The Catholic Relief Services Collection: Helping Jesus in Disguise

crs-facebook-2-403x504Each time we encounter a suffering person, we encounter Jesus in disguise. The Catholic Relief Services Collection (CRSC) funds six Catholic agencies that serve the disguised Jesus in our suffering brothers and sisters around the world. His disguise might be that of those suffering from natural disaster, those displaced by violence or war, or those migrants searching for a better life.

In the developing world, it is often hard for families to support themselves and their children. Sophie, a widow working in a village in Burkina Faso, was struggling to feed her family and pay for schooling for her children. Thanks to the help of Catholic Relief Services, one of the CRSC supported organizations, her village was able to set up a Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC). Through the SILC, members contribute what they can afford, allowing them to pool their resources and save collectively. Members can then borrow money to meet pressing needs or develop business opportunities. Through the SILC, Sophie was able to take out a $200 loan to cover startup costs for her own canteen, a sum that would be nearly impossible for her to save. Her canteen has been very successful and began to pay off in only six months. Her community has benefited too, as she has been able to hire three assistants to work with her. Without the SILC and the work of CRS, it would have been nearly impossible for her, and others like her, to create a sustainable life for her and her family.

2016-crs-montage-text-270x200Even in the developed world, it is difficult for immigrants to navigate the American justice system and to know their rights. Another organization that receives funds from the Catholic Relief Services Collection is CLINIC, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. The BIA Pro Bono Project that CLINIC manages uses funds from the CRSC to provide support and legal representation to immigrants facing the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Pedro entered the United States to provide a better life for his family and to flee violence and persecution. He entered the United States without inspection, but nearly 20 years later, Pedro was taken to an immigration detention facility away from his wife and three children while the BIA decided whether he could stay in the country. Thanks to the BIA Pro Bono Project, law students discovered that he had never been considered for Temporary Protected Status, and local legal counsel represented him. This counsel helped determine that he was in fact eligible for this legal status. After a year in a detention facility, separated from his family, Pedro was able to return home.

This Lent, remember our suffering brothers and sisters and Jesus in Disguise.

Funds acquired from the CRS Collection are also distributed to these organizations: USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services for refugee resettlement USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development for advocacy The Holy Father’s Relief Fund for emergency relief USCCB’s Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church for evangelization and ministry

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (mt 25:40)

Bevin Kennedy, Office of National Collections at the USCCB

Bevin Kennedy, Office of National Collections at the USCCB

Bevin Kennedy is the Assistant Director for Promotions in the Office of National Collections at the USCCB.

Odette’s story: Hungering for a Healthy Start in Rwanda

Jeanne Uwimbabazi smiles at her daughter Elissa Izibyose while feeding her porridge during a health and nutrition screening near Buruba Village, Muhanga District, Rwanda. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl for Catholic Relief Services

Jeanne Uwimbabazi smiles at her daughter Elissa Izibyose while feeding her porridge during a health and nutrition screening near Buruba Village, Muhanga District, Rwanda. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl for Catholic Relief Services

Odette’s daughter Olga could have easily become one of the many children in Rwanda who don’t receive the nutrients they need to develop and grow.

But Odette started working with Catholic Relief Services even before she gave birth to ensure her child would get the care she needed during the crucial first 1,000 days of life. The nutrition a child receives from the time he or she is in the womb until his or her second birthday can mean the difference between a promising future and one of poor health and limited opportunities.

Catholic Relief Services is working with communities in Rwanda to end child malnutrition by supporting health and nutrition programs, and teaching families to grow crops that add nutritious variety to their meals.

Because poverty is a major cause of malnutrition, CRS helps families find opportunities to earn an income. With a loan from her microfinance group, Odette started a business selling agricultural fertilizer so she could support her family.

Odette attends weekly classes that are helping her grow healthy crops on her farm. She’s also taking courses on how to prepare nutritious meals from those crops. And she takes Olga to regular well-baby visits to measure her weight and growth, and ensure she is healthy.

This year, Olga will reach a milestone: Her second birthday. Because Odette has been feeding her a variety of nutritious foods-many of which were grown in the family garden-Olga is growing up strong and healthy.

Read more stories about how Lenten alms become lifesaving aid at crsricebowl.org.

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


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you 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.

¿Cómo podemos responder al llamado del papa Francisco a cuidar de nuestra casa común?

