Journeying through Lent with Catholic Social Teaching

povertyusa 7One of my favorite parts of my job as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development Intern for the Archdiocese of Seattle is the work that I get to do around education and outreach on Catholic social teaching.

At the core of Catholic social teaching is the belief that all people are made in the image of God who desires to pour forth love into the world. So, to begin this conversation with students, I often like to begin with a seemingly simple question: “Who is God? What is God like?”

Responses are often straightforward and profound: “God is present in everyone.” “God is caring and loving.” “God’s image looks like us.” “God is like a friend to me.”

When we live into our authentic call as children of God, attentive to the ways the Holy Spirit is already at work in the world, these are characteristics we are invited to model.  We are called to be caring and loving, brave and powerful, like a friend, vessels of love and justice in the world.

And yet, as Pope Francis reminds us in his Lenten message: “The root of all evil, as we know, is sin, which from its first appearance has disrupted our communion with God, others and creation itself.”

When students are asked to brainstorm ways that life is threatened in their schools, communities, and the world, responses cover the spectrum of our shared brokenness: “Racism.” “Bullying and bad friends.” “School shootings.” “Family and school drama.” “Lack of opportunity.” “Gun violence.” “Discrimination.” “Climate change.”

As we move towards the end of this Lenten season, we know sin. We see sin’s destructive power in our lives, in broken relationships with friends and family, in the toxic and debilitating forces of shame and self-criticism, in gossip and untruths. We know sin in our communities and in our world; In the heart-breaking injustices of racism, hatred, poverty, and inequity. We both participate in and are harmed by broken systems and structures in our country and our Church. We know sin all too well.

In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus says: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). It is difficult to look at the world through God’s eyes of compassion. It is difficult to acknowledge our own sinfulness and the ways that we perpetuate systems of harm.

Similarly, our Lenten practices can sometimes be uncomfortable. We experience hunger during our fasting. We may experience awkwardness or discomfort in trying a new prayer practice.  It is also true that embodying the invitation of Catholic social teaching can sometimes be a challenge. It is hard to consider our lives as deeply interconnected to the well-being of our neighbor, and it is challenging to know how to act out of this.

Organizations funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) work to address the systemic roots of poverty in our communities. We must each confront the ways in which we have allowed systems and structures to perpetuate the cycle of poverty. When we learn how to identify unjust systems that undermine the dignity of God’s children, we can more authentically live out our call to Catholic social teaching. The work of CCHD and the groups it funds is unique and often creative because it goes beyond a “helping” model and into developing creative and sustainable ways of making systemic change.

Rooted in Catholic social teaching, CCHD works to embrace in new ways the realities of the preferential option for the poor, the call to family, community, and participation, the life and dignity of the human person and solidarity. CCHD responds creatively to the invitation of Catholic social teaching to bring us back into right relationship with one another. It does this in new and creative ways, and in ways that may be challenging.

During Lent, we are invited to see differently, and then to act anew. We are also invited to see that God is working in new ways through CCHD to bring us back into relationship with one another.

As we continue to move through Lent towards the new life of Easter, the invitation and wisdom of Catholic social teaching, as embodied through CCHD, patiently awaits us: Come back to who God is, come back to who we are.

Going Deeper!

As we continue to journey through Lent, take a moment and reflect on how your choices and actions reflect our call to live in right relationship with our neighbors with this examination of conscience in light of Catholic Social Teaching (also available in Spanish). Afterward, learn more about the power and work of CCHD and find ways to get involved in your community.

Claire Lucas

Claire Lucas is a senior at Seattle University studying Psychology and Theology & Religious Studies, and is currently the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) intern at the Archdiocese of Seattle. A self-proclaimed Catholic social teaching nerd, Claire is passionate about fostering attentiveness to the signs of the times and building communities of loving solidarity via fair-trade coffee and spontaneous dance parties.

Walking with St. Oscar Romero: Sacred Heart School journeys from home to Rome

A few years ago, the Archdiocese of Washington invited us to “Walk with Francis” in honor of the pope’s visit to Washington, D.C. This year, Sacred Heart School has been walking with the newly canonized St. Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador and champion for peace and the poor who was martyred while celebrating Mass in 1980.

