Compared to other seasons throughout the year, Lent remarkably calls us to enter the present moment. Advent instills feelings of excitement as we await the birth of Christ, while Lent purposely asks us to slow down and contemplate a life lived for others, the life of Jesus. For some, this season is difficult as we give up cups of coffee, a daily Netflix habit, or after-dinner sweets for 40 days, but we aren’t missing much if its solely focus on the sacrifice itself. That’s when we fail to live in the present moment, for something grows in such sacrifice. Instead, we should pay attention to the meaning of our offering. Why are we giving this up? Or better yet, for whom are we giving this up for?
Often, refugee parents give up their entire livelihood to provide a better future for their children. Last month, I visited JRS programs in Ecuador. JRS Ecuador is currently responding to the large number of Venezuelan migrants passing through and staying in Ecuador. As I went from site to site, I had the opportunity to speak with Venezuelan mothers and fathers who shared their journey with me. Their stories expressed the sacrifice and perseverance that many parents often endure for the safety and security of their children and loved ones.
As one mother, Daniela said, “to leave home isn’t easy,” which comes across as an understatement as she protected her children from violence, sexual exploitation, and persecution along the journey, while nursing them when they were ill and hungry. It was in those moments when Daniela persisted, that she knew the voyage was for her children to escape the pain and suffering of Venezuela. “Continue forward” was her mantra, although she knew that so much had been left behind as they walked on foot to the border of Ecuador.
Daniela’s story is one of many refugees and migrants who are forced to make tough decisions as they seek a new home. Obtaining food, water, and shelter are choices with a cost to pay. But many refugee parents don’t count that cost, because they have faith in the overall benefits of their sacrifice. As Christ knew the benefit of sacrificing His life for us.
As we know, Christ will rise on Easter. However, we often forget that every day offers us a glimpse of Christ’s dying and rising—from the setting of the sun to its rising. It’s a season like Lent that teaches us to observe these daily mysteries. It’s through the Three Pillars of Lenten Observance, or what I like to call the Three Calls to Actions—prayer, fasting, almsgiving—that we are brought to awareness. Prayer slows us down and deepens a relationship through mutual understanding. Fasting teaches us solidarity, by coming to know what so many people go without daily. Almsgiving brings love to action, by sharing with the greater community the gifts we’ve been given.
Here at JRS/USA, we invite you to make this Lent a time for others, specifically refugees and forcibly displaced people. Instead of focusing on giving up, simply give—by accompanying, advocating, and serving. Accompany refugees through prayer, reading scripture, or coming to know their story. Advocate by fasting, work to understand the experience of another or by recognizing what you must do for a vulnerable voice to be heard. And you can serve by not only sharing your talents in ways that benefit you, but for the benefit of others. We ask that you go out into the world, encounter God’s creation, experience the reality, and allow yourself to be surprised. It’s not only about what we give up. It’s about becoming aware of the potential we hold to do much good and give life.
This reflection is part JRS/USA’s Lenten campaign to #PrayFastGive4Refugees. we’re asking our supporters and friends to consider the Three Pillars of Lenten Observance – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – as three calls to action for refugees. These three actions, like the mission of Jesuit Refugee Service – accompany, advocate, serve – are ways in which we can dedicate ourselves to our displaced brothers and sisters around the world. Click here to learn more.