Through this intense time of prayerful introspection, we gain insights-not only about ourselves, but about the Lord who created us, loves us, and, as we remember solemnly each Good Friday, died so we might have eternal life.
Throughout these 40 days, it is expected that a great majority of us might find some level of spiritual poverty within, but there is comfort in knowing the season of Lent will provide a chance for us to set ourselves to rights, through prayer and fasting with God, and through almsgiving with our neighbors.
However, there is another type of poverty that needs to be addressed: the physical poverty that often creates and sustains a deep level of spiritual poverty for those living with such difficulty. Currently, 36 million people in the United States struggle to afford the basic necessities of survival. Here in our archdiocese, Newark has been named one of the country's top-10 cities with the highest poverty rate: 24 percent.
During the season of Lent, we are called to "turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." The Scriptures have much to say about poverty. God, our Father, hears the cries of the poor (Exodus 22:21). Jesus implores that we give help to the poor in secret, that we shall be rewarded by our Father, who sees all in secret (Matthew 6:2-4). John writes that he who has no pity for the poor does not know God, for His love is not in him (1 John 3:17).
The poor among us are not so easily identifiable. Like those who cry out "But when, Lord, did we see you hungry Sharing hope, extending hands and hearts for Lent or thirsty and did not help you?" we hear of numbers of poverty levels not easily understandable. But in all four counties of the Archdiocese of Newark poverty exists. The "working poor"- those members of our communities who work full-time jobs but have difficulty meeting their daily needs due to low levels of pay or rising costs of basic expenses-are growing in numbers.
They might live next door and attend our parishes and schools. Often, they must make a difficult choice, such as deciding whether to provide adequate food for their families or pay an important utility bill on time. Although they might seem happy, their pride and the shame they feel for being in such a situation prevents them from asking for help.
As faithful Catholics, we have a responsibility to care for, uplift and to help each other on the road to holiness, regardless of social status or financial situation. In doing so, we rely on God's every grace and blessing, giving our lives in service for the good of our brothers and sisters.
Work on this issue is underway. Currently, the Archdiocese of Newark's Office of Human Concerns, working in tandem with Catholic Charities and parish social ministries is spearheading a campaign to provide education about the overwhelming poverty issue that exists in our archdiocese, along with concrete steps that can be taken to help eradicate this mournful problem.
In Wichita, KA (a short 10-hour car ride from Ottawa, IL, where I was born) stands the Mid-America All-Indian Center Museum-home to a dazzling collection of teepees, tent-like structures utilized by Native Americans as a principal means of shelter. I mention them because traditionally, a teepee is constructed using three poles as its base, each of which is fashioned to a point at its top. After the tripod is made secure, surrounding poles are added to the structure; and the finished product is a roomy, durable dwelling that provides stability, even against the fiercest of prairie winds.
This Lent, let us employ the "tripod" of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as a base to provide for ourselves and our communities a sturdy shelter, creating a place that will stand strong against injustice.
When we pray, let us remember those among us who are the most needful. When we fast, let us join in solidarity with their hunger, which is not a willful decision. And when we give, let it be with the hands of Christ—hands that never reject, hands that reflect His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.