Today I went to Dulce Nombre for the Mass to begin Lent. Padre German had invited all those who would lead celebrations of the Word in their communities to come for Mass where he blessed the ashes and distributed them to those who would sign the people in their community.
I had planned to go to two of the remotest villages. But on the way there I heard a terrible noise in the car and the warning lights came on. The most problematic was the one noting that the battery was not recharging. It would not be good to get stuck in Debajiados with a dead battery – though that might have been a good Lenten penance!
I turned around and went to a mechanic in Dulce Nombre who analyzed the problem as the alternator but told me that I’d have to get it fixed in Santa Rosa. So I went off to Santa Rosa and got it fixed.
I returned at about 6:00 pm to Plan Grande, a village – and a region – without electricity. At about 8:00 am in Santa Rosa truck struck a utility pole – and affected the lights in the entire region. When I left Santa Rosa electricity was slowly returning – but there’s none here now – at 8:39 pm.
Gloria had invited me to their Ash Wednesday service at 7:00 pm. When I arrived, she asked me to preside and lead the reflection. I had prepared for the visits to the other villages and so it was not a problem.
I decided to concentrate on the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
When I began to discuss fasting I asked the folks there how many times a week they eat meat. Almost all said only once or twice.
For the poor life is a continuous fast.
But I encouraged them to fast from vengeance, anger, gossip, watching too much television, and more – to open their hearts more to Christ in this time of conversion – so that we can be reconciled with God and with each other.
But what do fasting and abstinence mean for me – a vegetarian? Maybe less internet. More time spent with people in the village. Simpler meals. And more – or, rather, less.
But I think most of all it means austerity and solidarity.
As Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero said in his September 3, 1978 homily:
When Pope Paul VI modified the meaning of penance for the Christian people, he said that there are different ways to understand the meaning of penance in the Christian life.
Fasting is done in one way in developed countries, where people eat well, and another way in underdeveloped countries, where life is almost always lived in a fast.
In this situation, he said, penance means to put austerity where there is much well-being and to put courage and solidarity with the suffering and efforts for a better world where life is almost a perpetual fast.
This is penance; this is God’s will.
And so I will try to fast in solidarity and austerity – so that God may move me even more to love.