During the Lenten season, we discipline our desires—through fasting, abstaining from indulgences, or committing to acts of generosity—in order to be able to become quiet within our souls. Our focus is on hearing the “full-throated” cries of our hearts and a world in crisis.
It’s very easy to talk about what we are giving up for Lent in order to call attention to our piety or our worthiness to celebrate in the hopefulness of the Resurrection. But in today’s reading, God asks that our Lenten fasts not only linger on acts of deprivation in and of themselves, but rather that our Lenten sacrifices are done in order to bring greater freedom and justice into the world.
As a child, I was asked to give something up in order to imagine Jesus’ offering for the world’s redemption. I didn’t fully understand the Lenten season and its complicated theology, but I realized that I admired those whose Lenten promises were preceded and proceeded by their daily offerings, or rather, their commitments in all seasons to do the justice that Isaiah describes. The acts of love like housing those without homes, feeding the hungry, and advocating for those wrongfully convicted are far more powerful than fixating on what one gives up.
How could Lent change our perspectives if we think about the deep connection between what we remove from our lives and how these acts can contribute to the lives of others?
In this season, Isaiah reminds me to be a conscious consumer, to amplify the fight against state-sanctioned violence and the death penalty, and to fight for those susceptible to eviction. The biblical mandate to fight against social injustice is unfortunately timely, and the power of faith in action is timeless.
What we step away from during Lent allows us to move closer to the world we all want to see.
Dr. Marcia Chatelain is a Provost’s distinguished associate professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University. She is the author of South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration and Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. Her next book will examine the history of college access programs and the specific ways that first-generation college students are transforming higher education. Chatelain has published pieces on the websites of The Atlantic and Time, as well as The Washington Post, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Dr. Chatelain was a keynote speaker at the 2019 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice.