Lent is almost upon us. Next Wednesday, we’ll mark our foreheads with ashes as we begin our journey toward the Cross. Our worship spaces will be cloaked in shades of purple. Our meals will be simple, and many of us will “give something up”. We’ll spend extra time in prayer. We’ll commit ourselves to those in need. And we’ll respond to God’s invitation to turn our hearts more deeply toward the Divine mystery. Somewhere in that moment where Jesus’ suffering is joined with our human brokenness, we realize our salvation.
Somehow, I imagine that Lent will be a bit different here. At Holy Cross Lake View, we celebrate Sunday Mass in André Hall – the school’s multi-purpose pavilion – where a purple altarcloth might be the only visible sign of the change in season. And, there is no collection of Lenten music. For the people of Uganda, meals are generally very simple – and almost always meatless. At school, we eat posho, (imagine day-old Cream of Wheat that has solidified after a day in the refrigerator), rice, beans and bitter greens on a daily basis. Perhaps most noticeably, almost everyone here can be considered to be “in need”. So many in Uganda live in poverty, and I hear of students’ financial hardships almost every day. Even ordinary school fees are far beyond the means of an average family.
What is the place of fasting in a place like this? What is the place of sacrifice? Our faith tradition tells us that God opposes the crushing poverty that afflicts so many in our world. God is grieved by human suffering. Our Lenten disciplines, then, must be about an openness to God’s invitation in our lives. Fasting focuses our attention on God, the only One who can satisfy our deepest longings. Prayer brings us into conversation with Jesus, who speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. Almsgiving places us in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who live in poverty, reminding us that our journey toward God – our salvation – is bound up together.
At Holy Cross Lake View, I doubt that students will eat much less than usual, and I’m sure that the amount of money contributed to our collection for a local home for orphans will certainly be small. Aside from gathering for the Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoons, prayer may not look very different, either. Fasting, almsgiving and prayer, however, are not about quantity, but about quality. Knowing our dependence on God, opening ourselves to God’s Word, and placing ourselves in communion with one another draw us – each of these draws us beyond ourselves and moves us toward the Cross. Here, we are conformed to Jesus the Christ, whose perfect “yes” to love – even unto suffering and death – replaces the times that we have said “no”. Here we receive the gracious promise of union with the Divine. Here is our hope.
Mr. Mark DeMott, C.S.C., is a temporarily professed seminarian spending a ministry year in East Africa teaching at Holy Cross Lake View Senior Secondary School in Jinja, Uganda. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog reflecting on seminary life in Holy Cross. Learn more about seminary formation for priesthood and religious life in the Congregation. Also learn more about the work of Holy Cross in mission in East Africa.