8 Mar – Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Memorial of Saint John of God
Juan grew up working as a shepherd in the Castile region of Spain. He led a wild and misspent youth, and travelled over much of Europe and north Africa as a soldier in the army of Charles V, and as a mercenary. Fought through a brief period of insanity. Peddled religious books and pictures in Gibraltar, though without any religious conviction himself. In his 40?s he received a vision of the Infant Jesus who called him John of God. To make up for the misery he had caused as a soldier, he left the military, rented a house in Granada, Spain, and began caring for the sick, poor, homeless and unwanted. He gave what he had, begged for those who couldn’t, carried those who could not move on their own, and converted both his patients and those who saw him work with them. Friend of Saint John of Avila, on whom he tried to model his life. John founded the Order of Charity and the Order of Hospitallers of Saint John of God.
– The Patron Saint Index
The Lord says this:
If you do away with the yoke,
the clenched fist, the wicked word,
if you give your bread to the hungry,
and relief to the oppressed,
your light will rise in the darkness,
and your shadows become like noon.
The Lord will always guide you,
giving you relief in desert places.
He will give strength to your bones
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
whose waters never run dry.
You will rebuild the ancient ruins,
build up on the old foundations.
You will be called ‘Breach-mender’,
‘Restorer of ruined houses.’
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
and doing business on the holy day,
if you call the Sabbath ‘Delightful’,
and the day sacred to the Lord ‘Honourable’,
if you honour it by abstaining from travel,
from doing business and from gossip,
then shall you find your happiness in the Lord
and I will lead you triumphant over the heights of the land.
I will feed you on the heritage of Jacob your father.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Jesus noticed a tax collector, Levi by name, sitting by the customs house, and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything he got up and followed him.
In his honour Levi held a great reception in his house, and with them at table was a large gathering of tax collectors and others. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples and said, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘It is not those who are well who need the doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the virtuous, but sinners to repentance.’
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, and doing business on the holy day
In his Lenten address this year, Pope Francis asks us to consider a life of ‘evangelical poverty’, as put forth by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty, you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). What does that mean, ‘evangelical poverty’, and how does it apply to us day to day? Simply put, we are to try to walk in the footsteps of those less fortunate than us, to live in their skin so we too can feel their suffering. We are called this Lent, to emulate Christ in that while we were still sinners, he lowered himself so he could feel our pain and endure our suffering. His ministry was made all the more powerful because by being one of us, he identified with us. He empathized with us.
We can embrace this call to empathy by adhering to the three pillars of Lent. Yesterday, we talked about one of those pillars, fasting. At the crux of it, fasting is about simplifying our lives. It’s about self-denial and controlling our impulses. Fasting does not only apply to giving up material things. We can fast from anger, from sarcasm, from selfishness and from our need to have it all and still want some more. We can fast from the white noise of social media and take that time instead to reacquaint ourselves with the mysteries of His Word. We can commit to holding our tongue and fast from gossip and idle talk. The prophet Isaiah from today’s reading exhorts us, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech, if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted, then light shall rise for you in the darkness… then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land” (Isaiah 58: 6-8).
Most of us equate almsgiving with money, so when we think about this second pillar of Lent, we tend to approach it from our position of relative abundance – what can we afford to give while still maintaining our comfort levels? But almsgiving does not only apply to the charitable donations that we make out of a sense of duty and obligation. Giving also applies to offering up our time, energy, compassion and enthusiasm, even when we’re overscheduled and don’t feel particularly energetic, compassionate or enthusiastic ourselves. The basis of our Pope’s call to empathy is that we are to forget ourselves for a while and focus wholly on the issues of another. After all, we were commanded to love and love means putting someone else’s needs above our own. Taking our lead from our Pope, we too can commit the time and energy to taking an active interest in the happiness of those we evangelize to. It would give us fresh authenticity if we came from a position of empathy, instead of simply preaching by rote from a book.
Finally, no Lenten initiative is going to succeed without the third pillar of Lent – prayer. Lent is a difficult season because it is based on self-denial. When we fast, we are weak, tired and irritable. Without His grace, our fast becomes long, tedious and tiresome, and our irritation defeats its purpose. Without His grace, we focus on how hard things are and miss the transforming power that comes from giving all of ourselves. Prayer is the mast that keeps our vessel solid as we navigate the troubled waters of Lent.
This Lenten season, we are invited to lean on Lent’s three pillars as we empathize with those less fortunate than us, those who exist in ‘material, moral and spiritual destitution’. In order to bring hope, we must first be able to identify. In order that our evangelizing be authentic, we must first be able to empathize. May the Holy Spirit bless our endeavors and sustain us as we try to live out our resolutions this Lent. God bless us each with a fruitful Lenten journey.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we embark on our Lenten journeys. Bless us with a fruitful forty days, that at the end of it, we may see with new eyes and new hearts.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our Pope, who through his words and his actions, have given hope and light to so many who exist in destitution.