Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021.

Commitment to a cause. If there is anything I have felt over the past few months of the pandemic it has been the challenge of feeling disconnected from those I love and care about. And that is despite the fact I live in a larger community with twenty other friars. I can only imagine the tremendous challenges for those who are not so fortunate.

What is clear from so much data is that we are feeling alone. Despite unbelievable technology that allows us to see each other in video calls, to text instantaneously, to send emails, call and more, we have learned that this is simply not the same. There is no replacing face-to-face communication.

Even when we could go pretty much anywhere we wished, it was still more than possible to get wrapped up only in our selves. In fact, increasing issues with mental health have been a problem long before COVID. It is important that we turn away from our own little world and to reach out to seek others.

If Lent should do anything for us, it should help us to love God and love neighbor more and more. As I look at the ways I keep myself distracted by spending too much time on silly things, I have decided to seek out a cause. What can I do that connects me to others more fully?

While opportunities may be limited due to COVID, it is still the case we can find ways to turn outside of ourselves. Does your parish have any ways you could reach out to commit to serving others? If not, imagine the joy you could bring if you reached out to a local nursing home to send cards? Imagine how you could impact people if they knew you were making special time to pray for them by name?  Is it the case you could eat more simply and donate proceeds to a food bank? Might you work harder to find ways to support local businesses that have suffered because of the pandemic? The local library where I live has a program where you can read via ZOOM to small children?

It is a good start to think of committing to a cause for Lent, even if that is the only amount of time you commit. As I examine my life, I know there is more time I can devote to things that really matter. Where can I add more time for prayer? In what ways can I connect more with those in need? How concretely can I listen to people that think differently than I do? What local agencies could I connect with to make my neighborhood a better place?

If there is a need I can identify, a cause that we all need to commit to, it is the cause of promoting again civil dialogue. I do not believe we are as divided as we are led to believe. But I do know that too often in my life I write off people who think differently than I do, and often it is without a clear idea or understanding of what they mean.

So, I have decided to seek out people that think differently than I do, to ask them what they believe and what they believe about issues I know we disagree on. Then, I summarize what I think it is they have said and ask them if I can ask them questions about my summary if it is correct. At no point will I pick a fight, but rather seek to understand. A few people I have reached out to have already started this process with me.

My feeling is that if I can get better at this, than it shows I might also get better at listening to God. And others. And maybe start a small movement of people committed to do the same. But my focus is on myself and my ability to better understand others. Tomorrow I will examine what it might mean to think boldly about how your Lenten penance could become really lifechanging for you and for your relationship with God.

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