The Privilege of Lenten Sacrifice

Dear Friend,

For many of us, Lent is in our bones. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is as expected this time of year as “What do you want for Christmas?” is in December.

There is, of course, a big difference. The giving and getting part of Christmas can—and has been—exploited by commercial interests. That certainly happens to Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. But you don’t see it once Lent begins. No one takes out an advertisement on TV saying, “Give Up Our Product for Lent!”

So, Lent remains untainted, its religious roots unsullied by secular considerations. Because of that, the question about what we are giving is always provocative. It causes us to think—about sacrifice, about what’s important in our lives, about our priorities—in a way that other seasons do not.

These thoughts are what’s behind our annual CRS Rice Bowl campaign. In asking people to give up something specific and to put the money they saved into their Rice Bowl, we’re asking them to think, to feel, to understand the solidarity that a simple act of sacrifice makes real.

As important as the value of the money we raise—money that feeds hungry people around the world—are those thoughts and feelings, that understanding of sacrifice and solidarity. It is there you find grace, humility and God.

I often say that it is a privilege to serve the poor. I really believe that. What greater calling can you answer? There are not many.

When you contemplate the meaning of Lent, you realize that it’s a privilege to make these sacrifices. Think of what you are giving up. Now think of the rewards you receive. Is there any comparison?

Our sacrifice reminds us of the sacrifices that gave us the Lenten season, of the Father who sent his Son to Earth knowing the fate that awaited him, and the pain and suffering he would endure as he accepted and embraced that fate which was, of course, the ultimate sacrifice.

But then think of the rewards celebrated later this month on Easter Sunday: resurrection, redemption, a hope that was promised and given to all humanity. These rewards gave eternal value to those temporal sacrifices.

Those sacrifices and that redemption placed a responsibility on those of us who follow Jesus in his Church, which is the body of Christ, the word made flesh. It is through us that his hope will become real. Just as we find God in the meaning of our Lenten sacrifices, we find him in the acts of compassion and kindness that help the poor, wherever they may be.

One of the reasons that it is such a privilege to serve the poor is that we at Catholic Relief Services get to see God in our work around the world. We see the grace of God every day, in a seed that will grow in a drought-stricken field in West Africa, in a tarpaulin given to a mother who lost her home to a typhoon, in a child eating a meal at a school where she is learning skills that will ensure her future.

Your simple acts of sacrifice and solidarity make our work possible. You feed people around the world, spreading the Easter message of hope to those who need it the most.

May blessings overflow,

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO

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