As Lent progresses, we may find ourselves concentrated inward, often reflecting on the sacrifices or commitments that we have made on our Lenten journey thus far. We think about abstaining from meat on Fridays, about skipping dessert and about increasing our prayer life. All of these practices are an important part of maintaining discipline during the Lenten time of preparation and penance. However, these inward or personal goals should mean that we are more — not less — of a reflection of Christ to the world around us.
I remember hearing of a man who was inviting coworkers to his child’s baptism, and each of the coworkers responded, “Oh, I didn’t realize that you are a Christian.” While we must work to avoid false piety and expressions of faith based on pride and boasting, every person we meet should know we are Christian! But do not mistake my meaning; we do not need to tell every person we pass, “I am a follower of Christ.” Instead, others should know of our faith by our actions, example and witness, and especially by how we treat them.
As we are told in Sacred Scripture, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt. 5: 14-16).
Saint Matthew is not telling us to be boastful or proud in expressing our faith. Rather, the visual enforces the idea that our Christian witness should not be hidden; our Christian identity should not be revealed only in private. Instead, it should be as clear as a light, as prominent as a city upon a hill. The season of Lent offers us an opportunity to focus on our Christian witness, as much as it is a time of prayer and preparation for the reliving of the death and resurrection of Christ. In fact, one should lead to the other. As we deepen and develop our relationship with Christ through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we naturally consider more closely how our actions and reactions, our instincts and our behaviors, are changed by that closeness to Our Lord. We see our faults and weaknesses and ask Him to transform our hearts to be more like His.
It is in this witness, based not on pride but on intimacy with Christ, that we may convert the hearts of those around us. All Christians should be looking to invite their friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers to experience the same grace they have in the sacraments of the Church. But these invitations are only successful if they build upon a foundation first set by our charity and generosity toward them. The invitation must come in the context of Christian friendship. Our friends and neighbors should look at us and think “Where does his/her joy come from?” or “Why is he so kind to me, even when I am not to him?” By sincerely dedicating ourselves to living a life of charity consistent with our faith, we follow Christ and bring others to follow Him as well.
One opportunity to dedicate ourselves to prayer during Lent is by participating in The Light is On for You. As you may remember, The Light is On for You invites Catholics to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at any Catholic Church in the Diocese of Arlington or the Archdiocese of Washington on Wednesdays during Lent from 6:30 to 8 p.m. More than 200 churches are open for Confession and quiet prayer every Wednesday evening during Lent! I invite you to take part in the Sacrament of Divine Mercy and bring your burdens to the Lord. Many resources, including examinations of conscience, an explanation of what to expect before, during and after confession, videos and podcasts are available at www.thelightison.org.
Moreover, I ask you to invite at least three people to participate in The Light is On for You this Lent. Perhaps they will come for quiet prayer, listening to and speaking with our Lord. Perhaps they will go to Confession for the first time in 10, 20 or 30 years. A simple proposal — “Could you come with me to church tonight?” — can change lives. And The Light is On takes away the hurdles we often set up for ourselves, “I don’t know the confession schedule,” “I don’t remember what to expect,” and “I forgot the words to the Act of Contrition.” Resources that address these common concerns are available both at the church and online at www.thelighison.org. Again, this invitation should come from your desire for others to encounter Christ as you have in your own life.
And so, as we continue on this Lenten journey, we ask ourselves, “Can others tell I am Christian by my actions?” If not, we commit ourselves more intentionally to charity, kindness and mercy each day during Lent and beyond. We deepen our prayer life and receive the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Confession regularly. Once we are more rooted in Christ, we should invite friends and family to discover His faithful presence through prayer and a return to Confession, made easier this Lent through The Light is On for You. Yes, this Lent, through God’s grace, we need to be transformed into living examples of His love, reflected clearly by our daily witness.