This was an accepted truism when I worked at the Catholic Centre in Regina. All archdiocesan staff were on the road, visiting parishes, delivering talks and leading reflections during what always seemed to be the busiest 40 days of the liturgical calendar. We almost had to re-introduce ourselves to each other back at the shop after Easter!
For me, Lent’s attraction is not the focus on suffering or deprivation as much as the call to be lured back to attitudes and behaviours that prepare us to become an Easter people. Returning to more disciplined schedules of prayer, renewal of our observance of the sacraments, penance, self-denial and almsgiving — all have heightened relevance at this time.
Pope Francis (in 2014) reminded us not to practice a formal fast just to feel good about ourselves. “Fasting makes sense if it questions our security, and also if it leads to some benefit for others,” he said. Lenten observances can be strictly private, but the best practices can certainly have salutary public benefits, as well.
Citizens for Public Justice’s lenten campaign may be a helpful illustration of this. More than 100 congregations and schools across Canada have already agreed to participate in Give It Up for the Earth! in Lent 2018. Give It Up for the Earth! runs from Ash Wednesday (Feb. 14) to Holy Thursday (March 29). Materials for use in your parish or school can be ordered at http://cpj.ca/fortheearth Alternatively, you can pledge to participate as an individual, online, at http://cpj.ca/pledge
The intent of this lenten campaign is to allow a Christian’s most strongly held faith beliefs to move into alignment with one’s personal practices, as well as our environmental and political postures. Participants in Give It Up for the Earth! fill in a card noting the personal actions they will take to care for God’s creation during the next 40 days.
The first question most of us ask ourselves on Ash Wednesday is what might I “give up” for Lent? If we reframe the question to reflect what we should “give up” for the Earth, we might decide to drive less, not eat meat some days, buy local food, cut waste and excess packaging, use less electricity — the options are almost endless for North American consumer action. Catholics might define Give It Up for the Earth! as a privileged way to make Francis’ encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato Sí, come alive. Each of us could examine our consciences and ask, “Have I reduced my own environmental footprint since June 2015 when I first heard of the pope’s impassioned environmental plea? Have I acted to decrease my greenhouse gas emissions, given the climate change crisis? Can I expect my neighours, industries or governments to change their behaviour if, on my part, I hesitate to live differently?”
Wendell Berry, an American novelist, environmentalist and farmer, has re-written the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) of the Bible with his motto for our days: “Do unto others downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
However important individual actions may be, however, they will never be enough, on their own, to reverse environmental decline. The problem is one of scale — and time. We’ve organized our industries, transportation systems, buildings and infrastructures as if there was no tomorrow, and these structures are hard to change. Yet, change them we must, and change them we can.
Participants in 2018’s Give It Up for the Earth! activity are also invited to tear off a card, sign it, and return it as an advocacy tool directed to the federal government. The card urges Ottawa to “end all subsidies to the fossil fuel sector right away.”
Both the former Conservative and the current Liberal governments promised to end these subsidies — but by the year 2025 (that is, at least two elections hence). Even after Canada committed to meet the climate change goals of the 2015 Paris Accord, our greenhouse gas emissions have yet to decrease. And the International Institute for Sustainable Development indicates that the Government of Canada continues to provide approximately $1.6 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry every year — nearly four times more than what is given to clean energy. Thus, Canada’s progress toward a clean environment is being undermined by unnecessarily subsidizing the very industries that are fuelling the problem.
The beauty of the Give It Up for the Earth! campaign is that Christian participants are asked to change their personal lifestyles as well as reform one of those unfortunate public policies that structurally supports ecological destruction. Our actions toward “personal greening” prepare us for the deep social and economic changes our children’s future will require, sends market signals to companies trying to attract our consumer dollars, and can lower carbon pollution.
This Lent, please consider how you, and your faith community, can Give It Up for the Earth!
Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa focused on ecological justice, refugee rights and poverty elimination.