Lent, Rice Bowl, and Rich Rewards

Dear Friend,

This month we observe Lent, when we contemplate the sacrifice our Lord made on our behalf, performing acts that are both symbolic and concrete, and which are designed to lead us to a better understanding of what it means to be selfless—to sacrifice for others.

CRS Rice Bowl is a Catholic Relief Services Lenten program focused on faith formation through helping the poorest of the poor around the world. Many think it is a fundraising program, but that is not why we do it. Certainly we are grateful for the generosity of millions of Catholics across the United States who fill their CRS Rice Bowls. The money helps tens of thousands of poor people in other parts of the world.

But we look at CRS Rice Bowl as primarily being about gaining a better understanding the Gospel message that Jesus brought us.

I know that many of you, like me, can remember a moment when it “clicked”—when the faith you were taught and which you accepted suddenly took on a deeper resonance, a meaning that touched your soul as it never had before.

For me this revelation came when I was a young teenager in Hong Kong, as I contemplated the Maryknoll sisters who were educating me. These women from the United States had traveled halfway around the world to teach people like me. Why had they done that? Why should they care about me and my classmates?

And then it clicked: If God were not there—present in their lives—then these women would not be there to teach me. It was as simple yet profound as that. I loved and cherished these women, who had such an effect on my life. Their ministry told me in unmistakable terms that God was real. On that day, my faith was formed in a deeper and richer way. That moment has stayed with me for more than six decades.

And that is our hope with CRS Rice Bowl: that as someone puts dime or a quarter or a dollar into her Rice Bowl, she comes to a deeper understanding of sacrifice; that it clicks in her, just as it did in me as I thought about my teachers. Although these Maryknoll sisters had sacrificed so much, and given so much to me and my classmates, you could tell from their faces, their attitude and their demeanor that they had gained so much more in return.

The sacrificial aspect of CRS Rice Bowl draws its meaning in part from the fact that the donation is not for a friend or a family member. Rather, it is for someone the giver will in all probability never see, talk to or meet. That someone is thousands of miles away, just as Hong Kong was thousands of miles away from the American homes of my Maryknoll teachers. Giving to CRS Rice Bowl honors Jesus’ sacrifice— which was not only for his family, his disciples or even his fellow countrymen. It was for everybody everywhere in the world, and for those yet to be born.

So it is a pure sacrifice by the giver, with nothing expected in return. As a result, the return is bountiful and generous.

If your relationship with CRS Rice Bowl is to watch your children use it to form their faith, you can learn from them. Their sacrifice can help form your faith. So often it is the children, with their simplicity, who get to the heart of the matter. If someone is hungry, they want to feed them. It doesn’t matter where they live, what color they are, what religion they believe in or what the nuanced effects of foreign aid are. They are helping someone who is hungry. Children understand that.

With age, we often let complexities cloud our vision. The child and his CRS Rice Bowl can help us strip those away so we can see more clearly the rewards of sacrifice, understand the meaning of Lent better, and form our faith.

May blessings overflow,

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo

President & CEO

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