Lenten Season -- And the Good I Have Left Undone

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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!

Jan Meeks