Understanding Lent, with a little help from George

When I became a case manager with Catholic Charities’ regional office in Atlantic City 14 years ago, one of the first people to touch my life was George.

He’s at our office every few weeks. Usually he needs help filling out forms or understanding various social services. He’s 76 years old and can barely read. To be honest, he can be tiring at times.

But George is a gentle soul. He has always paid his own way, doing odd jobs to stay afloat. Even now it’s important for him to make a contribution and he bags groceries at a store. He wants to feel connected to something. On Valentine’s Day, his birthday, he brings us all cards at the office.

I see Lent as a journey, a time in the life cycle of the church uniquely dedicated to assessing my relationship with God. Lent is a time to build my spiritual muscle through prayer, fasting and almsgiving so that I’m able, through God’s grace, to continue to meet George each day with love and patience.

What I realize is that by living the call, especially during Lent, to love my neighbor, God is helping me grow into the person he wants me to be.

My experiences with George have taught me to be patient, to actually listen to what his needs are at that present moment, to not push him aside, and to just to accept him for who he is.

That’s why I don’t see Lent as a hard time, a time for lowering my eyes and dwelling on the things I may be denying myself, but a time of joy and hope. I enter each Lent with the joyful expectation that it will culminate in a new and deeper understanding of what’s most important in life.

Lent, for me, is an opportunity to dig deep, and, with God’s mercy, to confront those things that may be hindering me from that deeper relationship; things like anger, anxiety, pride, gossip, not treating my neighbor as Christ would, or accepting the excesses around me as normal. Through my encounters with the “Georges” Catholic Charities serves, I’ve had to confront those things and it’s led me to a deeper understanding of myself and God.

That’s the goal of the Lenten journey, and each of us, no matter our occupation, has that opportunity in each of our day-to-day interactions: to reach out with patience and understanding to the “Georges” in our lives.

My prayer is that this Lent is a time when I recognize every “George” God places in my path and allow him to teach me the ways God wants me to grow; that I will welcome George—Christ—at the door.

Nancy Hickman is site coordinator, Atlantic County Family and Community Services Center.

Catholic Charities is supported by the House of Charity — Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

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