In 1902, a man by the name of Finley Peter Dunne (writing under the pseudonym of ‘an Irishman named Mr. Dooley’) created a poem which includes this wisdom: “The Gospel comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”
We all get comfortable with our own experiences, don’t we? We easily find ourselves in ruts of thinking and behaving. We come to love what is familiar, what is safe, and what is predictable. In John 10, we read: “The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus” because He was not like them and didn’t behave as they were behaving. He was doing and saying things that were not aligned with their “usual” storyline. Because of that, He was a threat to their comfortable and predictable way of life.
Each year, the season of Lent is offered to us as a time of renewal and change. Usually, we take up this journey as a matter of personal renewal in terms of our relationship with the Lord. But Lent isn’t meant to be a time of “spiritual self-help” or 40 days in the “spiritual gym.” In fact, our renewal only becomes concrete when we actively engage in self-denial, which allows us to live our faith more authentically. The almsgiving we do, for example, helps us express our gratitude and allows us to exercise generosity. Lent must be a time to focus beyond ourselves. It can be a time of renewal that is offered to us to “hear the cry of the poor” and grow in solidarity with them. Ultimately, this is genuine spiritual renewal as well and helps us grow closer to the Lord who tells us that if we wish to love Him, we must express that love as love for the least of our brothers and sisters.
Are we allowing the Lenten season to shake us out of our comfortable and predictable patterns of living? Are we allowing it to “afflict” us in any way? Are we allowing it to break us out of our ruts and create new paths, new thoughts, and new behaviors toward others?
“Practicing” the Corporal Works of Mercy can help us comfort the sorrowing, be with the afflicted, become co-pilgrims (companions) with another, and bring one another to Christ. So: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; visit the prisoner; and bury the dead. The Lenten call, again, is to “be comforting.” This means we are called to walk with another’s pain, offer words of encouragement (not false hopes or solutions), offer support, and be there for those who are afflicted (calling them, checking in with them, and reaching out with needed help, not pity).
Let us pray. Be near, O Lord, to those who plead before you and look kindly on us as we place our hope in your mercy. Help us to imitate the great love of your Son. Help us persevere in holy living and make us full heirs of your promise. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.