In response to the three pillars offered as guidance by the Church for Lent, area faithful are engaging in activities to draw closer to God as they embark on their journey toward Holy Week.
To prepare for Easter, the General Instruction of the Roman Calendar describes Lent as a season in which “both catechumens and the faithful celebrate the paschal mystery: catechumens, through the several stages of Christian initiation; the faithful, through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices.”
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he encourages the faithful to “pray without ceasing” and today many faithful deepen their prayer life during Lent. Catholics are also encouraged to follow fasting guidelines to emulate Christ’s preparation in the desert for his public ministry (Luke 4). The third pillar, almsgiving, is promoted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops during Lent as something the faithful “are asked to focus more intently on … donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity.”
Almsgiving, fasting and prayer are each referenced in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 25. The practices are very personal, yet almsgiving often has implications for benefiting others.
People ranging from students to seniors assist neighbors in need through acts of charity in Northwest Indiana. Organizations such as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Gary, New Creation of Valparaiso and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, District Council of Gary, provide a structure in which individuals can help support those who feel the economic pressure of inflation or the prohibitive costs of housing.
One recent charitable effort coordinated by St. John Bosco school administrators resulted in student donations totaling several boxes of personal care and snack items. The almsgiving reflected the Catholic Schools Week theme of “United in Faith and Community.”
“We have many in our community who are in need,” explained SJB principal Nancy Repay. “When we take the cause to the students and families, the response is overwhelming.”
The distribution of the goods came in time for the start of the Lenten season. “The amount of need today we may not realize … They tend to hide it,” Repay said.
Also in Hammond, a youth-led initiative has directly helped the hungry served at a downtown soup kitchen. Bishop Noll Institute students’ commitment to almsgiving involved collecting cases of bottled water and snacks to be included in to-go bags given to the hungry through St. Joseph church’s Manna for Hammond ministry.
Bob Homrich, BNI class of 1967, applauded the charitable efforts of those attending his alma mater. He can’t readily donate his time, as he resides in Texas, so he has continued a 15-year tradition which has amounted to more than just peanuts.
“Peanut butter is high in protein and is really accessible to a lot of people. It lasts a long time and is shelf stable,” Homrich said of his charitable focus. “I thought, ‘I can’t (solve hunger) worldwide or across the country, so why don’t I just do something at the school level?’ So, I challenged the students.”
Each year during Catholic Schools Week, the Warriors host a peanut butter drive. Last year the students collected more than 1,400 containers and donated them to the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. To encourage the students’ almsgiving, Homrich pledges to match the dollar amount of the peanut butter gathered and contributes it to BNI’s annual fund.
“I think Lent is a good time for charity because we know what it leads up to – the Lord giving up His life,” Homrich said. “What greater sacrifice is there than that?”
Many believers in Valparaiso – both Catholic and Protestant – have been taking aim at hunger and homelessness. Multi-church networks have maintained an effective food pantry ministry in the city. A growing initiative to give men temporary shelter has also been built upon the commitment of concerned residents.
Christ Lutheran Church of Valparaiso parishioner Donald MacMillan believes serving the hungry and homeless is part of putting his beliefs into action.
As a coordinator for Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS), he volunteers to help with supervisory needs for the group that is based on a nationwide model for assisting at-risk men 18 and older to gain shelter as they get back on their feet.
“I would categorize this as living out my faith,” MacMillan said. “Christ Lutheran is one of the churches that host the (homeless) men on one night a week. We include an evening meal and we provide them with breakfast.”
MacMillan said PADS is part of the umbrella of ministries within New Creation. Ecumenical cooperation has enabled more Valparaiso residents to participate in almsgiving.
“That’s what we need. In an era when there is all kinds of infighting (in politics), we are much better off to work together,” MacMillan said. “I think we have a lot more in common than we have differences.”
Also in Valparaiso, Father Douglas Mayer, pastor of St. Paul church, is impressed and often “speechless” over how his parishioners step up when the call goes out to help the least of His people whose “expenses are outpacing them.”
“We’ve got the clothing center year-round, we’ve got seasonal food (drives) around the holidays, but then throughout the year we’re supporting the Valparaiso food pantry,” said Father Mayer of the ecumenical Christian Food Pantry. Additionally, the priest said for more than 60 years some parishioners have been putting their faith in action through almsgiving that extends across states. An ongoing partnership with a Morehead, Kentucky church has sent thousands of dollars to assist the distressed area.
Though St. Paul has some limitations to hosting certain initiatives, the pastor said he will, “Continue to bring it before our community that the churches that are hosting the homeless need volunteers and cooks.”
As Christians prepare to mark the events leading to Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, many locals are taking seriously the directive of almsgiving. And they try to work, pray and fast without a “gloomy face,” as Matthew’s gospel references, but rather lend an ear and a smile.
“I’m impressed with St. Vincent de Paul here,” said Father Mayer, of the organization which garnered $140,000 in donations from parishioners. “The founder (of the international organization) believed that people should go out two-by-two as Jesus taught and not just take the call, but visit the people and listen to their stories. Understand where they are struggling and see if anyone can help them.”
For more information or to donate time, talent or treasure, call Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) at (219) 921-4305; call Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Gary at (219) 886-3549 or visit catholic-charities.org; call the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, District Council of Gary at (219) 845-7531 or visit societyofstvincentdepauldistri.com.
Caption: Encouraging almsgiving, St. John Bosco principal Nancy Repay (left) and SJB pastor Father Jeffrey Burton (right) praise students Jennifer Loza and Diego Duron for their efforts during a Catholic Schools Week personal care items drive for the needy on Feb. 2 in Hammond. The principal said the successful endeavor, led by the students with a sense of charity, will help assist the growing number of local residents experiencing financial strain. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)