La Cuaresma, la intención de oración del papa Francisco y las lecciones de su viaje a México

Justamente este mes en su video de intención de oración, el papa Francisco pidió a la gente de todo el mundo que “cuidemos de la creación” y de nuestra casa común. Hizo hincapié en que tanto “[c]reyentes y no creyentes estamos de acuerdo en que la tierra es una herencia común, cuyos frutos deben beneficiar a todos”. Él nos llama a reconocer “[l]a relación entre la pobreza y la fragilidad del planeta”.

Durante su visita a México la semana pasada, el papa Francisco dio testimonio de los efectos de la exclusión social, económica y ambiental al poner a los marginados —migrantes, presos, trabajadores y pueblos indígenas— en el centro de su viaje. A través de su visita a Chiapas el papa envió un poderoso mensaje. Allí se alzó en solidaridad con la población indígena del país, que viene resistiéndose cada vez más a los abusos a los derechos humanos y ambientales.

En una santa Misa con representantes de las comunidades indígenas de Chiapas, el papa Francisco exclamó que no podemos ignorar el clamor de la Creación, diciendo que “entre los pobres más abandonados y maltratados, está nuestra oprimida y devastada tierra”.

En su homilía en Chiapas, el papa Francisco dijo:

Esta hermana clama por el daño que le provocamos a causa del uso irresponsable y del abuso de los bienes que Dios ha puesto en ella. Hemos crecido pensando que éramos sus propietarios y dominadores, autorizados a expoliarla. La violencia que hay en el corazón humano, herido por el pecado, también se manifiesta en los síntomas de enfermedad que advertimos en el suelo, en el agua, en el aire y en los seres vivientes. Por eso, entre los pobres más abandonados y maltratados, está nuestra oprimida y devastada tierra, que “gime y sufre dolores de parto” (Rm 8,22)” (Laudato si’, 2). El desafío ambiental que vivimos, y sus raíces humanas, nos impactan a todos (cf. Laudato si’, 14) y nos interpelan. Ya no podemos hacernos los sordos frente a una de las mayores crisis ambientales de la historia.

A la luz de las crisis ambientales que enfrentamos y el clamor de la Creación y los pobres, el papa Francisco reitera su llamado a que examinemos el camino que estamos recorriendo y que hagamos un examen de conciencia: “Qué bien nos haría a todos hacer un examen de conciencia y aprender a decir: ¡Perdón!, ¡perdón, hermanos! El mundo de hoy, despojado por la cultura del descarte, los necesita”.

Si miramos alrededor, vemos muchos signos de esta “cultura del descarte”, que se deshace de cosas y personas como “sobrantes”, ya sean las personas sin hogar que viven en nuestras calles, los trabajadores que producen bienes de consumo baratos por salarios ínfimos en las maquilas de Juárez, o los pueblos indígenas que han sido desplazados de sus tierras o las han visto contaminadas por otros “mareados por el poder, el dinero y las leyes del mercado”.

El papa Francisco, durante este periodo de Cuaresma, nos llama a examinar nuestros pasos y el camino actual que estamos recorriendo, para rechazar una “cultura del descarte” y abrazar una cultura de solidaridad y encuentro.

El papa Francisco llama a la Iglesia y al mundo a reconocer la urgencia de nuestros desafíos ambientales y sumarse a él en embarcarse en un nuevo camino. Como dijo el papa Francisco durante su visita a nuestra nación, “Ahora es el tiempo de acciones valientes y de estrategias para implementar una ‘cultura del cuidado’ y una ‘aproximación integral para combatir la pobreza, para devolver la dignidad a los excluidos y simultáneamente para cuidar la naturaleza’”.

Como individuos, podemos adoptar medidas importantes para responder al llamado del papa Francisco de cuidar nuestra casa común examinando nuestro estilo de vida, reduciendo nuestro consumo y siendo conscientes de nuestras opciones. También podemos contribuir a una escala más amplia a un cambio duradero trabajando activamente dentro de nuestras comunidades para abordar los desafíos ambientales en nuestros barrios, pueblos y ciudades, y promoviendo políticas ambientales que protejan a los pobres y vulnerables en nuestro país y en todo el mundo.

¿Cómo responderá usted al llamado del papa Francisco a cuidar de nuestra casa común?

