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February 26, 2017

Lent: getting off dead center

Bishop Timothy Doherty

The Internet and parish bulletins will talk about Lent as a penitential season. And it’s not just about housecleaning, getting rid of spiritual encumbrances. Only desiring the company of Jesus, of having worthy aspirations, can lift our character and our morale. So on Feb. 18, I was quite struck by the shortest New York Times death notice that I ever saw:

“MCGOLDRICK — Cathleen Cloney. Eucharistic Minister, Religion Teacher, Visitor of the Sick, Advocate of the Needy, Old, and Young. Extraordinary Friend.”

Maybe she wrote it herself as a bulwark against a more profuse family testament. But a second announcement was fairly brief and also kind. It included details about the family and the funeral Mass. “For 40 years, Cathy volunteered in NYC public schools, teaching young children reading skills.”

The Church and parish provide many ways to “observe” Lent, including Operation Rice Bowl for Catholic Relief Services, putting a Lent app on one’s mobile device, extra Eucharistic adoration, a sincere annual confession. But these are just to prime the pump, to get us moving. Cathleen McGoldrick found endless ways to let go of self and to serve others. Without having met her, I know that she was the salt of the earth (see Matthew 5:13).

This year, we run the danger of Lent getting replaced by media-driven angst, anger and cynicism. And by grand gestures, dart throwing and joining loud crowds. In a political sense, some of these might seem compelling, and you can be the judge. But God is present in everyday kindness, consideration and courtesy. It is an illusion to think that we can better the world if we cannot demonstrate the antidote to upset and crudity in our own kitchens, with no cameras or microphones.

Cathleen’s mission went beyond her kitchen, into sickrooms and classrooms. She went out to find the needy and did not wait for a second collection. She was a practiced Christian long before we invented “community service” as — some say — a points-reward for charitable acts.

I bet if you or I sit quietly, prayerfully in a room for 15 minutes, that God can give us a mission, or confirm one that we now question. It won’t be in another country, and may not cost us much by way of money. It will be one that makes us a little afraid, on a mission to heal someone who is more afraid or uncertain.

For some, the Holy Spirit will reveal a call to holiness within routines of work and obligation. For others, a renewed diligence about coming to a complete stop and using turn signals whenever turning or changing lanes. These latter impulses might not feel like much to your Lenten journey, but they may mean a lot to another driver who has resolved to avoid swearing. The best efforts are not about us alone.

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