Many 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!).
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.
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!