Francisco nos recuerda que “[n]o hay que pensar que esos esfuerzos no van a cambiar el mundo. Esas acciones derraman un bien en la sociedad que siempre produce frutos más allá de lo que se pueda constatar, porque provocan en el seno de esta tierra un bien que siempre tiende a difundirse” (Laudato si’, 212).

Profundice:

  • ¿Existe una organización comunitaria local a la que pueda unirse (o crear) para promover el bien común y construir una ecología integral? Para encontrar un grupo de la CCHD, busque en el sitio web PobrezaUSA. Eche un vistazo a las Historias de esperanza para informarse de cómo organizaciones apoyadas por la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano están trabajando por la justicia ambiental.
  • Y para empezar la conversación en su parroquia o comunidad local, mire la guía de discusión y otros recursos educativos sobre la encíclica en el sitio web del Programa de Justicia Ambiental de la USCCB.
  • Infórmese de cómo las comunidades católicas en todos los Estados Unidos, incluyendo parroquias, diócesis, escuelas y comunidades religiosas, están cuidando de la creación, en WeAreSaltAndLight.org.
  • ¡Apoye el llamado del papa Francisco a cuidar de nuestra casa común! Diga a sus senadores que cuiden de la creación ayudando a organizaciones sin fines de lucro a hacer mejoras necesarias en la eficiencia energética y protegiendo un estándar nacional de carbono.
  • Adopte la Promesa de San Francisco de cuidar de la Creación y de los pobres. Se trata de una promesa y un compromiso de personas, familias, parroquias y organizaciones católicas de vivir nuestra fe cuidando de la creación de Dios y de los más vulnerables.

ceciliaCecilia Calvo es la coordinadora del Programa de Justicia Ambiental de la USCCB en el Departamento de Justicia, Paz y Desarrollo Humano de la USCCB.

How Can We Respond to Pope Francis’ Call to Care for Our Common Home?

Lent, Pope Francis’ prayer intention and lessons from his trip to Mexico

Just this month in his prayer intention video Pope Francis asked people around the world to “take good care of creation” and to care for our common home. He emphasized, both “[b]elievers and unbelievers agree that the earth is a common heritage, the fruits of which should benefit everyone.” He calls us to recognize “[t]he relationship between poverty and the fragility of the planet.”

During Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico last week he gave testimony to the effects of social, economic, and environmental exclusion by putting those on the margins — migrants, prisoners, workers and indigenous peoples — at the center of his trip. Through his visit to Chiapas the pope sent a powerful message. There he stood in solidarity with the country’s indigenous population, who has increasingly withstood environmental and human rights abuses.

In a holy Mass with representatives of the indigenous communities of Chiapas, Pope Francis exclaimed, we cannot ignore the cries of Creation, the poor and the earth who “is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.”

In his homily in Chiapas, Pope Francis said:

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Rom 8:22)” (Laudato Si’, 2). The environmental challenge that we are experiencing, and its human causes, affects us all (cf. Laudato Si’, 14) and demands our response. We can no longer remain silent before one of the greatest environmental crises in world history.

In light of the environmental crises we face and the cries of Creation and the poor, Pope Francis reiterates his call for us to examine the path we are traveling on and to examine our conscience: “How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, “‘forgive me!’, ‘forgive me, brothers and sisters!’ Today’s world, ravaged as it is by a throwaway culture, needs you!”

If we look around, we see many signs of this “throwaway culture,” which discards things and people as “leftovers,” whether it is the homeless who live on our streets, the workers who produce cheap consumer goods for abysmal wages in the maquilas in Juárez, or the indigenous peoples who have been displaced from their lands or seen them contaminated by others “intoxicated by power, money and market trends.”

Pope Francis, during this period of Lent, call us to examine our steps and the current path we are traveling on, to reject a “throwaway culture,” and to embrace a culture of solidarity and encounter.

Francis calls the Church and the world to acknowledge the urgency of our environmental challenges and to join him in embarking on a new path. As Pope Francis said during his visit to our nation, “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ and ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.'”

As individuals, we can take important steps to answer Pope Francis’ call to care for our common home by examining our lifestyles, reducing our consumption, and being conscious of our choices. We can also contribute on a broader scale to lasting change by working actively within our communities to address environmental challenges in our neighborhoods, towns and cities, and advocating for environmental policies that protect the poor and vulnerable in our nation and around the world.

