The Lenten Season has message for all

Bishop elect Most Reverend Daniel E. Garcia conducts a mass for staff and visitors at the Diocese of Austin Pastoral Center on Ash Wednesday. The bishop will be ordained March 3. 02.18.15 LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 021915 Ash Wednesday PHOTO

Bishop elect Most Reverend Daniel E. Garcia conducts a mass for staff and visitors at the Diocese of Austin Pastoral Center on Ash Wednesday.  LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

You may encounter a few folks today with what may look like a smudged, dirty forehead. Don’t be alarmed. It’s not a sign of a new yet-to-be-identified deadly virus. It is a sign, actually, of the start of Lent, a celebration with an encouraging message to be better people. A message that would serve many in this county, regardless of religious faith.

So, as Lent Season kicks off, today many Central Texas, as do other Christians all over the world, will receive ashes on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday. And, for 40 days and 40 nights – from today through March 24 – Christians will focus on simple living, fasting and praying.

Christians – including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodist, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and some Evangelicals – have typically observed the season by giving up an indulgence like sweets or coffee for Lent as a sacrifice. The gesture, some say, draws from the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert before starting his ministry. Growing up, my go-to Lent sacrifices were soda and chips; but as I grew older, those were replaced with TV time and alcohol.

The focus for the Lent season in recent years has changed from personal sacrifice to be more about others. Giving up indulgences has been replaced with taking positive actions. Today’s faith leaders say the season should be more about contributions we can all make that benefit those less fortunate.

In his 2016 Lenten message, Pope Francis, called on for people to be kinder and more thoughtful of others. “These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them,” the Pontiff said in his address.

Vatican Radio explained the Pope’s message like this:

“In his message … the Pope reiterates the importance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and condemns the attitude and actions of the proud, the powerful and the wealthy who refuse to open the doors of their hearts to God and to the poor.”

As polarized as this country is today, the message to be a good neighbor is a much needed medicine.

It’s a beautiful message – and one anyone can adopt. There’s no need to be religious to make a positive impact on the life of someone in need. You just have to be more giving of yourself. What does that look like? Spending a few weeks being less self-absorbed. Volunteer where your talents are needed. Help feed the hungry. Donate to help the homeless. Give your time to someone in need. In short, be the best person you can be. That’s what the season is all about.

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