Monday of the First Week in Lent
(Leviticus 19:1-2.11-18; Matthew 25:31-46)
In a reflection on the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., the Preacher of the Papal Household, makes a disturbing realization. He says that we can love ourselves in the wrong way! That is, we can overindulge our appetites or seek misguided goals – vice and not virtue. If we wish these things on others, we do them a disservice. In the gospel today Jesus spells out true ways to show love of neighbor.
Jesus outlines what has become known as the “corporal works of mercy” in a dramatic way. He says that when we feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, etc., we actually are rendering service to him. There is a scholarly debate regarding the deprived people with whom he identifies himself. Are they missionaries who speak in his name or are they all people in dire need? Although those who in all humility bring God’s word to the people bear Jesus within them, it would be rather narrow-minded to limit Jesus’ intent to only these. He came to embrace the whole world in our suffering, and because he is God who cares for those society ignores, he reaches out especially to the poor and helpless.
All human actions should be guided by the virtue of prudence. It may not be wise to give cash to the beggar at the corner. But we can open our hands as well as our wallets to provide for street people. There are a million ways to render assistance to Jesus as he describes himself here. All involve sacrifice. Lent is the time to figure out and to do what we can.