians Are Networking (CAN) and see how his spirit lifts with the confidence that he’ll be able to provide for his family.

Our Lenten journey has many paradoxical moves: we must make a U-turn towards private prayer to start and animate the journey. We must fast to grow strong and we must go to confession when our journey has gone astray.

And while looking for God, we realize that He actually comes to us. We encounter him through the sacraments, the people we forgive and those we help along the way.

***

During this season of Lent, Art Bennett, Catholic Charities President and CEO, is sharing his weekly reflections on how the poor can bring us closer to Christ. Art has been President of Catholic Charities since 2010; he is also a licensed marriage and family therapist and has published four books with his wife Laraine.

If you would like to encounter Christ by encountering the poor, please sign up to volunteer here or contact Sally O’Dwyer, Director of Volunteers, at sodwyer@ccda.net or (703) 841-3838. If you would like to make a sacrificial gift to bring hope and healing to the poor, please make a donation of any size. By signing up for our weekly or monthly blog emails, you can learn more about Catholic Charities and our work to bring Christ to those who are giving and receiving help.

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