How will you respond to Pope Francis’ call to care for our common home?

Francis reminds us that “[w]e must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” (Laudato Si’, 212).

Go deeper:

  • Is there a local community organization you can join (or create) to promote the common good and build an integral ecology? To find a CCHD group, look on Poverty USA’s website. Check out the Stories of Hope to learn how organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development are working for environmental justice.
  • And to start the conversation in your parish or local community, look at the discussion guide, and other educational resources on the encyclical on the USCCB Environmental Justice Program website.
  • Learn how Catholic communities around the United States, including parishes, dioceses, schools, and religious communities, are caring for creation, at WeAreSaltAndLight.org.
  • Support Pope Francis’ call to care for our common home! Tell your Senators to care for creation by helping nonprofits make needed energy-efficiency improvements and protecting a national carbon standard.
  • Take the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor. The Pledge is a promise and a commitment by Catholic individuals, families, parishes and organizations to live our faith by caring for God’s Creation and the most vulnerable.
Cecilia Calvo, USCCB

Cecilia Calvo, USCCB

Cecilia Calvo is the coordinator of the USCCB Environmental Justice Program at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

 


¿Cómo podemos responder al llamado del papa Francisco a cuidar de nuestra casa común? La Cuaresma, la intención de oración del papa Francisco y las lecciones de su viaje a México

Justamente este mes en su video de intención de oración, el papa Francisco pidió a la gente de todo el mundo que “cuidemos de la creación” y de nuestra casa común. Hizo hincapié en que tanto “[c]reyentes y no creyentes estamos de acuerdo en que la tierra es una herencia común, cuyos frutos deben beneficiar a todos”. Él nos llama a reconocer “[l]a relación entre la pobreza y la fragilidad del planeta”.

Durante su visita a México la semana pasada, el papa Francisco dio testimonio de los efectos de la exclusión social, económica y ambiental al poner a los marginados —migrantes, presos, trabajadores y pueblos indígenas— en el centro de su viaje. A través de su visita a Chiapas el papa envió un poderoso mensaje. Allí se alzó en solidaridad con la población indígena del país, que viene resistiéndose cada vez más a los abusos a los derechos humanos y ambientales.

En una santa Misa con representantes de las comunidades indígenas de Chiapas, el papa Francisco exclamó que no podemos ignorar el clamor de la Creación, diciendo que “entre los pobres más abandonados y maltratados, está nuestra oprimida y devastada tierra”.

En su homilía en Chiapas, el papa Francisco dijo:

Esta hermana clama por el daño que le provocamos a causa del uso irresponsable y del abuso de los bienes que Dios ha puesto en ella. Hemos crecido pensando que éramos sus propietarios y dominadores, autorizados a expoliarla. La violencia que hay en el corazón humano, herido por el pecado, también se manifiesta en los síntomas de enfermedad que advertimos en el suelo, en el agua, en el aire y en los seres vivientes. Por eso, entre los pobres más abandonados y maltratados, está nuestra oprimida y devastada tierra, que “gime y sufre dolores de parto” (Rm 8,22)” (Laudato si’, 2). El desafío ambiental que vivimos, y sus raíces humanas, nos impactan a todos (cf. Laudato si’, 14) y nos interpelan. Ya no podemos hacernos los sordos frente a una de las mayores crisis ambientales de la historia.

A la luz de las crisis ambientales que enfrentamos y el clamor de la Creación y los pobres, el papa Francisco reitera su llamado a que examinemos el camino que estamos recorriendo y que hagamos un examen de conciencia: “Qué bien nos haría a todos hacer un examen de conciencia y aprender a decir: ¡Perdón!, ¡perdón, hermanos! El mundo de hoy, despojado por la cultura del descarte, los necesita”.

Si miramos alrededor, vemos muchos signos de esta “cultura del descarte”, que se deshace de cosas y personas como “sobrantes”, ya sean las personas sin hogar que viven en nuestras calles, los trabajadores que producen bienes de consumo baratos por salarios ínfimos en las maquilas de Juárez, o los pueblos indígenas que han sido desplazados de sus tierras o las han visto contaminadas por otros “mareados por el poder, el dinero y las leyes del mercado”.

