Lent comes early this year. In fact, next week, February 18, is Ash Wednesday and Lent begins.

Lent reminds us that our Christian life is a journey that we are making with Jesus Christ. 

During Lent, are more conscious that we are following Jesus on his way to the Cross, carrying our own crosses along with him. We are trying in these 40 days to share in some of his sufferings. So we fast and pray, and we make sacrifices and deny ourselves — just as Jesus did. 

Every Lent gives us a new opportunity to be more serious about our personal conversion to Christ, more serious about becoming the people that God wants us to be. The traditional practices of Lent — fasting, prayer, penance and almsgiving — are all meant to strengthen us in our identity as children of God and followers of Jesus.

So during Lent, we can try to come to daily Mass and we can go to confession. We can make sacrifices and try to take care of others — maybe by visiting our neighbors or family members who are sick and elderly, or maybe by finding more time to be with our children or our spouses. 

We live Lent in our families and Lent unites our families with families around the world. These are 40 days that we share with Catholics everywhere.

It is beautiful to think that we are living these beautiful practices that we have in unity with the whole Catholic Church — praying the Rosary together as a family, the Stations of the Cross, all the little sacrifices and practices of piety that help us to grow in our faith. 

Lent is a time of solidarity, a time for renewing the bonds that unite us to others — not only in our families and in our parishes, but also with our neighbors. 

Solidarity is not just a feeling, it has to be lived and shown in practical, real actions of serving others. 

For many years now, during Lent, we have been participating in the “Rice Bowl” program sponsored by the U.S. Bishops’ international aid organization, Catholic Relief Services.

The program is one beautiful way for your Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving to make a difference in the lives of those in need. 

Another way we show our solidarity is through participation in the Together in Mission program, our annual appeal that begins each Lent and is used to fund our poorest parishes and schools. Your generous gifts to Together in Mission serve more than 175,000 families and they are a wonderful sign of your Christian love. 

In his Lenten message for this year, Pope Francis sets out a strong vision for living out our solidarity with others during this holy season.  

He writes: “Every Christian community is called to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away. … We can help by acts of charity, reaching out to both those near and far through the Church’s many charitable organizations. Lent is a favorable time for showing this concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family.”

Jesus gave us the call to go out all over the world to share with everyone the beauty of our Catholic faith. We can do this in little things — listening to others, serving others in daily life at home or at work. 

The call of Jesus is a beautiful call and that’s why Lent is a joyful time. Because we have the opportunity to make real efforts to love one another — especially the poorest and the weakest members of our human family.  

So let us pray for each other this week, as we begin this special time of grace. May this Lent bring us all closer to God and closer to one another. May we see that solidarity is part of our Catholic faith and find new practical ways of sharing the love of God with everybody. 

And let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, to accompany us on our Lenten journey. 

May she help us to grow in our sense of solidarity, that we may see in every one we meet a member of our own family, a brother or a sister. 

For more information on Together in Mission, visit ourmissionla.org. For free materials and more information on Rice Bowl, visit crsricebowl.org