Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
In his Message for Lent, Pope Francis writes;
“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts; no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt”.
I was reflecting on the Pope’s statement in the light of the time honoured tradition of the Church’s recommendation for this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Many of you will remember the old fasting regimes we used to have i.e. all the days of Lent (except Sundays) were fast days which were measured as the two smaller meals not exceeding the main meal and all Fridays were days of abstinence. Now, of course, only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are mandatory fast and abstinence days. The Church, of course, has always recommended fasting as an appropriate practice but in the light of Pope’s insistence on feeding the hungry of the world in our global village, we need as Catholics to seriously review this and what better time than Lent.
As Pope Francis asks us to reflect on the Christian meaning of poverty and sharing with the poor, I would urge you to become involved in the Lenten Caritas programme Open up a horizon of hope in your parish or pastoral area. This can give us direction for practical help.
Recently, I was reading an address that Archbishop Eamon Martin, coadjutor archbishop of Armagh gave in Dublin. Among a number of points he made he said, “The problem of world poverty remains a huge challenge for all of us. The recent observation by Oxfam that the 85 richest people in the world earn more than 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest people stopped many of us in our tracks. Apparently one third of all the food bought in Ireland is thrown out – and worldwide there are 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste every year. Pope Francis refers to the ‘scandal of global hunger’ and says ‘we cannot look the other way and pretend that global hunger does not exist’. ‘We must try to give a voice to those who suffer silently from hunger so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world’ ”. Our Holy Father has stated bluntly that the food that is wasted could feed the hungry world.
A number of salient questions come to mind e.g.
How much food in New Zealand is thrown out?
What can we do to ensure that food left over is never wasted?
Food banks in New Zealand recently reported that demands on their services have increased threefold. I know that a number of parishes, some working with the good offices of St Vincent de Paul, have organised deep freeze Refrigerators for surplus meals. As a Lenten work, why not add an extra meal that can be given to the Parish scheme for the ‘hungry guest’. Other initiatives can be where parishes work in conjunction with local food banks or a soup kitchen or meal arrangements which assist the needy.
Let us remember that when we help that ‘hungry guest’, that brother or sister in need, as Matthew 25: 31 ff. reminds us starkly that it is Christ we are helping. Our love of God becomes practical and actual when we help that sister or brother in need. When we finally come before God he may say to us “Who else have you brought with you?”
With all good wishes for this sacred season,
In the Spirit