El papa Francisco, durante este periodo de Cuaresma, nos llama a examinar nuestros pasos y el camino actual que estamos recorriendo, para rechazar una “cultura del descarte” y abrazar una cultura de solidaridad y encuentro.

El papa Francisco llama a la Iglesia y al mundo a reconocer la urgencia de nuestros desafíos ambientales y sumarse a él en embarcarse en un nuevo camino. Como dijo el papa Francisco durante su visita a nuestra nación, “Ahora es el tiempo de acciones valientes y de estrategias para implementar una ‘cultura del cuidado’ y una ‘aproximación integral para combatir la pobreza, para devolver la dignidad a los excluidos y simultáneamente para cuidar la naturaleza’”.

Como individuos, podemos adoptar medidas importantes para responder al llamado del papa Francisco de cuidar nuestra casa común examinando nuestro estilo de vida, reduciendo nuestro consumo y siendo conscientes de nuestras opciones. También podemos contribuir a una escala más amplia a un cambio duradero trabajando activamente dentro de nuestras comunidades para abordar los desafíos ambientales en nuestros barrios, pueblos y ciudades, y promoviendo políticas ambientales que protejan a los pobres y vulnerables en nuestro país y en todo el mundo.

¿Cómo responderá usted al llamado del papa Francisco a cuidar de nuestra casa común?

Francisco nos recuerda que “[n]o hay que pensar que esos esfuerzos no van a cambiar el mundo. Esas acciones derraman un bien en la sociedad que siempre produce frutos más allá de lo que se pueda constatar, porque provocan en el seno de esta tierra un bien que siempre tiende a difundirse” (Laudato si’, 212).

 

Profundice:

  • ¿Existe una organización comunitaria local a la que pueda unirse (o crear) para promover el bien común y construir una ecología integral? Para encontrar un grupo de la CCHD, busque en el sitio web PobrezaUSA. Eche un vistazo a las Historias de esperanza para informarse de cómo organizaciones apoyadas por la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano están trabajando por la justicia ambiental.
  • Y para empezar la conversación en su parroquia o comunidad local, mire la guía de discusión y otros recursos educativos sobre la encíclica en el sitio web del Programa de Justicia Ambiental de la USCCB.
  • Infórmese de cómo las comunidades católicas en todos los Estados Unidos, incluyendo parroquias, diócesis, escuelas y comunidades religiosas, están cuidando de la creación, en WeAreSaltAndLight.org.
  • ¡Apoye el llamado del papa Francisco a cuidar de nuestra casa común! Diga a sus senadores que cuiden de la creación ayudando a organizaciones sin fines de lucro a hacer mejoras necesarias en la eficiencia energética y protegiendo un estándar nacional de carbono.
  • Adopte la Promesa de San Francisco de cuidar de la Creación y de los pobres. Se trata de una promesa y un compromiso de personas, familias, parroquias y organizaciones católicas de vivir nuestra fe cuidando de la creación de Dios y de los más vulnerables.

Cecilia Calvo es la coordinadora del Programa de Justicia Ambiental de la USCCB en el Departamento de Justicia, Paz y Desarrollo Humano de la USCCB.

Hongkham’s story: Hungering to Give Back in Laos

Hongkham Phengsaphone, age 36, holds a bowl of lentils at the Nahangnoy Primary School, where CRS’ LEAPS program provides students with a free school lunch. Photo by Jim Stipe/Catholic Relief Services

Hongkham Phengsaphone, age 36, holds a bowl of lentils at the Nahangnoy Primary School, where CRS’ LEAPS program provides students with a free school lunch. Photo by Jim Stipe/Catholic Relief Services

Hongkham lives close to where she grew up in Nongdeune, Laos, with her husband and their five boys. Her husband is a farmer, and her family relied on his crops for food and income. When Hongkham’s husband got sick, the family had to sell a lot of what they owned-including their land-to pay for medicine. Soon, the family faced real hunger.

Then Hongkham found an opportunity to use her love of cooking to help her family and community through CRS’ school literacy and hunger program. She volunteers as a cook at her children’s school, which provides free school lunches for students, literacy training for teachers and principals, and nutrition training. Hongkham uses that training in the school kitchen-and when she’s cooking for her family at home.

She also receives a monthly ration of food to take home, which helps her family grow and thrive. But the best part about CRS’ program is that students are learning to read and write. Hongkham says that before the program started, students would go home and often wouldn’t return for afternoon classes, but now, students return to school after morning classes to receive their free and nutritious lunch. She even sees the change in her own children-in their studies and their health.