Sacred Heart School--photo of students with St. Romero and cranes - TGF use ONLYOur journey has taken us to the heart of the classroom and the Vatican, to Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador and to St. Romero’s nieces, and as far away as Norway. On March 20, 2019, in anticipation of St. Romero’s feast day (March 24), we celebrated a Mass with students from around the Archdiocese of Washington.

As we “Walk with St. Romero” this year, we reflect on his homilies, rejoice in his canonization, and try to live his legacy of justice and solidarity. In the weeks preceding his Oct. 14, 2018 canonization, students led morning prayer by introducing different quotes from Romero. Teachers also created lessons from the quotes. Middle school students, for example, reflected on Romero’s prophecy, “Each one of you has to be God’s microphone.” They put up a message board for people to comment on the meaning of this challenge. Second graders constructed a replica of Divine Providence Hospital and chapel, where Romero preached his last homily before being martyred during Mass on March 24, 1980.

The school also hosted a catechetical evening with parents. Students, dressed as Romero’s many siblings, assisted in the presentation. St. Romero’s actual brothers, Tiberio and Gaspar, attended the canonization in Rome. (Gaspar died last month at the age of 89).

In class and at the catechetical evening, students folded origami peace cranes that we sent to the canonization Mass at the Vatican. The colorful cranes had a bright yellow tag that read, “Sacred Heart School loves Romero. Send us a message about your connection to Romero or experience at the canonization….”

Five Sacred Heart School teachers, along with a group of parents and parishioners, served as the school’s ambassadors at the Vatican. We gave the origami cranes to pilgrims from around the world who came to experience Romero, Pope Paul VI, and five other witnesses become officially recognized saints. We also shared the cranes with Cardinal Rosa Chávez and two of Romero’s nieces from the saint’s hometown of Ciudad Barrios. The crane’s message included a QR code that allows us to see the country of origin of those who scan the code. Our cranes reached as far as the Salvadoran diaspora in Norway.

Another project that bridged home, Rome, and beyond was collecting the school community’s prayers. Our school’s director of religious education carried them in her backpack to the canonization Mass, a papal audience the following day, and to churches throughout Italy. A highlight for several members of the trip was praying for all of the students at the tomb of the Franciscan saint, Anthony of Padua. We lovingly left the prayers at his tomb then celebrated Mass.

Our celebrating continued with students from around the archdiocese on March 20 with a Mass in anticipation of St. Romero’s feast day (March 24). Our choir sang songs in honor of Romero. Our offertory collection supported local people in need with gifts of money and food. We reflected on the same readings that St. Romero celebrated with during his last Mass: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).

St. Oscar Romero is legendary for many members of our community, especially those with Salvadoran roots and those who seek solidarity with them. His canonization provides a special opportunity to explore his prophetic path and challenges us to walk this same holiness. We hope in this Paschal season of dying and rising that you too will walk with St. Romero. As the saint preached in his last homily, “We know that every effort to improve society…is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God requires of us.”

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Cinnamon Sarver serves as the director of religious education at Sacred Heart School.  She has theology degrees from Boston College and the University of Notre Dame. Having traveled to El Salvador four times to research St. Romero’s life, she enjoys speaking and writing about his legacy.

 

This post was adapted for ToGoForth, and reprinted with the permission of the Catholic Standard. Read the original version at the Catholic Standard website and learn more about the March 20th mass honoring St. Oscar Romero

Encounter the Stranger this Lent

The Lenten season gives us the opportunity to encounter Christ in the desert. With him, we face the temptation to despair in the face of the world’s deepest needs, to throw up our hands in defeat. But, just as Jesus emerged from the desert fortified to begin his ministry, so too do we emerge from the desert of Lent ready to encounter the needs of the world with the hope of the Resurrection.

Yet, sometimes our fears can be paralyzing. We find ourselves focusing all our energy inward. We find ourselves doubting if we have enough, if we’ve done enough, if we are enough—and we are afraid to act. Scripture reminds us time and again: “Be not afraid.” In the person of Jesus—and in the countless holy women and men who have followed him—we see the power of giving fearlessly, of sacrificing what we have and what we are for the good of others.

