photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

What Will Be Your Lenten Legacy?

“Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

These powerful words that are the traditional blessing with ashes at the start of Lent remind us of our mortality as we embark on our annual 40-day journey of sacrifice with Christ from the cross to the glory of resurrection.

On Ash Wednesday, we often talk among friends and family about what we will be “giving up” for Lent; often candy or television for children, sometimes alcohol or fast food for adults. While this discipline helps us develop a deeper appreciation for sacrifice, our efforts should also have a tangible impact on relieving the suffering of others. “Giving up” our favorite things is a good start, but a Lenten journey of giving on behalf of others is truly a way for us to follow Our Lord.

When we commit to volunteering, we fully live our faith.  Whether at a food bank, tax-preparation workshop, early childhood education center, or spending time with mentally disabled young adults, giving up our time not only strengthens our own connection to Christ, but has a lasting impact on the lives of those around us.

In the faces of those we encounter, we see the face of Christ.  In his Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI said that charity for others must be a necessary part of our lives – “Faith is genuine only if crowned by charity.” By turning our attention to the needs of others and welcoming the stranger in our midst, we can learn the true meaning and connection between faith and service.

It may seem like a small step, but making service a core part of our Lenten journey can be life-changing. We may never see the results, but our willingness to serve can show our commitment to the dignity and value of our neighbors in need. Last year our Catholic Charities network was blessed to coordinate more than 9.5 million hours of volunteer service around the country, each hour an individual act of giving back that, when put together, helped our agencies in their vital work of serving more than 14 million clients. When we commit ourselves to acting anew, we know that, in the words of Dorothy Day, “We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world.”

When we are called from this life, we leave behind the impact we’ve had on others. By making this Lent a time of giving back by serving others, we can take steps towards ensuring our legacy is one of help and hope.

Our Lenten journey is a way of taking stock in what matters against the backdrop of our own finite years on Earth. I can think of no better Lenten act than that of “giving up” my time to help those in need and I invite you to do the same.  Together we can establish a legacy of service this Lenten season.