As I talk to those who have turned away from religion what they seem to be turned off by are those within the Church who have confused holiness with piety. After Vatican Ii in far too many parishes in thr US piety was scoffed at as some outdated relic from a bygone era. Lately the younger generation of Catholics have rediscovered many of the traditional forms of piety. The problem seems to be a disconnect between piety and true holiness. The missing link — conversion, a real change of life.
In today's gospel we hear the famous passage from Matthew about the final judgement.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me drink,a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’...Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.
It is the basis for what is called the "preferential option for the poor." St. John Paul II wrote eloquently about the required conversion in Centesimus Annus:
Justice will never be fully attained unless people see in the poor person, who is asking for help in order to survive, not an annoyance or a burden, but an opportunity for showing kindness and a chance for greater enrichment. Only such an awareness can give the courage needed to face the risk and the change involved in every authentic attempt to come to the aid of another. It is not merely a matter of "giving from one's surplus", but of helping entire peoples which are presently excluded or marginalized to enter into the sphere of economic and human development. For this to happen, it is not enough to draw on the surplus goods which in fact our world abundantly produces; it requires above all a change of life-styles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies."
Lent is a time filled with traditional prayer and piety. It is a great time to pray the stations of the cross, or simply sit in adoration before the blessed sacrament. But today's gospel reminds us that all such actions must always be accompanied by an openness of heart, a willingness to allow God to challenge every aspect of our lifestyle our politics, our world view. How much are any of us willing to truly put the poor ahead of ourselves.
We are all called to holiness. But the road to holiness is never painless. Perhaps it is time for each of us to honestly examine our attitudes toward those on the margins. If we are honest, we may not like what we find in our own hearts.