Bolstered by faith, Jesus showed courage when confronted by fear. He did not waver in reaching out to those most in need. And we’re called to do the same, trusting that our lives can be ones of fearless encounter pointing to the hope of the Resurrection.

While the temptations of the desert tell us to be afraid, to cling to what we have and look out only for ourselves, the invitation of Lent beckons us forth to encounter the needs of the world through:

  • A renewed life of PRAYER in God that unites our needs with the needs of the world, through the stories of members of our global human family.
  • A commitment to FAST that reminds us that God is ever faithful and frees us from the fear of not having or being enough.
  • A readiness to GIVE ALMS to share what we have with our brothers and sisters around the world.

Each day during Lent, we have the opportunity to be inspired by the stories of communities from around the world, to set aside a little of ourselves to make room for a stranger.

Annet is one such stranger. Ongoing violence in her home country of South Sudan forced Annet to take her three siblings and flee south to neighboring Uganda. It was a dangerous journey, but Annet showed courage, keeping her siblings safe despite threats from rebel soldiers. For more than two years now, Annet and her siblings have been living in Bidi Bidi, one of the world’s largest refugee settlements. While Annet is happy to be away from the violence, life in Bidi Bidi is hard—especially for a young woman trying to raise her siblings. While she wants her family to one day be able to return to South Sudan, for now, she knows that Bid Bidi is the safer option. In the meantime, she encourages her siblings to go to school and does all she can to ensure they’ll have a bright future.

Stories like Annet’s remind us that the journey through the desert ultimately leads to resurrection—and it is our Gospel call to stand with courage. This Lent, we journey with Christ through fear to fortitude, recognizing God’s invitation to reach out beyond ourselves to encounter the needs of all.

Going Deeper!

Read more stories of hope and discover how you can get involved with CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting, and gifts to change the lives of the poor.

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Eric Clayton is a Senior Program Officer, Mission and Mobilization at Catholic Relief Services.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Live Out the Resurrection

“Jesus himself is the model of the Good Samaritan; by imitating his love and compassion, we show ourselves truly to be his followers.” –Pope Francis

Lent is a time of preparation for the Resurrection. During these 40 days, we have an opportunity to walk with Jesus and reflect on his suffering, and the suffering of so many communities worldwide. How do we respond?

The Good Samaritan is moved with compassion at the sight of seeing his neighbor in need. In his compassion, he suffered with—and we are called to do the same when we encounter another person who is suffering. Whether the man in the parable or so many of our brothers and sisters in need around the world, we can follow the Samaritan’s example. The Church always challenges us to show compassion particularly for those who are most vulnerable. As we look out at our world, we see countless refugees, migrants, women, men and children on the move, fleeing violence, economic hardship, persecution and climate injustice. These are some of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” That question applies to us, too, and the answer must include these individuals on the move. As we encounter them on life’s roads, do we allow ourselves to be moved with compassion, as the Good Samaritan was? Ultimately, this Lent, we prepare for the joy of the Resurrection. That joy is something we are called to share; it is a way of living.

How does this joy guide our acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, especially where refugees, migrants and others suffering are concerned? How will you prepare for the coming of the Easter season as a time to imitate Jesus’ self-sacrificing love?

Find this video and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection here.

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Give

The Parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that almsgiving is an act of charity that shares God’s love with our brothers and sisters in need.

At the end of the parable, Jesus asks his disciples to name who was “neighbor” in the story. Jesus urges his followers to prioritize love and mercy, which motivate us to do for another. Almsgiving is an exercise in mercy—a gift of self for the betterment of another.

Jesus’ invitation is to go out and be the Good Samaritan for others, to break down barriers that make us strangers and instead build bridges that make us neighbors. By going out to encounter others, we necessarily must allow others to encounter us. We walk together. We become companions on the journey. And, we become a church that goes out to encounter, as Pope Francis has so often said.

What act of almsgiving will you undertake this Lent? How will that action respond to Jesus’ invitation to “Go and do likewise”?

