Have I lost my reward?
Every odd season of Lent I feel led to fast for all the forty (six) days. It means eating a very light breakfast, a cup of tea for lunch and a frugal vegetarian meal for dinner. Perhaps you might ask yourself why am I telling you all this. Have I not read Matthew 5: 16? Haven’t I lost my reward?
I don’t fast for a reward and if I have lost it, so be it. The truth is that for forty six days, all that crosses my mind is food and all that I have chosen to give up in Lent. I am sure I share a very similar experience with many good Catholics as they fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Ironically, the minute you decide to fast, the thoughts of feasting creep in. How powerful is the human mind!
For a long time in my spiritual life, I used to chastise myself for focusing on food while fasting; I don’t any more. I have grown to accept this as part of the discipline of fasting. Yes, there are great spiritual benefits when you fast, great graces of God that you experience, but all of that is still dominated by the thoughts of food!
When Christ chastised satan, He used strong words when He said, “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from God.” By saying that, Christ called us to focus on Him in the season of Lent. The season is not so much about what we don’t do or even about what we do, but about the reason behind the season. The focus is not on the sinner as much as it is about the Saviour.
Having said all that, I want to get back to food because I do believe that what we do not consume in Lent, we should also end up sharing with others, especially those in most need of it. In the parish of St Jude, Malad East, where I am a priest, we decided to share our meal with the hungry. We called these Sunday outreaches, ‘Lenten Lunches’.
St Jude’s is financially challenged, but certainly not in generosity. Over the past three Sundays we have fed almost a thousand people. When I first mooted this idea, I myself wondered where would these poor people come from? Would we be standing there on the road looking quite foolish with no one to offer the food we cooked?
So we took a chance and decided to set a table right outside the Church on the public road and wait. We did not have to wait for long for people streamed in from all over. I was surprised how many hungry people there were and word got around super-fast. The poor share the ‘good news’ that food is available faster than we share the Good News of Christ!
In all of this, I happened to watch a documentary on Netflix called Auschwitz. Having visited the site myself three years ago, I was keen to watch the documentary. What moved me the most was the statement of a Russian prisoner of war whose ordeal of torture continued in his own nation, long after being released from Auchwitz. He spoke of all those years of being hungry, years when all he thought of was food. It struck me then, that no matter how disciplined my mind is while I fast in Lent, I am assured of a meal when I break my fast. There will be food to break my fast, no matter how frugal it may be.
There is a hungry world out there with thousands starving, and we have a moral duty to alleviate the hunger of the starving millions. Mindfulness is the word that crossed my mind; can we be mindful when we fill our plates, mindful when we order in a restaurant, mindful when we reject leftover kept in a refrigerator?
When we were serving the Lenten Lunches this Sunday, I noticed a man who had leftovers from not only this meal, but perhaps the previous. Perhaps it was food he had just picked from someone else’s left overs. He had this all packed in a plastic carry bag. One of my youth mindfully said, “that’s a poor man’s refrigerator.”
I don’t want to talk about the starving thousands in Africa or Asia, or drive any more guilt than most of us are brought up with. What I wish that the reader pick up from my thoughts is gratitude – gratitude for what we have and what we are given. That is our reward.
Fr. Warner D'souza
St. Jude's Church, Malad East
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