Living the Corporal Works of Mercy During Lent (I was hungry, and you gave me food.)

marriageMany years ago, I brought home from a retreat a prayer card that was designed to be folded and set in the middle of the table. On the card was a prayer to be prayed during Lent, inspired by the words of Christ in Matthew 25: 35-36: (Corporal Works of Mercy)

I was hungry and you gave me food.

I was thirsty and you gave me drink.

I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

I was naked and you clothed me.

I was ill and you cared for me.

I was in jail and you visited me.

Stirred by this prayer, our family of seven decided from that Lent on to focus on one corporal work of mercy each year, centering our prayer, fasting and almsgiving towards growing in compassion and mercy in that particular area throughout the 40 days of Lent. You might introduce this tradition into your own family, dedicating this Lent to the first line of the prayer. Alternatively, if you’re not prepared to make a multi-year commitment, you could in fact focus on one corporal work of mercy per week, starting on Ash Wednesday, and finishing the day before Holy Thursday! Either way, we’ll share some of the things that our family did to give you an idea of how you might live out the corporal works of mercy in your life and family during Lent.

I was hungry, and you gave me food.

When we first began this Lenten journey through the corporal works of mercy, our five children were ages 1-10. As a mom, I hated to see all the food left on the kids’ plates that went uneaten and into the garbage at the end of every meal, so this was the main focus of our Lenten promise. To unite ourselves with the hungry, we prayed for the underfed in our community, ate everything on our plates (this meant using smaller plates and taking smaller portions so that nothing went to waste), and donating the money we estimated we saved by not wasting food to a local soup kitchen. As an act of gratitude for what we did have, we tried to better appreciate mealtime by setting the table well and being polite (some evenings were certainly more successful than others!).

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Other ideas: This is a great time to give up your favourite food, eating out, or snacking in general. You might also commit to making better use of the food that you have by freezing fruits and vegetables that are no longer looking their freshest to use later in smoothies or soups, and finding creative ways to reuse leftover food so that it is guaranteed to be eaten instead of tossed in the garbage. You could also volunteer to serve at your local shelter or soup kitchen, or make a perishable food donation whenever you buy groceries for your family.

Our Lenten patron saint of feeding the hungry: St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who renounced her position at court and dedicated her life to feeding and caring for the poor.

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May this Lent make you an authentic instrument of God’s mercy to the world! We’ll post our family’s Lenten experience of the next corporal work of mercy at the end of the week. Happy Lenten journey!

 

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The Labour-Intensive Marriage

marriageThis summer my husband, Jamie, and I were sitting around a table with friends on an outdoor patio, and all the couples started sharing how they met. One couple there shared that she fell in love with her husband the first time she laid eyes on him – or rather, laid ears on him – when she first heard him singing in the church choir. They continued to meet each other at mass until he finally approached her and asked her if she would like to consider courting with the intention of discerning if it was God’s will that they enter marriage.

It was such a sweet, and it’s the kind of love story I envision for my children. Unfortunately, Jamie and I don’t have such sweet and simple beginnings.

The beginning of our relationship was really messy. I was fresh out of a long-term relationship that had ended as badly as you can possibly imagine. Jamie and I were in the final semester of our linguistics degrees, and since linguistics was a relatively small field at our university, especially as we moved into the higher-level classes, we were often the only two students in the class. He always jokes that I only started dating him because I had no other options. We started dating, casually at first, and when I went off to grad school in Winnipeg, Jamie, with nothing better to do, followed. We’d been dating a few months before we started living together in a one-bedroom apartment close to the university. Continue reading

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Love and Lent

Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year. While many couples have decided to celebrate their love by going out for a romantic dinner earlier, over the past weekend, or on Mardi Gras, there is another solution sweeping social media:

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For those who are more inclined to ‘marry’ the two events which share the calendar, and are willing to look a little more deeply at what our human love relationships and the beginning of lent have in common, the vistas are broader than it first seems. Continue reading

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Death’s Déjà Vu

hospitalI was sauntering through the kitchen a few days ago and there was my wife reading a news story on the computer. She was shaking her head and the headline caught my eye:

UK judge rules against parents, allows hospital to turn off baby’s life support

For understandable reasons, I confused the headline with the following:

Baby’s life-support will be switched off today against parents’ wishes: judge rules

So I asked my wife why she was reading an article about Charlie Gard, the baby who died in the UK last year at the insistence of his doctors and the decree of the court and over the objections of everyone from the parents to the Pope. My wife, a bit shocked (at the story, not me) explained that it involved Isaiah Haastrup, not Charlie Gard. Continue reading

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Beads over Birds

planeOnce upon a time, there was a Chicago radio host who tried to help nervous air travelers by loaning them his rubber chicken. The idea was that if you took the chicken with you on the plane you would have no fear – or at least your fears would be greatly diminished.

