It is the first full week of Lent, and already I struggle. I must have chosen well which things to uproot from my life—my family and I are enjoying great sport pointing out my unconscious consumption and countless offhand comments, both of which I’m attempting to quit.
Additionally, each Lent we notice how little we focus specifically, consciously, on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. During our morning prayers, Jodi and I shared today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 25:31-46, which includes these words of warning:
“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ … ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
It’s sobering each time we hear it: another year flown by, and what did we do for the least of His brothers? Our brothers?
Sure we’ve given money, now and again. We lend a hand when we can. And we pray—often—for the poor. In fact, in the past year we’ve added a prayer to each and every meal. Each time we say Grace, we end with a prayer adopted from a couple of local families who are dear to us: “May God provide for the needs of others as He has provided for us. Amen.”
So this morning we prayed, read Scripture, reflected, and discussed. When we sat to eat breakfast, we said the meal prayer and added our family coda.
Something struck me. That little added prayer, which should have made us more aware of those in need, was serving as our escape clause. The prayer should be: “May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us.”
God provides abundantly for His people, but although we are equal in dignity, inequalities abound as part of His plan.
On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The “talents” are not distributed equally. These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1936-1937).
In other words, inequalities exist so that we complement each other and share what we have with those in need out of love. We cannot outsource this call to charity, especially by foisting it back upon the Giver of all Gifts. He gave them to us for a reason.
So we’ve changed our prayer (for Lent, and maybe for good) in order to change our hearts:
May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us. Amen.
May this thrice-a-day reminder spur us to action. God has already done His part to take care of those in need: He gave them me.