Lenten sacrifice can benefit Mississippi’s poor

Complete the circle
By George Evans
As Lent begins what do we do about Lenten practices, deeper conversion, spiritual growth, salvation. The Scripture readings from the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday bear some reflection.
Mark 10:17-27 presents the story of the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He has kept the Commandments from his youth. Jesus looked at him lovingly and said “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The young man went away sad, for he had many possessions.
The disciples were amazed when Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” Is our reaction not the same? The world tells us just the opposite. Wealth makes us happy. Things satisfy us and money lets us buy them. New cars free us and extravagant resorts pamper us. But Jesus tells us simply that neither wealth nor anything else from ourselves can possibly save us. Salvation is only possible for God.
Lent asks us to embrace this reality. We must choose God or mammon. We can’t have both. But isn’t that exactly what we want, to have both? Isn’t that our struggle, our daily temptation?
Thank God we are all still works in progress and God knows that and is merciful. He sent his son to make salvation a true possibility for us. We couldn’t do it on our own. Lent is a perfect time to embrace Jesus in order to be saved. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are traditional and proven practices to open us to embrace Jesus, to choose God over mammon.
Serving the poor among us never fails to get us out of ourselves so that we touch Jesus in the poor and thereby choose God rather than mammon. We leave a little of our selfishness behind and perhaps open ourselves enough for Jesus to come in and help our conversion to continue to mature.
Giving up something for Lent is another tried-and-true practice for deeper conversion and spiritual growth preparing us step by step for God’s salvation. Make it hurt a little. It may be alcohol if you drink or sugar if you overeat or whatever needs work in your particular situation. Make it very positive by giving the extra money saved to Catholic Relief Service (CRS) Rice Bowl. CRS serves the poor and desperate in 100 countries throughout the world and leaves 25 percent of the Rice Bowl collection in the diocese to aid the poor at home. This too is a choice of God over mammon and a step toward salvation.
In Mark’s Gospel (10:28-31) Peter, somewhat pleading, tells Jesus “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus lovingly reassures Peter and us. “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age….and eternal life in the age to come.”
Lent is the perfect time for each of us to respond more fully to Jesus’ call. He has promised us if we live our lives for the sake of the Gospel and choose him rather than mammon, we will not only have eternal life but will also be blessed NOW a hundred fold. The Kingdom begins NOW when we choose the Lord over mammon. Lent is a great time to do what is necessary to finalize that choice. We have Jesus’ promise if we do. We have his help to do it.
(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister and member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)