In our culture of plenty, it’s tough to imagine going without food or sustenance. Yet the sad reality is that the people in developing countries often experience hunger in staggering numbers. We simply don’t have personal experiences of sustained physical hunger; rather, in many ways, we’re able to satisfy even our smallest cravings.
Indeed, much of our preoccupation with food has to do with abundance. We aren’t used to the idea of going to a super market, for example, and being confronted with a limited selection of brands or choices. When it comes to our relationship with food, more and bigger are better. Ironically, this blessing also is, at times, our largest challenge: finding ourselves on the unhealthy side of food consumption.
Given this social reality, it might seem strange to embark on a forty-day journey to temper our eating habits as one of the goals. The practice and discipline of fasting doesn’t always come easy. So, we make calculated choices for Lent. We negotiate between this or that food that will remain out of our reach. For the most sophisticated among us, this calculated negotiation often manifests itself not in deprivations but in renewed spiritual or physical attainments.
Regardless of which side of the Lenten spectrum we find ourselves, we know in faith that entering a season of sacrifice is valuable. Our prayer and discernment of sacrifice and spiritual practices helps us slow down from our hectic lives and brings spiritual respite and perspective.
In faith, we know that the spiritual practices and hunger we may put ourselves through aren’t necessarily ends in themselves but are means to help us sense the deeper reality of our Christian lives. “Blessed are you who are now hungry, for your will be satisfied…But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry” (Luke 6:21; 25). This paradox of being blessed in our human longing and hunger and afflicted in our plenty, reminds us of the fact that God’s paths aren’t always our ways.
The blessings that accompany our Lenten sacrificial journey point to the sobering reality of God’s ways and to the hope promised in Jesus Christ. “And they said to Him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same, but yours eat and drink.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Can you make the wedding guest fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days’” (Luke 5:33-35).
As we temper our human longings with fasts and feasts this Lenten season, we pray that God will continue to bless us with the grace necessary to discern more clearly the ways that will lead closer to that Kingdom of God, where radical hospitality reigns and human hunger will be no more: “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eye.” (Revelations 7:16-17).
Orozco is executive director of intercultural and interreligious affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.