Find this video, featuring Lisa Hendey of CatholicMom.com, and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection, here.

CRS staff Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Fast

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) reminds us that fasting helps us encounter those things about ourselves that prevent us from loving God and neighbor.

How does the Parable of the Good Samaritan point to fasting? In this story, we see the Good Samaritan quite literally giving something up—his own, hard-earned money. The question then, of course, is this: How does this giving up of something make room for the needs of another in our life? How does fasting become something that is focused on and oriented towards others? Again, the parable shows us the way. What the Good Samaritan gives up immediately goes to meet the needs of another.

We can easily reflect on how we might have otherwise spent two silver coins: a cup of coffee, a meal out, etc. Do we follow the Good Samaritan’s example in our own fasting? The Good Samaritan pledges to return and promises that if the innkeeper spends more than those two coins, the Samaritan will be sure to reimburse him. That’s an act of fasting that is offered freely, without counting the cost.

How can we commit our Lenten fasts to make room for those in need in our lives—and in our world? How can our Lenten fasts remove the walls that separate us from our neighbors—and God?

Find this video, which features Dr. Hosffman Ospino, PhD, and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection.

CRS staff Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Pray

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) reminds us that prayer is an encounter with Christ, who is present in every member of our human family.

This is a story about people encountering one another on one of life’s roads. So many of us are tempted to pass by others without recognizing their needs, their common dignity. In this story, that’s not the case. The Samaritan, traveling down the road, was “moved with compassion at the sight.” This is the moment of encounter—a prayerful experience of seeing Christ in the face of the stranger.

We must be open to experiencing God in our encounter with others. In fact, this can be a powerful form of prayer. What if we aren’t encountering someone on a physical road? We can still encounter others in our prayer by calling to mind their stories, the faces of individuals on the news, etc.

How can we embody this call to encounter in our prayer this Lent? How can our Lenten prayer be both a moment of encounter and a “walking with” our fellow travelers on life’s roads?

Find this video, which features Prof. Helen Alvaré, JD, and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection.

CRS staff Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

Easter: We Encounter Resurrection

When the risen Jesus encounters his disciples on the road to Emmaus, it’s quite clear that their journeying away from Jerusalem is in fact a journeying away from hope. They have witnessed their friend, their hoped-for savior die; they have seen their community scattered; they have understood their trust in God to have been misplaced. What is left for them now?

Jesus, of course, turns them around—quite literally. The encounter with the risen Christ means a renewed encounter with hope; that God is not done yet; that darkness and suffering do not have the final word.

Indeed, this story continues to unfold in our own time. We look out at a world wracked by hunger, poverty, war, injustice and we, too, feel like walking away. Where should we place our hope when the challenges seem insurmountable?

This is the story of resurrection. We encounter Christ daily in the faces of our neighbors, of those we meet in our work, our home, on our streets, those whom we have yet to meet face to face but with whom we are intricately tied as members of God’s one human family. We encounter Christ, too, within ourselves. And in these encounters, we have reason to hope. Because God is not done yet—and so long as we have strength to continue the work of building a culture of encounter, of responding to our Gospel call, neither are we.

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections. Don’t forget to turn in your Lenten alms to CRS Rice Bowl!

Going Deeper

How are you called to join with others to “turn around” and challenge injustice that you see or experience? How can you work with others to be a sign of Christ’s resurrection in your community?

Read about how, in the face of the violence and unrest that followed the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has served as a witness to God’s love and hope.  Read these recommendations from the USCCB Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities for ways your faith community can work to build peace and end racial injustice.

Encounter Dita

Tena is one of many children severely affected by the worst drought in 50 years, prolonged by El Nino. Photo by Petterik Wiggers for Catholic Relief Services.

Tena is one of many children severely affected by the worst drought in 50 years, prolonged by El Nino. Photo by Petterik Wiggers for Catholic Relief Services.

When we think of those goods the poor are stripped of daily, there are probably several key items that come to mind: food, water, and shelter, to name a few. We so often see countries rich in resources, and yet, the people of those countries live in poverty. How do we ensure that the wonders of the natural world are used in a sustainable, equitable way? Giving a man a fish, as the old adage goes, only solves the problem for the day.

