A Lenten Love Letter

There is something characteristically, beautifully and powerfully Catholic about CRS Rice Bowl

Characteristically, because Rice Bowl is an intensely incarnate program.  The flimsy, yet sturdy, fold-together Rice Bowl on the dining room table is something you can see and touch.  The aromas of Rice Bowl's meatless dinner recipes fill the kitchen on Friday nights, stimulate the taste buds with flavors both new and familiar, and fill the stomach (or not, which provides its own lesson). 

Beautifully, because Rice Bowl's educational materials are thoughtfully and artfully prepared.  They're inviting to the eye and always feature, first and foremost, photographs of CRS beneficiaries from around the world and across the US.  Unlike some charitable programs, Rice Bowl doesn't innundate its donor-participants with images of blank-eyed impoverished victims on the brink of death.  Rather, Rice Bowl's photographs, stories and videos steadily and subtly offer images and reminders of the hope and joy that come from faith and love made incarnate. 

Powerfully, first because Rice Bowl raises $7 million annually to support CRS programs in 40 countries around the world. (1/4 of money raised stays in local dioceses.)  Second, because Rice Bowl deepens the meaning and practice of Lent...especially for children:

How many kinds of fruits and vegetables do you have in your house?  Give 25¢ to your Rice Bowl for each type.

In 2010, difficult conditions in Haiti were made worse by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake.  Thousands of people were stripped of access to clean water.  How many water faucets are in your house?  Give 25¢ to your Rice Bowl for each.

Almost 50% of Guatemalan children under age 5 don't have the food and nutrients they need to grow up healthy.  How many snacks have you had today?  Give 50¢ to your Rice Bowl for each one.

When our children were growing up, not only did they delight in scurrying around the house to answer questions like these, they also participated daily, in ways appropriate to their age, in the other Rice Bowl Lenten calendar activities:  reading Bible passages, reciting prayers, asking questions about Catholic social teaching, discussing the Pope's statements, preparing meals, all the while absorbing what it means to be a Catholic Christian.

I have two favorite lines from the baptismal rite for infants.  The first is addressed to the newly baptized, "_____, the Christian community welcomes you with great joy."  The second is addressed to the parents:  "It will be your duty to raise _____ in the practice of the faith."

Thanks, CRS Rice Bowl, for making that duty not just easier, but downright joyful, for millions of American Catholic parents.

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 

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