Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent for those who observe that period leading up to Easter, preparing hearts and minds for Jesus’ act of love and sacrifice. Many mark the period by making sacrifices of their own, giving up foods or other indulgences.
The Pope’s Lenten message last year has been particularly striking for me. He asked that we consider giving up indifference toward others. That we open up our hearts to suffering and pain, lest “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” (Read more at Time.com)
I personally go through stretches where I can’t bear to read or watch the news. I cannot hear another story of a refugee who drowned, of a Congolese woman suffering physical and mental decimation at the hands of warlords, of towns wiped out by disaster. But the Pope’s admonition is that we cannot truly love if we hold pain at a distance. We must look it in the face and commit to action. Pope Francis says: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
This year’s Lenten message followed a similar vein, urging acts of mercy rather than empty rituals. (Read the full message here.)
One way I try to keep my heart open is to continually read the journeys of Opportunity’s clients. Many of them overcame great suffering and still work in very difficult circumstances every day to make a better life for their children. My act of love is to honor their full story and try to walk a bit of their journey with them. I invite you to walk with two strong women this morning: