Every great religious community that I have ever heard of has its own particular season of prayer and atonement. Usually these times of spiritual observances involve fasting and increased prayer, and often they are accompanied with some charitable outreach to the poor that flows from the spirit of the season.

We have just embarked on our holy season of Lent. Lent is widely known for its religious practices that begin with the reception of ashes, abstinence from meat on Fridays, the fasting obligations on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as frequent opportunities for increased prayer throughout these 40 days of the season. The works of charity that also belong to the essence of Lent may frequently lag behind in our attention after the penitential practices that always manage to come to the forefront during this holy season.

As we fast and abstain during Lent, those personal experiences of hunger are a modest encounter with the deep hungers that are the ordinary life circumstances for the poor. This season urges us to consider offering a portion of what we might sacrifice to those who lack so much. Our prayer must also lift up the needs of the poor whose hardships stretch well beyond these 40 days. Abstaining from some personal pleasure during Lent should bring our hearts into greater awareness of the everyday scarcities of the poor.

During my recent visit to the parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, after Mass a wonderful lady stopped to ask me how the Archdiocese of Washington might increase the sharing programs that link some of our parishes, including St. Francis, with parishes in Haiti. She obviously was very proud of the longstanding relationship that exists between some Haitian communities and St. Francis. I might have reminded her that many of our parishes currently have a warm and life-giving relationship with communities in mission lands and underdeveloped parts of our world. We have an excellent mission presence in Togo, we have a number of twinning relationships with parishes in Central and South America and in Africa, a supportive and important affiliation with the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and many other places that I am just now discovering. The heart of this local Church is very generous, and Lent is a time that we can seek to expand our generosity.

Many other similar opportunities are available for us to unite our works of charity with other parishioners and neighbors and then direct them toward struggling communities that need and depend upon our compassionate outreach. Lent is a season for charitable outreach that emanates from the generosity of our prayer and penitential practices. 

If one or another of those types of parish twinning programs is a project that your community would like to raise the awareness of other parishioners about, to increase or to initiate such an outreach, that would be a work of charity that has all of the marks of a parish that jointly shares its concern for those who would greatly benefit from your kindness and compassion. To all those parishes who are already engaged in longstanding programs of collective assistance to mission communities, I offer a word of thanks in my name and in the names of all those who benefit from your generosity and communal kindheartedness.