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A Lenten Journey

| Wednesday, February 18, 2015

To me, the beginning of Lent was always met with the constant question, “What are you going to give up this year?” As a little kid, that meant giving up mac n’ cheese, fruit snacks, or, as my sister did once, onion rings (okay, she was a junior in high school when she did this … last year). As I got older, these sacrifices became larger. Chocolate, TV time, even eliminating all sweets, as I’ve done the past few years. These sacrifices were also met with comparisons, the “Oh you’re giving up chips, I’m giving up all chocolate” comment. Lent became a challenge of who could give up the most difficult and delicious food. Lent had basically turned into a spring break diet.

This year, I’m taking a different approach. Not because I’m giving up on cutting junk food (but let’s be honest I couldn’t go more than 40 days without dark chocolate anyways), but instead because that’s not what Lent is about. The purpose of Lent is to begin a 40-day journey of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to deepen and strengthen our relationship with Christ. Lent isn’t about trying to fit into that bikini or about giving up something more difficult than your friend, Lent is about doing something for your faith and for others.

When I heard about the CRS Rice Bowl Initiative, it brought me back to the true meaning of Lent. The CRS Rice Bowl is Catholic Relief Services’ response to hunger in Africa, which started 40 years ago. This year there will be many of the cardboard rice bowls in each dorm to collect any donations to raise money for impoverished areas. Each rice bowl also comes with a calendar with each day of Lent including a simple reflection to join in solidarity and prayer for our brothers and sisters.

Another unique quality about the CRS Rice Bowl is that the focus is not solely on global solidarity, but on local communities as well. Of the money raised, 75 percent goes to helping global hunger, but another 25 percent is used to help local issues. Here in this “Notre Dame bubble” we may not realize all the support that those in our community may need. How can we show those around us this solidarity? There are so many ways we can do this, especially on our own campus. A simple acknowledgement or word of thanks to the service staff on campus can foster this overall sense of community and help us reach out to others. With many commitments in our schedule, it can be difficult to slow down and take a step back to remember what is truly meaningful, our relationships with one another. Those who work to provide food in the dining halls, clean the dorms and protect our campus work hard for our benefit; the least we can do is show our gratitude for their meaningful work. If someone is looking for a way to serve others by putting their words into actions, the Center for Social Concerns in Geddes Hall provides many service opportunities for students to join in solidarity with our brothers and sisters here on campus and in the surrounding South Bend and Mishawaka area. The CRS Rice Bowl represents an opportunity to join in solidarity with one another and to promote the community to which Notre Dame aspires.

And, like everything, there’s an app for that. The app, entitled “CRS Rice Bowl” comes equipped with alarms for reminders for Lenten promises, opportunities to donate and my personal favorite, daily reflections. So this year, instead of just giving up all sweets (difficult as that is), I’m going to use this app to read the daily reflections on my walk to classes. Instead of spending my walks checking Yik Yak or Twitter, I’m going to spend them in reflection and prayer.

I realized that giving up all sweets or chocolate or Facebook was a challenge, but it was a challenge for only myself. I didn’t find myself building on my faith or sharing in solidarity with others, I was just constantly craving chocolate and eating lots of peanut butter to appease my sweet tooth. This year, I won’t focus my Lenten journey around “40 days without sweets” but instead “40 days for solidarity.” I encourage everyone to do the same. The next time you see a CRS Rice Bowl, I hope you stop to say a quick prayer or donate if you wish, but I really hope you think. What does Lent mean to you? And what does your Lenten promise mean for others?

Please check out crsricebowl.org and download the CRS Rice Bowl App for more information!

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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