Lent is a time of penance. That means we give up things or habits we are attached to so that we can make room for better Christian habits. So, an ideal Lenten penance shouldn’t be something as simple as giving up chocolate, unless that will somehow make you a better disciple.
That doesn’t mean Lenten penances need to be complicated. In fact, they could easily come from practicing the works of mercy, which seem especially pertinent for this Jubilee Year. The Denver Catholic covered ways to practice the spiritual works of mercy during Advent. This Lent, let’s explore what opportunities our archdiocese offers for the corporal works of mercy.
Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and clothe the naked: Christ in the City
Christ in the City (CIC) is a Catholic service program in which college-age individuals learn to love, serve and know the poor. The implementation of this takes many forms, and many are open to the public. For example, CIC hosts a lunch in Capitol Hill Park every second Saturday. Volunteers bring and serve food and drinks, then mingle with the poor and homeless while eating. There is also a clothing distribution tent. CIC also hosts “streetwalks” on the 16th St. Mall, in which CIC missionaries and volunteers hand out items to the poor.
Tre Gross, a missionary with CIC, said that while meeting the material needs of the poor is important, CIC also wants to treat each person with dignity.
“It’s really easy to physically take care of the poor, but at the same time not encounter the person. So when you do the corporal works of mercy, we need to make sure that we as the laity are serving them as Jesus specifically told us to do in Matthew 25. You can’t love the poor if you don’t know them,” Gross said.
If scheduling restraints keep you from attending official CIC events, Gross recommends keeping simple things like hand warmers and soft snacks in your car to hand out to people on street corners.
If your personal safety will allow it, Gross also recommends asking the person their name and offering to pray for them.
Shelter the homeless: Samaritan House, Julia Greeley Home, other homeless shelters
While it probably isn’t practical for most Denver Catholics to invite the homeless to sleep in their guestroom, there are other ways to help the poor. For example, both Samaritan House and the Julia Greeley Home offer not only shelter, but tools to get people off the streets. You can support them by almsgiving, or by calling to ask about volunteer opportunities.
“Be in solidarity with our friends on the street. There’s a lot of different volunteer opportunities at the Samaritan House,” Gross said.
Visit the sick, ransom the captive: Mullen Home for the Aged
The traditional sense of ‘ransoming the captive’ meant visiting those in prison. While prison ministry is certainly still an option, one could also bring Communion to the homebound, work with addicts or donate books and puzzles to local mental health clinics.
Visiting nursing homes can straddle the line between visiting the sick and the imprisoned. For those who are bedridden and without families, visits are almost always welcome. Sister Mary Grace, lsp, of Mullen Home for the Aged said that these visits are good for the visitors, as well as the visited.
“There are lots of benefits. First is the joy that comes from knowing that you’re able to share joy with others. It helps you to not be too concerned about yourself. It also can help us because Jesus has a special love for the poor,” Sister Mary Grace said.
Bury the dead: Mt. Olivet and St. Simeon cemeteries, personal prayer
Pray for the dead. Pray especially for those who die on the streets and those who die alone. You can simply walk through Mt. Olivet and pray for the names you see.