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Tips for Lent from Isaiah – Fr John McCarthy

In a recent Sunday Gospel Jesus tells us: ’You are the light of the world.’ The first reading from the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament on that Sunday also tells us of seven ways in which we can be a light to others. There are seven practical things all of us can do – and these are the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective Christians’ – based on a book entitled ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’ We can attend to the habits one day per week – or one week for each of the weeks of Lent.

I thought it might be helpful to make the text available and perhaps can be used as material for Lent beginning on March 1st as seven practical things we can do for Lent.

HABIT 1 (day one/week one): ‘Share your bread with the hungry’

This means that we should take a good hard look at our food budget and trim the possibility of waste and throwing out food on the one hand, and avoid overspending and gluttony on the other. We should look at the cupboard and start at last to cook with what we have. We must look to our cramped freezers and start to defrost and eat the dinners we have stored over the past six months. We must spend only in order to use up what we have before the next major food buy. Non-perishables and money saved can be given to the poor, but we should try to factor in the hungry in our budget all the time – give to a soup kitchen or food charity.

HABIT 2 (day two/week two): ‘Shelter the homeless poor’

The plight of homelessness is a blight in our society. Hardly a week goes by when we do not hear of another scandal involving unoccupied houses owned by the banks and at the same time the increase of rent prices and the abandonment of homes by people who have fallen on hard times. It is a scandal that there are tens of thousands of unoccupied homes in our country while people die from exposure on our streets. And what have we done? Have we given to a homeless charity? Have we lobbied politicians and others who represent us? Politicians will only act and really show practical care when we do.

HABIT 3 (day three/week three): ‘Clothe the man you see to be naked’

Well, we go back now to our homes and our bulging wardrobes and closets. It’s time to get rid of half of our clothing and blankets, everything we haven’t worn in the last two years, I suggest. Not to make way for more clothing to fill the gap, mind! We can’t complain that ‘we have nothing to wear’ when there are others who can genuinely say it.

HABIT 4 (day four/week four): ‘Do not turn from your own kin’

We have heard the expression ‘charity begins at home’, and this is so true. Our charity is a pretence if we ignore the needs of our own family such as a needy parent or grandparent, a brother or sister in financial difficulty, and so on. Turning your back is a refusal to see them, literally. There are two directions of course – if we are the guilty party in a misunderstanding we should try to make an effort to seek forgiveness; on the other hand if they are guilty of wrongdoing we should at least keep the lines of communication open to them in the hope of reconciliation. In all instances pray for them.

HABIT 5 (day five/week five): ‘Do away with the yoke and give relief to the oppressed’

This means to forgive debts and to unburden people of what weighs them down – we can of course give material relief to bail people out of debt – and give to relief agencies caring for refugees for example, but I think also at a local level of what it means to bear one another’s burdens. How many people ‘out there’ need to unburden themselves of pain of problems, of worry, anxiety, loneliness, depression? All they ask for is a listening ear and the time we can spare to sit down and really listen.

HABIT 6 (day six/week six): ‘[Do away with] the clenched fist’

This means extending our hand – in friendship and also doing away with anger, hatred, resentment, and begin the process of healing. It means no more displays of temper and impatience or acting out of spitefulness or mean spiritedness. Unclenching our fists means letting go.

HABIT 7 (day seven/week seven): ‘[Do away with] the wicked word’

Of the thousands of words we utter each day (about, or to, others) how many of them are kind and necessary or out of generous selfless concern for another person? How many of them, by way of contrast, are gossipy, slanderous, malicious, back-biting or answering back? We all talk about others. It is unavoidable in itself. But I suppose a good measure of what I say about others or the manner I say it is how comfortable I would be if they walked in on the conversation unexpectedly? The positive words I say can increase the light in me and others while negativity can diminish the light within.

Now let us look at the reading on its entirety:

Isaiah 58:7-10

Thus says the Lord:
Share your bread with the hungry,
and shelter the homeless poor,
clothe the man you see to be naked
and do not turn from your own kin.
THEN WILL YOUR LIGHT SHINE LIKE THE DAWN
and your wound be quickly healed over.
Your integrity will go before you
and the glory of the Lord behind you.
Cry, and the Lord will answer;
call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’
If you do away with the yoke,
the clenched fist, the wicked word,
if you give your bread to the hungry,
and relief to the oppressed,
YOUR LIGHT WILL RISE IN THE DARKNESS,
AND YOUR SHADOWS BECOME LIKE NOON.

The good we do can make up now for the wounds we have caused by sin – by our neglect of God’s precepts and our failure to be a light in the past.

Finally, the funny thing about light of course is that it must have a source – and that is Christ the light of the world, and also that light reflects, lights up, is diffused. Light as a form of energy can neither be created nor destroyed but transformed into another form of energy so the light I radiate – received from Christ in prayer – can light up the darkness in others’ lives – and they in turn can be a light to others. SO LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE [THIS LENT!]

– Fr John McCarthy, Adm. Cobh.

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