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For many, Lent is an opportunity to fast, to completely stop or do less of that “thing” that we know it is hard for us to stay away from. In doing so, we do some kind of penance and aim to be more self-reflective about our behavior in the recent past (usually since the last season of Lent). 

In reading the book “The Violence of Love,” which includes the writings and sermons of Monsignor Oscar Romero, I was touched by a statement that he made about fasting. Monsignor Romero said:

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.

Monsignor Oscar Romero, September 3, 1978

 This statement from Monsignor Romero encouraged me to think about my practice of Lent beyond a practice for my own spiritual wellbeing, and to add an outward looking perspective, that of those suffering and those who “almost always lived in fast.”

In doing so, and thinking about my wellbeing, I first thought about …

…the ones that have lived fasting for legal documents to live in this country without fear of deportation;

… the ones that have lived fasting for gender-neutral wages and opportunities at work;

… the ones that have lived fasting for being recognized in their entire human condition because of their sexual orientation/identification;

… the ones that have lived fasting from access to better education and opportunities in life that are independent of their zip code;

… the ones that have been fasting for living a life where they can provide at least the very basic to their loved ones….

AND… when I think about these people, I get inspired to pray for the courage to be an agent of God’s love, and walk the path of life in solidarity with them, because “This is penance, this is God’s will.”

Antonio Gallardo is Pastor for Latino Ministries at All Saints Church in Pasadena.