It’s an important one that we don’t always remember or give priority to.
Lent is a beautiful time for spiritual renewal. For many centuries it has been the custom to “give up” something for the 40 days of preparation for Easter. This often consists of abstaining from such things as chocolate or TV, but St. John Paul II had a different idea of things we should give up.
In his first Lenten message as pope in 1979, John Paul II wrote, “Going without things does not consist only of giving away what we do not need; sometimes it also consists of giving away what we do need, like the widow in the Gospel who knew that what she was giving away was already a gift to her from God.”
In other words, while it’s noble to sacrifice those things in our lives that are non-essential, it’s also important to give away things that we do need, giving them to those who are in a more desperate situation.
The Polish pope expanded on this concept in 1980, explaining that “True sharing, which is a meeting with others, helps us to free ourselves from those bonds that enslave us. And, because it makes us see others as brothers and sisters, it enables us to rediscover that we are children of the same Father, ‘heirs of God and coheirs with Christ’ (Romans 8:17), from whom we have incorruptible riches.”
John Paul II saw Lent as an opportunity to empty ourselves in Christian charity, doing good to the most vulnerable of society.
In 1981 he reinforced this message, “Lent is a time of truth, which, as in the case of the Good Samaritan, makes us pause, recognize our brothers and sisters, and put our time and possessions at their service in daily sharing. The Good Samaritan is the Church! The Good Samaritan is every man and woman! By calling! By duty! The Good Samaritan lives charity … Let us examine ourselves sincerely, honestly and simply. Our brothers and sisters are there among the poor, the sick, the outcast, the aged. What sort of love do we have? What sort of truth?”
As you prepare for Lent, consider how you can be of service to your neighbor and give things up, not only the non-essentials, but also the essentials of life, recognizing the plight of those suffering among us.