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When I was a child, I dreaded the beginning of Lent. My mother always declared that the entire family would observe this penitential season by giving up candy for forty days. My practice was being chosen for me and it was not to my liking!

Even now, as the season of Lent begins, I’m searching for a practice that is “more to my liking” or should I say, “more to God’s liking,” than giving up chocolates. I’m pondering what type of penance would open me to a deeper love of God and others in this particular Lent, 2021. As I surfed the web my attention was drawn to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (“Brothers and Sisters All.”) The very title of this encyclical called out to me and moved me to explore it further. As I did, I learned that the heart of this encyclical is the pope’s reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan. With this parable Jesus “asks us not to decide who is close enough to be our neighbor, but rather that we ourselves become neighbors to all” (No. 80)

Almost without a break, for over a year, the news broadcasts have filled our eyes and ears with the hatred being spewed out nationally and internationally. I am tempted to shut down and lock myself up in my own little safe space of prayer and contemplation, but I don’t think Pope Francis would encourage this as the only way to mend our divisions.

Back to Lent! I see my penance coming into focus. It’s in the shape of open hands and an open heart.

Loving God, guide me to give of myself by reaching out to the hurting others I so often miss, I take for granted, I pass by in my haste to reach my own, so important destination. Fashion my heart to be soft and welcoming, open to feeling the joy and pain of those who are different from me, willing to walk together with them wherever You lead us. May my Lenten penance be to Your liking rather than mine. Amen.

Sister Virginia DeVinne