By Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M.

Some years ago, I became acquainted with “Chocolate for Lent” by Hilary Brand. The book is based on the 2000 Academy Award best picture nominee “Chocolat.” During this Lenten season, some of us may have given up something – cola, smoking, desserts… chocolate! And as the Easter Vigil starts, the self-sacrifice discipline may be put aside until the next Lent.

The plot in “Chocolat” starts in 1959 when Vianne Rocher and her young daughter arrive in a rural French village and open a chocolate shop during Lent. The town, suspicious of the strangers, is advised by the mayor not to go into the chocolate shop. Vianne is further ostracized when she befriends a group of river gypsies. In the midst of all, many villagers start sharing their troubled spirits with Vianne as they enjoy her delicious chocolate creations. Through chocolate, listening and empathy she was able to welcome all who came to her. Her shop was open to everyone – even to those who were trying to exile her.

In order to reach out to those most in need, our bishops have inspired us to respond to the cry of our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Two of them will be travelling to Haiti to assess personally the long-term needs of the Church there. Our God, who is love, impels us to reach out to others in mutual giving and receiving. For it is in the love and service we offer to others – especially the most abandoned – that we probe how we have been created in the likeness of God.

This is why the Catholic Church is supportive of immigrants, refugees and other people on the margins. In their efforts to reach out to all, some of us may not be aware that our bishops in the United States are concerned about the pastoral well being of circus and carnival workers, seafarers, people passing through airports, airport workers, even racetrack workers, car racers and bull riders.

Such ministries carried out often in obscurity witness to the evangelization nature of the Church by going beyond the established structures in order to respond to unique circumstances and needs (Allan Figueroa Deck).

In “Chocolat,” during the Easter liturgy the young priest says, “We’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, by what we create and who we include.”

During this Lenten season, as we prepare to rejoice in the life of the Risen Lord, who do we find acceptable to be invited at our table and who do we keep out? What are our efforts to reach out to our brothers and sisters who may not fit under the established structure of our parish, school, community?

May our external discipline be an expression of our inner conversion in the likeness of Christ.

Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M., is the director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization in Philadelphia.