A couple years ago, I made this video for the Center for FaithJustice, the awesome nonprofit in Lawrenceville, NJ, where I used to work.
The idea came out of a bunch of frustrating Lents. I had trouble sticking with any sort of commitment that felt meaningful. So I decided to try connecting my disciplines in an intentional way, focusing on the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. And it worked really well! I felt more in touch with God and neighbor than I ever had during the season.
If you’re still thinking about what you might do for Lent, here’s how you do what I’ve termed “The Lenten Loop.”
First, pick an issue close to your heart. This year, I’ll concentrate on hunger, inspired by Caritas Internationalis’ “One Human Family, Food for All” campaign. Then wrap your prayer, fasting and almsgiving around that issue.
Prayer: I’ll pick a few favorite organizations that fight hunger, both locally and abroad, and pray for them and the people they serve each day. I’ll also print out this prayer card from Caritas and use this prayer for those who are hungry during Lent.
Fasting. I’ll fast from a luxury food item I don’t need. This year, it’s beer. Whenever I’m tempted to stop by the liquor store during Lent, I’ll try to remember those who go without even the most basic food items. (When education was my central issue, I fasted from buying books, movies, and music.)
Almsgiving. I’ll try to give of my time and treasure (plenty will be saved from not buying beer!) to some of those hunger-fighting organizations I’m praying for. Maybe I’ll volunteer at Cathedral Kitchen and participate in CRS Rice Bowl.
The Loop is just one idea for working on a more intentional, life & justice-connected Lent. If you try it, feel free to leave a report in the comments section. Blessings on your Lenten journey.
Today’s first reading from Isaiah lays out a vision of what our Lenten fasting might look like:
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
The fasting here is characterized by action for others. It is a fasting from selfishness. How might we apply some of the instructions in this passage today?
Releasing those bound unjustly. There are over 3000 inmates currently on death row in the United States, the only Western democracy that still uses capital punishment. The church is a strong advocate against the use of the death penalty, and there are efforts underway to end it on the state level. “Releasing” those on death row might not mean a literal releasing from prison, but instead a release from the unjust death sentence. Learn how you can get involved in this advocacy here.
Setting free the oppressed. One form of oppression common today is the targeting of religious freedom around the world. A recent Pew study revealed that Christians had faced harassment in 111 countries between mid-2009 and mid-2010, most of any religious group. In this article on the study, Vatican reporter John Allen asks: What would a thoughtful, unified, constructive Catholic response look like? It’s time to explore that question seriously.
Sharing your bread with the hungry. The United Nations reports that about 870 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, and that undernutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children under the age of 5 a year — that’s 50,000 a week. A Yankee Stadium’s worth of children dead each week of the year because they don’t have enough to eat. The Christian organization Bread for the World lobbies legislators in Washington to expand food aid to the countries and people around the world most in need. Visit their site to learn how you can get involved.
Sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, and clothing the naked when you see them. Homelessness is a real problem here in Camden. Joseph’s House of Camden is a non-profit dedicated to overnight shelter for the homeless in the city. Over 700 adults stayed at Joseph’s House last winter. They are always looking for volunteers to spend time with the adults and for donations 0f clothing and other goods. Visit their site to learn more.
Hard to believe, but today is the last Wednesday in Ordinary Time until May 22. Which means that Ash Wednesday is just a week away. Lent is a great season to dig deeper into the spiritual life, and a renewed commitment to life & justice is one way of growing closer to God and our brothers and sisters. (Giving something up is just one part of the Lenten discipline!)
Here are 5 (really 7!) local ways to engage Catholic social teaching this Lenten season.
Sacred Heart Church in Camden hosts this free gathering annually, and it’s coming up this Saturday, February 9, from 8:30 am until 3:15 pm. (Not technically Lent, but a good way to get a head start.) Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice advocacy organization in Washington, will be the keynote speaker. Lots of great local workshop presenters as well. And free lunch is included! There is such a thing.
Here’s a picture of S. Simone on the Colbert Report in December:
If you can’t make it Saturday, S. Simone will be back in the area on Monday, March 11, for a 7:00 pm talk at the Mount St. Joseph Convent in Philadelphia. Call Kathy Sekula at 610.664.6650, ext. 564, to register. Space is limited.
2) Catholic Relief Services Speaker Jacques Kaboré from Burkina Faso visits the Diocese
From the CRS press release announcing Jacques’ visit:
Jacques Kaboré and his nine brothers and sisters grew up in Burkina Faso—a poor, landlocked country dependent on subsistence agriculture and vulnerable to drought. By age 10, he was used to spending hours pounding millet for his family’s meals, looking after his siblings and walking long distances to school.
Growing up under these circumstances did not discourage Jacques; in fact, it deepened his commitment to serving those in need. His education included six years at the Seminary of St. Augustin in Burkina Faso, followed by a position as a legal assistant. Jacques then worked with the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou on agriculture projects. Continuing to seek work where he could make a difference, Jacques joined Catholic Relief Services in 1999.
Today, Jacques Kaboré directs the Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) program for CRS in Burkina Faso. SILC is a community finance model that empowers members to contribute savings and to borrow funds for small business projects to raise family income.
Although Jacques is often teased that he spends his days holding meetings with groups of women under trees in rural villages, his work makes a difference in the lives of thousands of people every year.
Jacques Kaboré is visiting the United States this Lent to share his personal story with audiences and show how participation in CRS Rice Bowl by Catholics in the U.S. is helping bring innovative programs and approaches to stop hunger in poor communities overseas. Burkina Faso is one of the countries featured in this year’s CRS Rice Bowl.
See him speak at Masses at St. Mary’s in Cherry Hill on Saturday, March 3 and Sunday, March 4, and a longer talk at Paul VI High School in Haddon Township at 7:00 pm on March 4.
3) “Aware: Living Justice” parish mission at St. Clare’s in Swedesboro/Paulsboro
The Diocese of Camden’s first-ever social justice Lenten parish mission is open to all! On Monday, March 11, I’ll be giving a presentation on Catholic social teaching — two sessions, 5:00-6:00 pm or 6:30-7:30 pm, at St. Joseph’s Church in Swedesboro. Then, on Tuesday, St. Clare’s parochial vicar Fr. Rene will be celebrating a special Mass for a more just world (6:30 pm at St. John’s Church in Paulsboro).
If you’d like to bring something similar to your parish, during Lent or beyond, email me at michael [dot] laskey [at] camdendiocese [dot] org.
On March 22nd at Rutgers University-Camden, founder and president of JustFaith Ministries, Jack Jezreel, will give the 13th annual Romero Lecture. A dynamic and visionary speaker, Jack’s talk is on the theme “Justice or Just Us? What It Means to Live for Others.” His keynote is at 7:00 pm, with interactive workshops beginning at 3:00 pm. Buy tickets at the above link, or click the image below:
Also, the Romero Center is sponsoring Lenten faith-sharing communities for young adults in their 20s and 30s, hosted at people’s homes throughout the region. The groups will use the story of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s conversion to a passionate companion of the poor and oppressed to frame reflection on our universal call to live justly.
This movie opens on March 1, and based on the trailer, it appears to be a must-see. Visit our Facebook page closer to the release date for information on local theaters showing the film.
More from the film’s website:
50 million people in the U.S.—one in four children—don’t know where their next meal is coming from, despite our having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all Americans. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine this issue through the lens of three people who are struggling with food insecurity: Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her two kids; Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of ways to deepen our commitment to living Catholic social teaching this Lent. And please, if you know of other events, leave them in the comments or send me an email; they can be included on the Life & Justice calendar of events.