Brad Rozairo, OMI – Last year, the season of Lent arrived with lockdown and imposed severe disciplines on everyone. Compared to some countries although the lockdown in Japan was not very strict, meetings and gatherings were cancelled, ‘work from home’ order came into effect, in many cities schools and day care centres were temporarily closed and people were asked to avoid unnecessary outings.
This year, we have entered our second pandemic Lent, and it might not look exactly the same as last year. We have adjusted to the restrictions at least somewhat, and in some places conditions have improved enough to allow greater freedom, yet, we are not out of the woods. Knowing what we have learned from last year, I think we should be able to live a better Lent this year. During the season of Lent, the Church proposes the Three Pillars of Lent, namely, Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. These Pillars are expressions of the fundamental purpose of Lent, which is a turning to God and a conversion of heart. Perhaps, almsgiving is where we might focus our attention with more enthusiasm this year.
What is Almsgiving? It is an act of love that not only deepens our spiritual journey during Lent, but also allows us to step outside of ourselves and focus on the needs of others. During the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy (Dec 8, 2015 – Nov 20, 2016) Pope Francis said that almsgiving is not just about the money; it is about being attentive to the actual needs of the person asking for help. Pope challenged the faithful as to whether they are able to “stop and look in the face, look in the eyes, of the person who is asking for my help.” Almsgiving is about caring for our neighbour, especially the elderly and single-person households, who even before the pandemic have been experiencing painful loneliness and isolation for different reasons. COVID-19 restrictions have worsened their situation. A survey done in Japan a few months ago has shown that about 70% of people age 65 or older feel they have fewer opportunities to socialize with others or take part in community activities, as they spend more time at home. Also, “The pandemic-linked isolation has been blamed for the increase of suicides in Japan in eleven years” (Nikkei Asia, Feb. 13, 2021).
Taking into consideration the present pandemic situation, what are some of the things that we might want to suggest to help those going through pain, loneliness and suffering? Can we, for example, arrange ‘socially distanced’ meetings or communicate often by phone or by writing letters? Can we do some grocery shopping for an elderly neighbour or make a meal for a single-householder and leave it on the doorstep? Can we tutor a schoolchild or mentor a college graduate virtually? These, I think can be sacrificial acts of charity that can genuinely make a difference. Something small and simple can break the monotony of a lonely person’s day and bring hope for tomorrow. As St. Theresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) said, we cannot do great things, but small things with great love.
Giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity, and it is also a work of justice pleasing to God – Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2447). The Lenten call to almsgiving means, making the needs of others our own. During these forty days of Lent as God keeps calling us through the Prophet Joel, to return to Him with all our heart (Joel 2:12), let us not forget that almsgiving which is an important expression of the Christian faith, is also an expression of turning to God and a conversion of heart.