Today marks the First Sunday of Lent, bringing the Church more deeply into the season of preparation, prayer, fasting and alms-giving.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archbishop of Los Angeles, offers an inspiring Lenten Message for 2010 on his blog – yes the Cardinal has a blog, one of three blogging bishops that I’m aware of (Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg and Archbishop Dolan of New York are the other two).  His message, framed around the burden many are feeling because of the economy, centered on a strong call to alms for Catholic schools:

As we enter our annual Lenten journey, I would strongly recommend that all of us continue our traditional Lenten practices: increased prayer, appropriate fasting, and continued almsgiving. But this year, I would suggest that you consider making a donation during Lent to your parish school to enable a family unable to pay the tuition to have their son or daughter continue forward in that Catholic school. If your own parish school does not have this need, then there are many parish schools in each sector of our Archdiocese who could benefit from your Lenten charity.

I can think of no finer way to direct this year’s Lenten charitable giving than to those families who truly desire a sound Catholic education for their children but simply cannot afford it.

The second half of his message encourages the Church to be mindful of the “immigrants living in our midst.”

This reminds me of an incredible fact.  LA is home to over 1,000,000 Latino children, by far the largest number in any major metropolitan area, and LA’s Catholic Schools have 10’s of thousands of empty seats.  The Cardinal’s two apparently independent themes are actually quite related.

If the Church is going to succeed in serving the Hispanic and immigrant communities, it must increase Latino participation in Catholic schools, so effective in providing faith formation and bridging the Latino achievement gap.  A big part of accomplishing this will require making Catholic schools more accessible and affordable to low income families.  For more on this read the outstanding report from Notre Dame on increasing Latino participation in Catholic schools, and the efforts of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign.

This Lent, may we all grow in charity and commitment to serving God’s children, especially by supporting the gift of Catholic schools and their accessibility to all.