Today the Lent Book Series features Sue Wozniak (writing about one of my recent favorite books!).
Ever since last Lent, I have been thinking about doing something different for Lent this year. Sure, I will do the usual fast, abstinence, and daily Mass attendance as often as I can.
But that “giving up” thing just doesn’t seem to work for me anymore. What is left to give up? We watch what we eat so sweets and desserts are already gone. We are not big drinkers and I don’t smoke. We eat as little fatty food as possible. So giving up is not really a sacrifice.
I heard a great homily last year during Lent. Fr. John Alt at St. Rita in the Desert parish in Vail, Arizona, spoke about almsgiving as an alternative to “giving up.” He encouraged his parishioners to focus on one of the Corporal Works of Mercy each week of Lent. That concept appealed to me but I didn’t do much with it last year.
This year, I was determined to try to perform at least one of the Corporal Works of Mercy each week during Lent. I was looking for something to read during Lent that would inspire me to achieve my goal. I found a great book that has given me just what I need: Mercy in the City: How to How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job by Kerry Weber.
I wanted practical advice on how to carry out the Works of Mercy in everyday life, especially some of the more difficult ones such as “freeing the Imprisoned.” I mean really, how is someone like me a supposed to free a prisoner?
Kerry Weber, the author of Mercy in the City, is a twentysomething young woman, who lives and works in New York City. She writes about her journey during Lent to complete all the Corporal Works of Mercy. While she and I are very different ( she is a writer, I am a retiree), I found that her approach and the story of her journey during Lent was just what I was looking for.
As Weber looks for ways to carry out the Corporal Works, she learns that there are many creative solutions to each of the them. She learns to look at people on the subway—actually look them in the face. She reflects that street people are someone’s father, brother, mother, sister, child. They are human beings. We have a tendency not to look, and not want to see people on the street.
In the past year, I seem to see more and more people begging on street corners. It is probably because I have spent quite a bit of time in some major cities, such as Chicago, Tucson, and Anaheim. But they are on the corners of Peoria too. I have always wondered, do I give them money? Will they just spend it on drugs and alcohol? I give to Catholic Charities and Salvation Army so that is what I can do. But, really, I see now that is not really giving enough of myself to “feed the hungry.” Weber’ has similar questions and she observes that one of those people on the street might be Jesus. She thinks she can share half of her sandwich with someone; she volunteers at a bread line.
Throughout the book, Weber describes each Corporal Work of Mercy and how she approached them. She writes to a chaplain at San Quentin and eventually visits the prison and interviews some of the prisoners. She realizes that many of the prisoners are good men who have done bad things. The chaplain conducts religious education programs within the prison. She discusses meeting these men and learning their stories.
While I am not planning to visit San Quentin, my brother recently asked if some of the family could write to a prisoner at Menard. So I will begin my actions by writing this man a letter telling him that God does love him and that we are thinking about him. I have begun taking dollars bills and placing them in a part of my purse that I can reach easily and will be dropping them in the can as I pass a homeless person on the street. So what if they don’t buy food with it, it really might be Jesus and I will look the person in the eye and say “get yourself something to eat.”
I plan to keep a journal during Lent about my own reflections and spiritual growth as I carry out the Corporal Works of Mercy. I hope that I can continue by regularly volunteering at the food pantry or at Hospice after Lent is over. I pray that I am successful in giving of my inner self to those in need and showing others God’s love through my actions.
Sue Wozniak is the retired Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL. Sue has been married to Ken for 46 years. They have five children and four grandchildren. She is a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Peoria.