For as long as I can remember, the observance of Lent has been a strict rule in my family. Particular emphasis was laid on fasting, even if this got laxer with generations. My grandmother abstained from meat all Lent except Sundays and at some point in Holy Week (I believe) did what was called ‘Seba’ Bukkuni’. This added the humiliation of begging for a ‘bukkun’ (morsel) for what you could eat on the day. Such severity is unheard of in this day when we barely even know how to measure a ‘bukkun’. Fasting has also become devalued. In an age where dieting is de rigeur, fasting is no longer something that inspires prayer or meditation. Even the Church has lifted the obligatory fasting to the barest minimum.
But does that mean we are all scot-free, no need for repentance of any sort?
Just look at the world around us. Pollution, waste, injustice. These seem to be the hallmarks of modernity. Is this right? Can we live with ourselves, an obese nation, gorging ourselves to excess in a pseudo-luxurious lifestyle? Perhaps some can, without a thought. Others will be asking: What’s she on about, now? How is this relevant to Lent?
“Our Mother Earth: A Christian reading of the environmental challenge” (Italian: Nostra Terra Madre. Una lettura Cristiana della sfida dell’ambiente) was penned by Pope Francis and includes thoughts and homilies on various aspects of the environment. This book makes it clear that Pope Francis, from the very beginning of his pontificate, has not shied away from facing with the utmost urgency a problem that can no longer be deferred. It is a matter of safeguarding the immense gift given by God to every living being, but especially to man, the only creature that has received the breath of God “blown on his face”. From the words of Genesis, Pope Francis emphasizes how safeguarding creation, on the one hand, and human life, on the other, are intimately connected and inseparable. The Pope’s words are a continuous appeal for the right to life, a right that is encompassed in keywords such as responsibility, justice, equality, and solidarity. For these fundamental reasons, Pope Francis calls for free access to the goods of the earth necessary for survival – and first of all water – without any discrimination between peoples.
Well. This Lent I have decided to fast in a different way. Inspired by Pope Francis’ suggestions for Lenten repentance activities, this year I was moved to fast in a different way. I wanted to make my fast worth it not simply for my soul but also for the world around me. So here goes:
My fasting plan
This year I will fast from using anything that comes with excessive packaging. From food to cosmetics, this will be a blanket refusal. In 2018, Pope Francis called for concrete action to combat the “emergency” of plastics littering seas and oceans, lamenting the lack of effective regulation to protect the world’s waters.
This year I will fast from foods which are not produced locally. This means that my foodstuffs will produce a smaller carbon footprint. Pope Francis, who has made the environment a signature cause of his pontificate, said he was strongly considering adding the category of “ecological sin” to the Catholic Church’s official compendium of teachings. My line of fasting will, I hope, will be in the line of penitence on this aspect.
This year I will use public transport/carpooling where possible but at least twice weekly. This will help reduce my own carbon footprint.
This year I will prefer anything that is recycled: from clothes to paper – I will try to go all the way.
Always the hard way
This is not an easy choice. A little time for reflection is sufficient to show just how much effort it is going to take to show Mother Earth, God’s creation our repentance. While choosing to take the car to work may not be evil in itself (indeed, it is often necessary for various reasons) the lazy choice of taking the car rather than the bus is a wrong choice.
A lent with a difference, hopefully, a difference which will last.