By Barb Arland-Fye
Reading the message of Pope Francis for Lent 2024 caused me to pause and reflect about my life, which is what he calls all of us to do. “It is time to act, and in Lent, to act also means to pause. To pause in prayer, in order to receive the word of God, to pause like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother or sister. Love of God and love of neighbor are one love,” the Holy Father said.
“To pause in the presence of a wounded brother or sister…” I am thinking of a friend who is on a difficult journey with cancer, the second time for her. Six years ago, she provided encouragement, hugs, laughter and prayers on my journey with cancer. We became sisters, more so after she dealt with cancer for the first time. We left each other notes and in passing in the hallway greeted each other with a hug and a reminder: “I’m praying for you!”
Now she is at home but we exchange texts of encouragement, prayer and hugs. Our sisterhood grows stronger, for which I am grateful to God. My prayers focus on her peace and comfort and for her to know that our family of faith loves her very much.
I have been contemplating how to journey through Lent this year, which begins Feb. 14 on Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. A priest friend sent a delightful graphic that displays a candy heart with the inscription “Remember U R Dust.” The word Valentine appears with flair below the candy heart, along with this message: “You can’t spell Valentine without LENT.”
The email served as a lighthearted reminder that the Lenten journey is not a grim one and reinforces the idea of sacrificial love that Pope Francis speaks of in his message for Lent. He describes prayer, fasting and almsgiving (the three pillars of Lent) as “a single movement of openness and self-emptying, in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us.”
As I contemplated how I might include my sister/friend in my practice of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, I thought about another passage in Pope Francis’ message. “In the presence of God, we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another: in place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers.”
Pope Francis is calling us to be sensitive to not only the people we love and care about but also those with whom we disagree, avoid or fear. This requires much self-reflection on my part.
The Holy Father introduced another insight for me. “The Church’s synodal form, which in these years we are rediscovering and cultivating, suggests that Lent is also a time of communitarian decisions, of decisions, small and large, that are countercurrent. Decisions capable of altering the daily lives of individuals and entire neighborhoods, such as the ways we acquire goods, care for creation, and strive to include those who go unseen or are looked down upon.”
We are to advocate for systemic change, and that requires us to be companions on the journey because we simply cannot do it alone. Am I up to the calling?
Pope Francis helps me to see the light with his conclusion. “For faith and charity take hope, this small child, by the hand. They teach her to walk, and at the same time, she leads them forward.” This is what I must do during Lent for my friend, the community at large and myself: take hope by the hand and allow this little child to lead me.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)