There was once a very austere man who let no food or drink pass his lips while the sun was in the heavens. In what seemed to be a sign of heavenly approval for his austerities, a bright star shone on top of a nearby mountain, visible to everyone in broad daylight, though no one knew what brought the star there.
One day the man decided to climb the mountain. A little village girl insisted on going with him. The day was warm and soon the two were thirsty. He urged the child to drink but she said she would not unless he drank too. The poor man was in a quandary. He hated to break his fast; but he hated to see the child suffer from thirst. Finally, he drank. And the child with him.
For a long time he dared not look up the sky, for he feared the star had gone. So imagine his surprise when, on looking up after a while, he saw two stars shining brightly above the mountains.
This issue we continue our reflection on the second pillar of Lent called almsgiving referring generally to doing works of charity especially to the needy (there are three pillars namely, fasting/abstinence, almsgiving and prayer). And I chose this story from de Mello to start our reflection so that we may see its connection with fasting and our Lenten penances. That fasting can become more meaningful when it bears fruit in works of charity. As one priest has said “our fasting must go deeper than our hearts, leading us to dig deeper into our pockets.”
One of the practices that the church is encouraging us during this year of the Great Jubilee is to make a pilgrimage. The church offers us a lot of possibilities for this in order to gain for ourselves a plenary indulgence, the forgiveness of the temporal consequence of sin. One may go to Rome and visit the tomb of Peter and the other basilicas there. One may also go to the Holy Land and retrace the steps of Jesus. Another possibility is to visit the major Marian shrines in the world like Lourdes in France. Or we may go to one of the five pilgrimage sites in archdiocese. Through all these the church has indeed opened her doors wider by creating conditions and making them readily available and reachable for all so that the power of salvation may be shared by all.
However there is one other pilgrimage which the church considers dear – visiting our brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty. And this visitation is done “as if making a pilgrimage to Christ present in them.”(Incarnationis Mysterium) When we visit the sick, when we extend help to the handicap, when we encourage those imprisoned, when we make an effort to visit and assist the elderly, it is as if we are going to Rome or retracing the steps of Jesus in the Holy City of Jerusalem. When you donate a proportionate sum of money for the poor, when we support the Alay Kapwa Program of the Archdiocese, when we volunteer ourselves, our time and resources to projects which directly support young people in trouble like the Bantay Bata program, or support the work of Asilo de Molo, its as if we are doing a pilgrimage to Lourdes and Fatima. When we devote a suitable portion of our personal free time to activities benefiting our parishes and our communities like giving catechesis to children and adults during the Flores de Mayo, or giving pre-baptismal and Pre-Cana seminars in our parish, when we get involved in the work of evangelization in our parish its as if we have jetsetted to Rome, the Holy Land, the Marian sites and the pilgrimage sites of the archdiocese without living home. (That includes writing articles for Candle Light!) In these pilgrimages you don’t have to spend much, you just have to love much – to go through all these activities as if making a pilgrimage to Christ present in this people we help and the people we reach out to. You don’t have to be rich either!
Almsgiving is a pilgrimage – it is a pilgrimage to Jesus in the poor and the needy, a pilgrimage to the Father’s home where a brother and sister in need are given preferential treatment by all. It is a pilgrimage to the very heart of the mystery of the church where no one is so poor that he has nothing to give or so rich that he has nothing to receive.
As we move deeper into Lent let us for a while pause and pray:
Lord, forgive us, forgive us when we look for you in beautiful cathedrals and in the ornate altars of our churches and not see you in the eyes of a child in shabby clothes and unkempt hair. Lord, forgive us when we search for you in dancing suns and weird cloud formations and not see you in the lonely hearts of the elderly, the handicapped and the sick. Lord, forgive us when we go on pilgrimages to shrines and not recognize you enshrined in the sufferings of the hungry and the needy.
This Lent go on a pilgrimage, make pilgrimages to Jesus enshrined in the hearts of people. You don’t have to travel far. And as you walk along this path to Christ you may want to look up the heavens and see not one but two stars.