Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The Church gives us the season of Lent to prepare for the great Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil). By tradition, the forty days of Lent are a period of intense preparation for those seeking baptism and entry into the Catholic Church at Easter and for us who accompany them.
The great spiritual writer St. Peter Chrysologus wrote, “There are three things, my brothers and sisters, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one and they give life to each other.”
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I encourage you to renew your commitment to the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and works of mercy. Particularly I am asking you for two things: first, to make a good personal confession and secondly, to commit to performing works of mercy.
How are these connected? Well, it’s important for us to experience the loving and forgiving mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a graced encounter that brings inner healing, peace and joy. Once we have tasted God’s mercy ourselves, we are moved to share this gift with others who have needs both material and spiritual.
In gratitude for God’s forgiveness let us show mercy to those in need. I am inviting each Catholic of our diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall who is able to do so to perform sometime during this special year one corporal work of mercy and one spiritual work of mercy.
The corporal works of mercy are well known: to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to shelter the homeless; to visit the sick; to visit the imprisoned; to bury the dead. We are asked by Christ to recognize him in anyone in need: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me” (Matthew 25.40)
The spiritual works of mercy are less well known but they are also important for the spiritual vitality of our faith community: to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offences willingly; to comfort the afflicted; to pray for the living and the dead. The first three may require a special level of authority, competence or even extraordinary tact. The latter four are ways for us to express in daily living our life as disciples of Jesus.
I encourage your family to share your life of faith: by attending Mass together on Sunday—committing to do so even if travelling during the March Break—and by sharing a meal each week that involves cutting back a bit, so that together, you can save some money and give it to the poor.
Many see the value of mercy or charity in the good it does for the needy. Certainly, your generous donation to Development and Peace on Solidarity Sunday or to another charity helps the poor of our world. But, just as important, it will help establish God’s order in your finances.
May this holy season’s traditional practices prepare you and your loved ones to celebrate the Paschal Mystery with renewed enthusiasm, with hope and with joy.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
✠Terrence Prendergast, S.J.
Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall