One of the things I love most about the Catholic Church is her emphasis on charity and solidarity. Each Lent, we are called to give alms, one of the three chief directives of this penitential season, along with prayer and fasting. For decades, many Catholics have participated in the annual Rice Bowl activity by dropping our change into little cardboard boxes from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week before returning them to church where the contents are sent to assist citizens of the earth who’re in distress, as determined by Catholic Relief Services (CRS). This year, the focus is Ukraine.
In past seasons, CRS has targeted various strugglers: farmers in Asia seeking innovative ways to grow crops through drought or disease, villagers in poverty-stricken rural communities of Central America to provide clean and sustainable water supplies, refugees in African nations that are driven from their homeland by tribal warfare or starvation, victims of viruses and diseases from SARS to AIDS to COVID-19 in areas overwhelmed with daily death and inadequate care, youth targeted for human trafficking, children suffering malnutrition, and victims of earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, or other natural disasters… CRS, like many rescue groups from Salvation Army to Amnesty International to The Red Cross, collects funds; and like many groups, from Doctors without Borders to Extension Society, they also work to change systems so that problems and obstacles get managed in better ways in the future.
With the support of our faith and charitable organizations, we can face the demons of our lives as Jesus did during His forty days in the desert. There are personal demons that only we know and only we can confront. There are also societal demons, like those unleashed across Ukraine this Lent, or school shootings that surface more than we’d like to admit. By standing together to contend with larger evil forces, we will be emboldened to deal with our own tormenters. I think CRS and the rice bowls might help us to do that.
Though they have been around for nearly eighty years, CRS is foreign to many of us. I encourage us to learn more about their work this Lent as we think globally, act locally, and expand our understanding of almsgiving and unanimity. If you didn’t happen to pick up a rice bowl on Ash Wednesday, you can create your own change dish and take the forty-day sum to your church during Holy Week. If your church doesn’t participate in this annual effort, you can bring it to this church, and we will add it to the unified contribution. But you don’t have to wait. You can click on the link here to donate to Ukraine and help, perhaps even save, some of the thousands of civilians who are wounded, the millions who have become refugees, and those who have lost loved ones through the horrendous invasion. Standing together in solidarity with those who suffer, especially from unjust aggression, helps all humanity. “Catholic” means universal; it is basic to our religious nature to accompany those in need and eventually to seek justice (as it is biblically defined): not getting even, but getting right—right with God and right with one another. We will do that through charity and solidarity.