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A Lenten meditation that calls to mind an examination of our faith — Effie Caldarola

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A homeless woman in Birmingham, Ala., waits in line as food and clothes are distributed April 18, 2020. Scripture makes clear in practical and very human terms what is expected of us: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and the imprisoned. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

Jesus, as I make the 40-day pilgrimage through Lent, I ask that my journey may always be at your side. My one Lenten goal, indeed the one goal of my life, is to enter into a relationship with you. What I do, the time I give to prayer, the sacrifices I make — I ask that all may be done as a way of growing in my closeness to you, my friendship with you, my risen Lord.

During Lent, I find myself called to Matthew 25:31-46. In this reading, Jesus, you tell your friends what is necessary to make the kingdom of God our heritage. You didn’t lay down onerous, bureaucratic rules, or ask us to memorize catechism pages, or become great theologians and scholars.

Instead, you made what was expected of us clear in practical and very human terms: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and the imprisoned.

Jesus, every day of Lent, I might revisit Matthew 25 and ask, how am I doing in following these commands? I am especially aware in this reading of something remarkable: When I visit the sick or feed the hungry, I’m not doing it solely for the individual in need. I am quite literally doing it for you.

In the words of St. Teresa of Kolkata, Jesus often comes to us “in his most distressing disguise,” the poor. And if that’s where you are, then that’s where I should be, in relationship with you.

And in meeting the poor, I am also becoming Christ. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours. … Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.”

During this Lent of 2021, I find myself in a world often consumed by anger and vitriol toward others. Sometimes I even find a slow burn of anger in my own heart.

Sometimes the “other” is she who doesn’t agree with me politically. Sometimes the “other” is he who is an immigrant, a refugee, a person who doesn’t look like me. Sometimes the “other” are those who try to impose their beliefs on me.

Even within the church, people point fingers and feel anger, self-righteousness, certainty and rigidity about their own ideas. Whose side do I take?

Jesus, I take your side. And you always reached out to all of us. You eschewed violence, hypocrisy, self-importance. You pointed to the tax collector at the back of the Temple, not the self-righteous Pharisee proclaiming his goodness in the front (Lk 18:9-14).

You spoke of love, not a saccharine, greeting card kind of love, but the gritty and hard love that reaches across barriers between people and shows itself in service.

Sometimes at the beginning of Lent, I ponder what I should “do” for Lent. Giving up chocolate or a nightly glass of wine may strengthen and discipline me. But, in my heart, I must ask the basic question, what leads me to the heart of Jesus? This is my life’s sole destination.

Help me to spend time daily in silent prayer. Guide me to the help I need with this. Have I been wanting a spiritual director but procrastinating in this desire? Do I find excuses for setting aside prayer time? Do I want to give more, but find my own wants getting in the way of generosity and service? Let this Lent be a time to move forward.

Lord, you are the companion I seek, my life’s destination. Help me to be with you this Lent in prayer and service.

Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.