Lent has begun! Yes, the season of Lent for many Christian churches began Wednesday on the day we call Ash Wednesday. I must admit that I don’t always look forward to Lent — I think of it as a time to look at myself and my life and see what needs to be rooted out, what needs to change. Not easy work.
The pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and each year I ask myself: how will I incorporate each of these into my life during these 40 days? When it comes to giving alms, who should get my money — there are so many needs in our world today. Well, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) offers us a way to give our donations through a program it calls Rice Bowls. It’s a simple program that gets everyone involved. Each family in our parish receives a cardboard bowl at the beginning of Lent. Sometimes every member of the family wants their own Rice Bowl, so we give out quite a few. Inside the Rice Bowl, which needs to be assembled, is a list of five recipes from five different countries that need resources and significant assistance for their most vulnerable citizens, the great majority being children.
After I assemble my Rice Bowl I will put it on our dining room table. This way I will see it every time I sit down to eat — this is my constant reminder not to forget the people in our world that don’t have enough to eat. Then in the morning when I want that donut with sprinkles I might think about that Rice Bowl and put in the money instead.
The money collected in the Rice Bowls goes to various countries where the needs are greatest. But when you donate money to people in a country that you have never visited you can feel somewhat removed from the experiences of the people, so the program has developed two ways to be more connected with each country. First, what do the people of that country eat? A recipe is included and we are asked to try it. At the Cathedral, we prepare the meal of the week according to the recipe on Friday evenings and then serve it to whoever comes, along with a glass of water. Meat is very expensive for the poor so all the recipes are vegetarian. Our first recipe comes from India — it’s a vegetable stew, called Dalma with spinach and is served over rice. Later weeks include recipes from Zambia, El Salvador, Mexico and Ethiopia. Though simple I have been amazed that these meals are so tasty.
The second way we get connected to these countries is through a short video about the people of the particular countries and how the people there are helped by CRS. By watching this video we can actually see how our donations are being used.
Since there are different ways to use the Rice Bowls, I asked several families how they used them in their homes. These are some ways they are currently being used:
• One family with three children has a Rice Bowl for each family member. The children are asked to do household chores, and when a chore is completed money is put into that child’s Rice Bowl.
• Another family has a family Rice Bowl. They don’t use it directly for collecting money but as a reminder to eat more simply and then at the end of Lent they estimate what they have saved and make a donation.
• A third family with three children has one Bowl — each person chooses what he/she decides to give up during Lent and then makes a donation to the Bowl according to what they decide.
• Another family empties their pockets each night and donates all the loose change they have accumulated during the day.
By using this way of giving alms children are taught to be generous and to think of others while at the same time the whole family is involved.
This symbol and concrete reminder of those around the world who don’t have the basic necessities of life is the way I will choose to give alms this Lent.
• Sr. Marie Lucek, OP, is the pastoral assistant at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.