The rubber chicken was an early foreshadowing of what has become a real pain for airlines and their customers: the emotional support animal. There is a big difference in that the rubber chicken was, well, a rubber chicken as opposed to a live bird.

This came to mind a couple days ago when United Airlines denied a woman’s request to bring her emotional support animal on a flight. In this case, it was a real, live bird – a peacock.

Let me be clear; I like birds. In point of fact, I have a bird who has been living in my home for the past 18 years and is a beloved member of the family: Conrad the green-cheek conure. The green-cheek is a small parrot that hails from the forests of South America. Continue reading

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The Everlasting Poor

poor“For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” – John 12:8

“For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.” – Matthew 26:11

 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.” – Mark 14:7

Don’t worry. Despite initial appearances, this will not be a scripture commentary

I am not a theologian.  I am just a guy who hears a line from the gospel and spends a decade or two pondering its meaning.

The line cited above in triplicate is part of the story of the woman who anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive oil and dries his feet with her hair.  To me, that qualifies as quite an act of humility. Continue reading

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Who Touched Me?

He went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.  There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it.  The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mark 5:24-34)

touched“Who touched me?” (Mark 5:32) Wounded and hidden behind layers, masks, accomplishments, each woman can secretly relate to the pain of the nameless hemorrhaging woman in the Gospel.

Perhaps she is left nameless because she is there with Christ in place of each of us.  We are each her. Something inside each of us bleeds and begs to be healed, but we know not how, so we hide it, afraid of being seen as damaged, imperfect, not good enough, ‘unclean’.

Some of the wounds we conceal are caused by others or by difficult circumstances, some are lies we have believed about ourselves, some are our sins or the effects of our sins. Continue reading

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Sacred Ordinary Time

ordinaryJanuary comes and with it an end to the Christmas festivities.  The short days and cold temperatures begin to wear on us.  As we put away the Christmas decorations and settle in for a few more months of winter, the Church changes seasons, to ordinary time.

The ordinary days of winter feel barren, boring and a bit dreary. We instinctively look forward to spring, or plan get-aways to sunny climates to escape the snow.  There doesn’t seem to be much to appreciate in the here and now.

If ordinary time is so inconsequential, why do we have so much of it in the Church?  Is it a placeholder between the more exciting seasons of our faith?  Or is it something more? Continue reading

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Pope on a Plane

pope

I’ve come to believe the most dangerous place on earth for Pope Francis isn’t on earth at all but more like 30,000 feet above the earth in a jet.

No, I’m not afraid the jet will crash or be hijacked.  But the Pope is on a plane with a herd of people who ponder every word, every expression, every sigh or clearing of the throat, every look of fatigue or dismay.

Yes, he has no snakes on his plane, but he does have journalists. And even journalists with a pro-Catholic tendency need to get a story.

Stories are built on conflict and controversy.  And it doesn’t take much to make a controversy, as Pope Francis learned last week when he performed a wedding in the jet high over Chile. Continue reading

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Evangelical Experience in an Orphanage

orphanage

Visiting my sponsored child at the Catholic handicap orphanage who had cerebral palsy. He has now returned to Heaven with Our Lord.

While I was working in Beijing, China, I would often arrange for my company’s social responsibility programs to assist at the Catholic orphanage for handicapped children in the rural part of China.  Many of my local Chinese colleagues never had a chance to experience this type of charity work, let alone any interactions with Catholic organizations.  Many of the participants were touched by the witnesses of the Catholic sisters and volunteers who were selflessly serving at the very poor orphanage, truly living out our Christian way of loving the least of our brothers (Mt 25:40).

 

Recently, after 10 years, one of these local Chinese colleagues left China and migrated overseas.  She shared with me joyfully that she has started studying the Bible and told me about the discovery of her new found faith!  Praise the Lord!

 

Just as St Francis of Assisi said, “preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary”.  Sometimes and under diverse circumstances, we are called not only to preach the gospel but also to evangelize by living out our Christian identities in order to sow the seed of faith by example.  In His time and in His will, this tiny seed of faith that was planted will flourish and blossom.

 

Photo: Visiting my sponsored child at the Catholic handicap orphanage who had cerebral palsy.  He has now returned to Heaven with Our Lord.

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