By Frank Wessling
Have you ever thought you’d like to grow up to be a Polish nun? Nicholas Kristof has, and he’s not even Catholic.
Kristof travels the world’s back roads where people are suffering in ways we can hardly imagine and reports on what he sees. One of his recent columns in the New York Times praised the work of church-based international aid organizations, which led to this paragraph:
“One of the most inspiring figures I’ve met while covering Congo’s brutal civil war is a determined Polish nun in the terrifying hinterland, feeding orphans, standing up to drunken soldiers and comforting survivors — all in a war zone. I came back and decided: I want to grow up and become a Polish nun.”
During Lent we should all want to “grow up” in the same way. But it’s so hard to do.
We’ve always admired our missionaries, those brave and hardy folks who turn completely away from the comforts of home to do God’s work. They go to strange, faraway places in hope of “saving” the natives while we stay home with our families and sleep safely between clean sheets. They follow Jesus’ example as he turned his face toward Jerusalem and walked into the sin and suffering of the world to redeem it.
We admire them as we marvel at Jesus, but it’s so hard to follow.
It may be difficult but there is a clear way, the same way that we can figuratively go with soldiers at war, those missionaries our country sends out with military orders. They need a lifeline of money and supplies from us back on the home front, and we both need a connection in spirit.
The home front is a term from Second World War days in the 1940s, the last time all Americans worked together in sharing the passion of a great mission. The people who stayed home felt real deprivation through rationing and shortages of basic goods. The battle front at home certainly wasn’t the danger faced by troops on the various fighting fronts but at least there was a sharing in discomfort, both physical and psychological. Everyone was, in a sense, displaced from normalcy for this common, extraordinary effort. Everyone shared in watching the news from far-off places.
Everyone at home shared in contributing to the lifeline of support. That’s the kind of support Nick Kristof’s Polish nun needs. It’s what the Catholic Relief Services staff in Haiti and Chile need as they feed, house, bandage, clothe and comfort earthquake survivors. It’s what other Catholic mission agencies need — groups like Food for the Poor, the Catholic Medical Mission Board, Christian Foundation for Children and Families.
It’s easy, not hard, to join that lifeline during Lent by using the Rice Bowl program that supports Catholic Relief Services. If you don’t have one of those small cardboard rice bowl banks at home, get one from your parish church and use it. The point is not only the money, important as that is, but the connection in spirit between our homes and the work being done on the front lines against poverty and despair.
Lent is nothing if it doesn’t include some fasting, some trimming of material comforts and security so we can feel the primacy of the spiritual. Don’t indulge quite so much and put the money saved into the rice bowl bank — but try each time to include the prayer that should be part of this sacrificial action, this sharing in the mission of Christ.
The prayer is printed on every bowl:
God of all people,
Hear us as we join in prayer with our brothers and sisters in need.
Bless our Lenten fasting, learning and giving.
May your generous love for your people
Be our guide as we reach out to all
Who live with hunger and poverty.