Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent. During Lent, the Church calls us to devote ourselves to spiritual and corporal works of mercy through which we express our faith in action directed to helping others in body and spirit.
Lent is the season when we are inspired to transform our lives through prayer and reading sacred Scripture, through fasting and giving alms. Fasting is a sign of the daily Lenten discipline of individuals and households. We fast for certain periods of time; fast from certain foods and also fast from other things and activities. Likewise, the giving of alms is an effort to share this world equally — not only through the distribution of money but by the sharing of our time and talent.
The traditional disciplines of Lent are important practices for everyone, but Pope Francis is asking us – no, challenging us — to go even further. In his homily when he visited the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in 2015 in Philadelphia, the Holy Father told us, “One of the greatest challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven for the Gospel in the world.”
Just what is the Holy Father asking us to do? By virtue of our baptism we are called to be missionary disciples who know and live the faith and confidently share the Gospel. Pope Francis wants us to be part of a Church that goes forth, taking the first step and being active, a Church that is involved and supportive and that bears fruit, all the while being joyful in the Lord.
How can we become missionary disciples this Lent? Get more involved. Focus on helping others. Focus on the Lenten practice of almsgiving, sharing the many gifts we have received with those who have less, with the needy, with those on the fringes of society. Pope Francis reminds us that “Lent is a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ.”
May the Holy Spirit make all of us missionary disciples this Lent as together we work to bring the joy of the Gospel into the lives of others.