At this time of year, we ask each other: “what are you giving up for Lent?” Replies vary with people mentioning drink or chocolates etc. A little penance is never a bad thing. But there’s another aspect to Lent – we need to ask ourselves: “what am I doing for Lent?” in the sense of taking some step in my personal life that will lead me to a deeper relationship with God and with others around me.
I’ve been struck by Pope Francis’ message for Lent. He reminds us that God is interested in each of us. God’s love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us. But it’s easy for us to slip into an indifference at several levels – about God, about others, about ourselves. Pope Francis speaks about “a globalization of indifference” in our world today. It is “a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.”
Lent is the annual season for us to check out those areas of my personal or social life about which I/we have become indifferent. As Francis puts it, “Indifference to our neighbour and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.” Pope Francis himself is such a prophet calling us to wake up from indifference this Lent.
Take charities, for instance. There has been so much controversy about how some charities are run that, without realising it, we might all have become a little more indifferent to charities. Why not consider giving more to charities this Lent? The Catholic Church’s agency, Trócaire, is well worth supporting but there are many others too. The important thing is not to be indifferent to the needs expressed through those charities.
Indifference doesn’t just apply to charities. We can get so used to hearing about the problems in the Middle East that we switch off in an indifference to the issue of peace and the plight of Christians in that part of the world.
When ethical debates begin around us, there’s a temptation to become indifferent to searching for what is true and right. We need to actively inform ourselves about what the Church teaches about such issues.
Because of the failures within the Church, we can, understandably perhaps, become indifferent to the Catholic Church, its teaching and sacraments. And yet, the Church itself has so much to offer us. This Lent why not let ourselves be moved more by the love of Christ reaching us through the life of the Church.
Issues relating to abuse of drink and drugs have become so prevalent that we shut out the issues and ignore them. And yet we know the havoc they wreak in society. None of us can afford to say I can do nothing to help.
I am asking myself this Lent about my indifference to the plight of migrants and asylum seekers resident in our diocese. They are Christ knocking at the door of our hearts, waiting to be welcomed above all as human beings worthy of dignity and respect.
There are also very personal forms of indifference that can affect any of us - perhaps a family row or a stand-off with a person in work or a hurt I received in some organisation that caused me to distance myself from others. Sometimes, these situations can go on for so long that we grow indifferent to them. It’s easy to say “why bother trying to do something to remedy the tension?” But when I find myself thinking that, it’s a sign that the dust of indifference has settled in my heart.
So, this Lent, as well as asking “what are you giving up for Lent?”, let’s ask ourselves: in what way have I become indifferent and withdrawn into myself? In what way have I or my family, my parish or organisation become self-sufficient and forgetful of others? And decide to actively do something to wake myself up out of indifference.
Quoting Pope Benedict, Pope Francis speaks about Lent as a time for engaging in formation of the heart: “Anyone who wishes to be merciful must have a strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God. A heart that lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters. And, ultimately, a poor heart, one which realizes its own poverty and gives itself freely for others.”
The season of Lent will occur twice during our preparations for the Diocesan Synod. Since conversion – personal, ministerial and ecclesial – is at the heart of the Synod, these occasions for renewal are particularly important. Entrusting the weeks ahead to Mary our mother, let’s ask for a special grace of deep conversion as we begin Lent.
+ Brendan Leahy