To take up our Lenten practice this year in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we face a unique challenge in this call to make room for God. In recent months and in different parts of the world, we have seen the escalation of strong sentiments against immigrants. These sentiments appear to be mounting in our own country as well. How might our various Lenten practices such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, our effort to empty ourselves so as to make room for God, relate to the complex reality of immigration, especially in the face of increasing hostility toward immigrants? Pope Benedict XVI’s first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”) is helpful to us here. Writing on love as the heart of the Christian faith, our Holy Father says:
…if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be devout and to perform my ‘religious duties,’ then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely ‘proper’ but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me…Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment…No longer is it a question, then, of a ‘commandment’ imposed from without calling for the impossible, but…a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others (Deus Caritas Est no. 18).
To the question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer is clear. As his disciples, we are called to attend to the last, littlest, lowest and least in society and in the Church. This Lenten season, join me in committing our Lenten practices to making room for the stranger in our midst, praying for the courage and strength to offer our spiritual and pastoral ministry to all who come to us, offering our prayer and support for the ones in our midst who, like Jesus, have no place to rest their heads (Matthew 8:20).
– Cardinal Roger Mahony, Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, in his Lenten message, “Making Room.”