Pope Francis says it best in his encyclical, Laudato Si’: “We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Dita’s story of resilience and success in the face of a devastating drought in Ethiopia brings the pope’s quote to life. Dita, her husband and their seven children depend on the money they earn selling crops from their small farm in Ethiopia. But frequent droughts often mean that families like Dita’s who depend on home-grown crops go hungry. And amidst the current historic drought, more than 10 million people are struggling with hunger.

But thanks to a CRS program that helps families prepare for crises like droughts, Dita was able to build a new house and open a small store. Instead of relying solely on what she can grow on her farm, she is able to sell items like pasta, shampoo, and bananas. She earns a steady $400 a month.

“Before, I had to get eggs from my neighbors. Now I have 15 hens,” she proclaims. Saving money and being able to borrow not only allowed her to buy hens but also a metal roof for her new house, a rarity for families in this part of Ethiopia.

“Now we have no problems with food,” she says. Unlike families across Ethiopia that struggle to find enough to eat, Dita says her children eat three times a day, thanks to her newfound business knowledge.

And what’s more, all her children are attending school. “When I was a child, there were no education opportunities,” she says. Then, with a shy but proud smile, she adds, “That’s a big difference.”

The environment and the people that inhabit it are interconnected; all of God’s creation is one. God calls us to be stewards of the resources which we have been given, to look out for one another by sharing and collaborating, rather than grabbing up everything we can get now and worrying about others later. After all, teaching a man to fish will be of little value if we’ve left a polluted pond.

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.

Encounter Maria

As Catholics, we go to God together. We’re all in this together. God’s family extends beyond time and space, and we’re called as individuals to participate in that family, both in the daily realities in which we find ourselves and in that eternal reality to which God calls us. Our participation matters, whether it’s buying a homeless man a sandwich, spending time with our parents, or supporting just and fair social systems.

That’s why the saints are so important: women and men who have gone before us who shine the light so that we can see, who relate to us in their humanity and call us beyond ourselves in their examples of holiness. Some of these men and women walked with Christ himself; others lived years later; still others we know from our own lives. This is what it means to be in community—to be a part of God’s community: that we look to one another for support, for prayer, for inspiration and motivation along the journey, because we’re all just pilgrims on the road.

And that’s why we go out into the world; that’s why we build the Reign of God on earth. We should never grow tired of hearing St. Teresa of Calcutta’s words: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” We are called to be saints today; we are called to holiness. And we are called to go to God together. So, as members of a community that stretches far beyond ourselves, we go out to our brothers and sisters to be for them what Christ and the saints are for us.

Maria de lu Luz Lego Martinez, here with her grandson Alexis. runs a household without a husband, who went to the US. Of her 10 children, four have died, two live in the United States, and the other four live nearby. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services.

Maria de lu Luz Lego Martinez, here with her grandson Alexis. runs a household without a husband, who went to the US. Of her 10 children, four have died, two live in the United States, and the other four live nearby. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services.

Maria, a woman from Ejido Hidalgo, Mexico, provides us with a living example of this principle in action. She remembers what it was like growing up in her small village. “We said we were rich because we had a lot of corn, beans and animals.” But now, with few jobs and even less rain, young people—including Maria’s children—are leaving the community in search of a better life.

To help families like Maria’s, CRS launched a greenhouse project empowering women with meaningful work and community. Women visit their community greenhouses to grow cactuses to sell—but they also go for so much more. “At the greenhouses, we laugh, we talk, we spend time together. Sometimes we leave our homes angry or sad. But then we start working with the plants, and we forget. Talking, laughing—we forget our problems for a while,” says Maria.

As the cactuses grow, so to do the economic opportunities. “We didn’t believe we were going to get that far. It’s a lot of joy, a lot of excitement to see so many plants flowering.”

The flourishing cactuses aren’t the only things that give Maria pride. Even though they live far away, she still remains close to her family. “I give thanks to God that he gave me all my children and grandchildren,” she says. “They give me strength and courage to work hard. My children call and say, ‘Don’t give up, Mom. Have faith in God.’”

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.