Lent. Food. Sacrifice. Forty days. Hunger.
These are all words we encounter in our conversations around this liturgical season. The act and ability to participate in Lent shifts dramatically over the course of a person’s lifetime.
(See a related video.)
From being “forced” by parents to give something up to the moment when a person chooses what to do without, Lent encourages seeking a deeper dynamism in life, to seek a fuller and deeper relationship with Christ. We embrace a call to great participation in the world around us, while still remembering we are Christ’s.
Jesus approached and regarded his time in the desert with humility and simplicity. What would happen if during this Lent, we each approached our time of fasting, almsgiving and prayer with a deeper understanding of how to live by more than bread? How could we incorporate humility and simplicity into our Lenten practice?
Humility is a tough word in our culture today. In a time when we are encouraged to be the best, to be great and to push back on those who would seek to “dim our light,” humility offers an alternative. Humility approaches quietly and renounces greatness and embraces faithfulness. In our quest for humility this Lent, we can be mindful of those who seek food in their daily lives.
In our Lenten practice, how are we supporting people who face food insecurity? Could we donate to a food pantry? One in 10 bags of food assistance comes from a charitable organization, like a food pantry or church. The other nine bags are provided as a result of federal nutrition programs. Is it time to call on local, state or nationally elected leaders to ensure that they are voting for food assistance programs that reflect our Catholic Christian values?
Simplicity sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s easy to imagine Jesus in the desert for 40 days, on his knees in prayer with God. There is a fierce discipline that lies just under the surface. Through simplicity, we look to the example of the three pillars of Lent: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. In each pillar we see a way to connect, as Jesus did, the act of simplicity and move closer to God.
To fully embrace each aspect, we must be disciplined to say yes to God in each action we undertake. We must be consistent in our refusal of more. We must be consistent in our advocacy and in our charity. We must walk and work alongside people who are without access to food or who are living in poverty.
As Christians we must discern the difference in our approach between “choosing to go without” or living in poverty or without access to food. One is a decision and one is not. But both require or should embrace acceptance of humility and simplicity. These are important values that gird the work of hunger advocacy. Each aspect today encourages us to step outside of ourselves and to look to others.
One way to ensure an embrace of humility and simplicity this Lent is to participate in charitable activities sponsored by our parishes. Another way is to write letters to members of Congress, urging action on a hunger related issue. (Find more information at bread.org/write-congress.)
There can be a harshness, an immobile attitude attributed to this liturgical season — a rigor in making certain we “follow the rules of this and that” and ensuring we maintain an active discipline and regard for our sacrifice.
Many parishes, in addition to taking up special collections or participating in Operation Rice Bowl, will take up donations of canned food items. These charitable actions are a part of our Catholic foundation.
But we are called to participate even further. We can embrace the call to participate in social justice alongside our charitable works. We walk together into the desert of these 40 days with humility and simplicity, seeking Christ.
Genevieve L. Mougey, who holds a master’s degree in divinity, is senior national associate for Roman Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World. Originally from Nebraska, she lives in Washington, D.C., and is a member of St. Teresa of Avila Parish.
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