During the Lenten season, we are called to live a life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These practices are meant to bring us closer to Christ and help us recognize His Holy sacrifice. We aren’t meant to get discouraged if we are unable to fast in a desert for 40 days or if we cannot devote ourselves daily to hours of unending prayer. We will never be able to make the same sacrifice as Christ Himself, but each step we make to draw closer to Christ pleases him.
When Catholics choose to make sacrificial offerings during Lent, the offerings should create a sense of service and obedience to our Savior. The practice of ongoing sacrifice leads to obedience because it is a consistent reminder to deny oneself in honor of Christ. We are taking up our cross to follow Him (Matthew 16:24). It is through obedience that we draw closer to Christ, and meatless Fridays and increased fasting during Lent can be great reminders of all this. But what about the 325 days of the year? What about the time before and after Lent?
As Christians, we are called to love God and our Neighbors and what better way to demonstrate that love than through continual acts of sacrifice and love? Acts that span much more than 40 days or better yet, true acts of love for God and neighbor that happen without being prompted. I was shown just that sort of love on a recent mission trip. I had the opportunity to go on a Catholic mission trip to Guatemala, and the people of this humble and naturally abundant country showed me the true meaning of love and sacrifice.
I spent the majority of my time in the district of Solola in a town called San Lucas Toliman. In this particular area, most of the people lived in nothing more than a shack, and few had indoor plumbing of any kind. They cooked over open-fire stoves in the center of their homes, and their diets were mainly refried beans and corn tortillas, which the women made daily. While Spanish is the native language of Guatemala, most of the townspeople spoke their indigenous language, Kaqchikel. Life is simple and difficult there. The city sits next to a large beautiful lake, but there is hardly any clean water. There is one small clinic with only 35 hospital beds and the only doctor in the town who sees 25 patients each day.
Each morning on my walk to the mission I was approached by vendors. We were told to be honest with them and not give any false hope. We were not to say we would buy from them tomorrow if it was not our intention. The vendors were very persistent and selling to the tourists was their livelihood, so they would meet you the next day and insist that you fulfill your obligation to buy if that was something you had promised. Well, I had promised one particular vendor, Juan, that I would purchase a couple of small beaded hummingbirds from him on Sunday. With that Juan let down his guard and even though I saw him each day he was not pushy, like some of the other vendors. Instead, we chatted in a broken mixture of Spanish and English. I asked him where he learned his English, knowing that the schools only taught Spanish. He said he tried to learn as much as he could from the missionaries and with that, a friendship was formed. Juan would ask me questions about English, and I would ask him questions about Spanish. We chatted about everyday life in the town, and over the course of a couple of days, I formed a soft spot in my heart for Juan.
Now, Juan’s prices weren’t as competitive as some of the other vendors, and you may think that he was just doing his job by chatting with me. Maybe he was only trying to make a sale, which he did, but I felt like with Juan I was able to ask questions about the people and the town and the language. He did not laugh at me and I never once felt judged. He was not obligated to walk with me or even chat with me each day, but without fail, I would find Juan standing outside the mission with his worn out black Padres hat.
On the last day of our trip my dad, sister, and I pooled our money together so that we could buy a rosary for my oldest son. It would be his first rosary and the following day was his fourth birthday. I went to Juan that final morning and bought a simple, black rosary, and as I said goodbye, he pulled me aside and gifted me a tiny beaded hummingbird. He said it was a gift and he said it in perfect English.
The people of San Lucas Toliman have little to give because they have little in the way of possessions.
I know that for Juan those beaded birds contribute to the food he’s able to provide his wife and eight-year-old son each day. There was no need for him to give me a gift, and yet without prompting or hesitation, he gave me so much more than a tiny souvenir. Juan showed me that small sacrifices in the name of kindness and love are possible even when you don’t have much to give. Juan showed me the face of Christ with his quiet persistence and kind heart. He didn’t need to go pray on the mountain for 40 days to offer me a great gift. His sacrifice was that he did something unnecessary with willingly and loving heart. I pray that you and I can become more like Juan this Lent and each day after.
Many blessings to you during this Holy season. If you’re interested in learning more about the mission you can visit their site here.