by Ruth Moraes
Lent is the time in the Church’s calendar when we are called to extra prayer, fasting and almsgiving. While we have provided some guidance about Lent & Social Justice before, this year we take another look. If you have been steeped in catholic social teaching principles and action for years, why not use this Lent to invite someone else to join the journey. At this time of year we are all called to turn our focus away from ourselves, towards God and those less blessed than us.
First things first: prayer. All our social justice work, and indeed all our other work should be centred in prayer. While for some there is a tendency to pray too much and not take enough action, for others there is a tendency to be too quick to action without adequate discernment in prayer. For those injustices which we have little or no power to remedy (such as the war in Ukraine or the several other conflicts going on in our world today) our constant recourse should be to prayer. Sensing this, Pope Francis specifically called on all Christians to fast and pray on Ash Wednesday (and beyond) for Peace between Russia and Ukraine.
Second: Fasting. Fasting helps us focus our attention on God and because God is ever present in the poor, our focus on God should lead us to focus on our brothers and sisters, especially the poor. If you are accustomed to giving up one thing for lent each year, why not take it one step further and give up one more thing. You can use the time or money you have saved as a result to devote to someone else in need.
Lastly but not least is almsgiving. Almsgiving embodies the crucial Catholic social teaching principle of the preferential option for the poor. While we can donate to people or organisations in direct need we can also direct our almsgiving to people or organisations who are working for a more just world. This is how social justice is supposed to work charity and justice, always working in conjunction with one another.
For those who have been working for justice for years, we may sometimes feel discouraged by the various injustices still prevalent in our community and the world. In anticipating this Pope Francis’ has provided a strong boost of encouragement just for these times. In his Message for Lent 2022 he said:
“Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity (kairós), let us do good to all” (Gal 6:9-10)…Lent is certainly such an opportune time, but so is our entire existence, of which Lent is in some way an image.”
Pope Francis encourages us to draw our hope and our strength from the Lord, so that we may continue to work faithfully for a more just world which respects the dignity of every single human being as one made in the image and likeness of God.
Amidst the many challenges we face we should also remember that there are signs of hope. The Archdiocese of Sydney has been involved in good initiatives such as recognising the humanity of the poor through the Sydney Street Feast, reducing rough sleeping in New South Wales, in working to eliminate modern slavery, advocacy for people seeking asylum and we are now also working on a Reconciliation Action Plan for the whole Archdiocese. However, many of these initiatives will take years so we draw on the wisdom of Pope Francis and “Let us ask God to give us the patient perseverance of the farmer (cf. Jas 5:7), and to persevere in doing good, one step at a time.”