Good nutrition has made a real difference in the lives of the people of Laos.

Read more stories about how Lenten alms become lifesaving aid at crsricebowl.org.

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


 

This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you 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.

Maria’s story: Hungering for Opportunity in Colombia

Portrait of Mar’a Yelud Leyt—n Ch‡vez, 18, in charge of the Borderlands project coffee quality lab at Pasto, Nari–o in Colombia. She is member of a displaced family. Her father fled Nari–o for La Florida escaping death threats from paramilitaries. She is studying an online coffee management technical career and helping her family with her new job. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services

Portrait of Maria Yelud Leyton Chavez, 18, in charge of the Borderlands project coffee quality lab at Pasto, Nario in Colombia.  Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services

Fighting between armed forces made life in Cumbitara, Colombia, dangerous for Maria and her family-so dangerous that 8 years ago they were forced to relocate. They left their home one morning with nothing but a suitcase of clothes.

It wasn’t easy making a new life in Nariño, a region of Colombia known for its coffee. People made fun of Maria and her family because they were outsiders. It was also hard to find work, and Maria’s father left home for months at a time to do dangerous work in a mine. Continue reading

Lent 101: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving

Eric ClaytonMy wife and I stood in our little kitchen, washing and drying our dishes. It was Ash Wednesday. We had gone to different Masses that day and were commenting on the homilies we had each heard. The priest who had celebrated the Mass at which my wife had been present had reflected on the value of fasting, on how it is something to be undertaken with joy. So often, we’re tempted to take on a fast that makes us gloomy, unpleasant people, the priest had said. When he had given up coffee one year, it became less of a fast for him and more of a penance for those around him.

Fasting is always a funny thing. Each year, my wife and I spend those last few weeks of Ordinary Time prior to Lent pouring over the different fasts we can undertake, what we will do for Lent. But that year, standing in the kitchen, dripping dishes in hand, we realized something. God is perfectly clear about the kind of fasting we’re asked to undertake. In fact, God has been clear for thousands of years—and God reminds us each and every Ash Wednesday with distinct clarity through the words of Isaiah:

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh? (58: 6-7)

Just so. The call to charity and justice is unavoidable. It is, it would seem, God’s deepest desire for our own individual fasts. Swearing off social media is good in so far as it frees me to help another. Buying one less coffee a day can be a fruitful exercise if it means that the money not spent goes instead to a worthy cause. Honing my own self-discipline is important and valuable as long as it better enables me to fulfill those words of Jesus: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

If we keep this in mind, then our Lenten practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving necessarily becomes other focused. Our prayer keeps us mindful of God at work in the world—in our lives and the lives of others—and poises us to act in line with the working of the Spirit. Our fasting becomes an exercise in self-emptying, of preventing the me-ness from preoccupying our minds; rather, it is to allow God to work within us, focusing our attention on another. And our almsgiving becomes the necessary response, the filling up and cascading over of love for neighbor, a desire to, in our self-emptied state, give of ourselves to those most in need.

Is this not the path that Jesus walked, that same path that we prayerfully consider throughout the season of Lent? Paul writes to the Philippians:

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (2:7-8)

So, then, the challenge for each of us this Lent is to reflect on our own practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving and assess how our emptied selves are best put at the service of others. Bombarded by the international crisis facing us each day, I would suggest that our Lenten practice demands a global lens. How can these pillars of Lent lead us deeper into a spirituality of global solidarity? How can we give of ourselves to God’s one, human family, a family that crosses borders, cultures, and religions?

Certainly, this is not a challenge to be undertaken lightly—or completed quickly. But we can make it a goal of our Lenten journey to take a single step along the road of global solidarity. I offer, as a roadmap, CRS Rice Bowl, a program that aims to usher us further down that path, to close the gaps that separate us from our brothers and sisters around the world, to prepare in us a heart that is fertile and ready to receive and act upon the global mission of the Church. Your first stop on the journey might be crsricebowl.org or CRS Rice Bowl app, for your iOS and Android device.

But don’t let that be your last stop. Where will your prayer, fasting and almsgiving take you this Lent? Perhaps, more significantly, when these 40 days have ended, where then will you be prepared to go?

 

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