The traditional Lenten themes of Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting call us to a deeper relationship with God, God’s children and God's earth.
Chalana stopped me in the park a few weeks ago. I have known her since she started coming to our community house for help several years ago.
We talked for a while. I gave her some money to help her with her needs.
She then told me that the government removed from the approved list of medicines the only medicine that helped her psychological needs. She didn’t know what she was going to do. Then, she told me, to make matters worse the government was also closing most of the mental health clinics in the city.
I couldn’t find the words to respond to her except to say I knew about the closings already. Deep inside I felt the anger rising at such injustice against the most vulnerable.
The words of Rev. Cornell West came to mind: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
The 1971 Synod of Catholic Bishops said as much in their document Justice in the World: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation. [#16…. [U]nless the Christian message of love and justice shows its effectiveness through action in the cause of justice in the world, it will only with difficulty gain credibility.” [#35]
Father Dehon, founder of the Congregation of Priests of the Sacred Heart, of which I am a member, said it well: "Charity is a palliative which is always welcome and often necessary; but it does not attack the root of the evil" (Social Works vol. 1, p. 366)
where we stand naked before God
our soul to be tested
to be refined in fire
to be shown things
we’d rather not see
to be presented with a vision
too wonderful to attain
yet, which ignites our hearts
in unexpected ways.
tests and refines
are no longer sufficient
to claim our loyalty
but the living God
who sends us out
all that we touch
including our own hearts
Prayer is a subversive activity.
For me, fasting has at least two elements to it.
First, when we fast from some or all food for shorter periods, we have chosen to live a little more closely with those who struggle each day for their daily bread.
Gandhi’s words are poignant here:
“It is good enough to talk of God whilst we are sitting here after a nice breakfast and looking forward to a nicer luncheon, but how am I to talk of God to the millions who have to go without two meals a day? To them God can only appear as bread and butter.”
Second, and this is connected with the first element. When we fast, we are not only offered an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, but we are also invited to work with them in creating the beloved community living in harmony with all creation. Clearly, hope is in such a struggle.
Dorothy Day -- founder of the Catholic Worker community, and identified by Pope Francis as a model for us in the USA when speaking to the U.S. congress -- acknowledged that “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
Again Pope Francis: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
The traditional Lenten themes of Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting call us to greater solidarity with God and with those who are poor and oppressed, including the earth itself which sustains us all.
Or so it seems to me.