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Ash Wednesday is quickly approaching and you may find yourself thinking, “What will I give up for Lent this year?” There is another question that could be asked that would be equally valid, “What good thing will I do for Lent this year?” In the Book of Divine Worship, the wording for the confession of sins has this phrase in it, “we have left undone those things which we ought to have done. . .”
What a powerful statement! What a haunting statement! What does that mean? How much am I responsible for? Where does it begin, and where does it end? St. James says rather plainly in chapter 4, verse 17 of his epistle, “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” It’s easy to identify and confess the evil that we have done, but how do we identify the good that we have left undone?
In Isaiah 58 verses 7-10, we get an idea of some of those “good” things that we should be doing, for example, sharing our food with the hungry (not too difficult), bringing the homeless poor into our houses (a lot more difficult), covering the naked (that’s okay), and not hiding ourselves from our relatives (ouch!).
The Church helps us out by listing what has come down through the years as the “Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy”. (CCC 2447)
The Chief Corporal Works of Mercy:
To feed the hungry
To give drink to the thirsty
To clothe the naked
To visit the imprisoned
To shelter the homeless
To visit the sick
To bury the dead
The Chief Spiritual Works of Mercy:
To admonish (through kind words and example) the sinner
To instruct the ignorant
To counsel the doubtful
To comfort the sorrowful
To bear wrongs patiently
To forgive all injuries
To pray for the living and the dead
Obviously this list is not exhaustive, but it does give us a lot to think about, and is useful as a tool for conducting a spiritual inventory of our own lives. At first blush, “doing something” for Lent instead of “giving up something” sounds easy, but as you can see from the list above, the doing does involve giving and a lot of giving up too.
I pray that we all experience a Holy Lent this year, and that we allow the Holy One Himself to guide us in how we will approach that glorious feast that follows . . . the Resurrection of Our Lord!