“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
There are those who plan their Lents out to the nth degree. They give up things that they truly crave (coffee, candy, pizza, et cetera). They schedule large chunks of their time for extra prayer. They read from the Bible on a daily basis. They go to daily Mass. But, in all of their Lenten activity, they do not plan or carry out any good works for others. They do not volunteer at shelters or soup kitchens. They do not visit the sick or shut in. They do not encourage co-workers who may need a friendly word.
I imagine God shaking His head in sadness at each prayer they say, each Bible passage they read, and each chocolate bar they forgo. Not that their actions and plans are wrong at face value. However, their plans only cover half of what is important. For, no spiritual improvement program is complete without thinking of others and benefiting others. Jesus let His people know that it was not about us individually, it was about us collectively.
That is not to say that we should not concentrate on ourselves on a personal level. We need to do things to draw us closer to the Lord and to help us to slow down so that we can hear His voice. However, we need to make sure that the self-improvement that we plan takes us out of ourselves as well so that we can bring Jesus to our brothers and sisters.
That is hard for us to consider because we are not very community-minded people or even family-minded people for that matter. In other cultures, multiple generations of family live together. They make important decisions collectively. They consider the ramifications of their words and actions. We, in this country, are more independent. We want to go it on our own. We are not as tied to our family, immediate or extended. It is hard for us to determine what our words or actions will do because our focus is generally inward.
Lent gives us the time and challenge to turn our attention outward, to consider the needs of others, and to be selfless as we serve the Lord.
FAITH ACTION: In your Lenten actions today, make sure that you do something for the benefit of others.
Remember, Fridays of Lent are Days of Abstinence