By Rachel McCarthy, Theology Programme Communications Coordinator
The season of Lent is fast upon us. It is time to prepare for the traditional acts of giving, praying and fasting, as we journey with Jesus through 40 days and nights.
Lent is a season of reflection and renewal. A time of growing in faith and looking deeper at our lives to be re-centred on God and our neighbour. A time to deepen our prayer life and to grow in faith. A time of giving and sharing with our global family.
Fasting during Lent
And then there is fasting. We might give something up such as chocolate, and we make a special effort on Fridays to abstain from the goods we usually take for granted. A few times I have fasted for 24 hours during Lent. Last year for example, I fasted in solidarity with people in the UK who are living on the breadline and are forced every week to go to food banks to feed their families.
I have to admit, for me, fasting is never easy. Although food poverty is an issue close to my heart, I found it very difficult to stay focused during these 24 hours. I found myself being more tired and irritable with others around me. I was tempted to winge, to draw attention to myself, in the hope that others would feel sorry for me.
But this is precisely the temptation which we must avoid. In the long hours of our fasting, we must wrestle with our demons, and stay focused on God. In a very real sense, fasting is the act of emptying ourselves, so that we can turn away from all that separates us from loving God. It’s a time of trial, when we rekindle patience and hope for the resurrection.
We are warned by the Prophet Isaiah not to wear a sackcloth and quarrel with our neighbour when we fast. Instead, we read: “Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me: to break unjust fetters, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break all yokes?” (Isaiah 58:6-7) This passage prompts us to see fasting in a new light. We turn the tables on ourselves to be filled with greater gifts; reverence for God, compassion for our neighbours, and a hunger for justice.
Solidarity with our global neighbours
2015 is the fiftieth anniversary of Gaudium et Spes. We read: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” As Lent approaches, let us prepare to put our own desires behind us, so we can share in the joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties of our global neighbours.
Global neighbours like 58-year-old Kyin Nu, who lives in a small jungle village in Myanmar. A few years ago, a huge storm ripped through her community. In the early hours of the morning, hundreds of people in Kyin Nu’s village were killed, including her two eldest daughters. Through no fault of her own, Kyin Nu lost everything.
I am deeply inspired by Kyin Nu. Despite the fact that she had lost everything, she refused to give up, and placed her hope in God. She says: “My faith helps me through these times.”
This Lent, we hold in our thoughts and prayers Kyin Nu and all our neighbours who are faced with the daily challenge of a changing climate.
Caring for God’s creation
A changing climate and increasingly extreme weather have the biggest impact on those who are
least able to cope. All over the world, we can see how we have failed to protect our planet.
For too long, we have plundered the earth. We have carelessly taken too much and have not tended it with care. We have forgotten the fragility of our earth, so much so that the effects of extreme weather are harming the most vulnerable communities.
Just as we empty ourselves in order to recognise the joys and hopes of our neighbours, we also need to reflect on our relationship with God’s creation. It is in this context that I hope Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on human ecology and the environment will be the wake-up call we need.
En route to his recent visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis referred to the exploitation of nature by human activity. He said, “man has slapped nature in the face.” In the long-awaited encyclical, it is thought Pope Francis will draw attention to the plight of the earth, and invite us to care for the precious gift of creation. I hope it will inspire us to let the oppressed earth go free.
I hope our fasting, praying and giving is rooted in a hunger for justice this Lent, and a time of growing in compassion for our neighbours and all of God’s creation.
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Rachel’s blog was also published in The Catholic Times.