The Business of Lent

business of lentFull disclosure: I’m in the business of Lent. No, really — like, it puts food on my table. (Simple, meatless food, obviously, but…)

Seriously, though. I work at Catholic Relief Services; I’m on the CRS Rice Bowl team. And, though you may remember it as Operation Rice Bowl, CRS Rice Bowl is our Lenten program, a 40-day journey of prayers, reflections, activities and other resources that use Lenten spirituality as a gateway to global solidarity. As the slogan goes, “what you give up for Lent changes lives” — the money you save by skipping that latte or eating in instead of out goes into your cardboard rice bowl and at the end of Lent goes to those in need all around the world.

But really, this isn’t a commercial. If you have questions, check out our site. (And download our app!)

Rather, I’ve been thinking more on the impact that the “business” of Lent has on my own personal experience of the season. Pope Francis wrote in the The Joy of the Gospel: “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” I know what he’s actually getting at, but in some ways it rings true for me in a professional versus personal way — I focus my entire year on crafting a meaningful Lenten journey that will satisfy both spiritually and financially. It’s easy to get lost in numbers, metrics and the search for the next great thing, and Easter in some ways becomes a giant, holy reset button.

So, it takes a bit more intentionality for me to separate the professional from the personal this season. In some ways, it’s an incredibly unique and wonderful experience: my prayer life seamlessly (in theory) spills over into my workday and back again. Some days, I’m in a constant state of reflection (it seems). But it’s also easy to get jaded, for the pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to become routine and empty words.

Most recently, I’ve been thinking about social media and how central it’s become to our program. I enjoy learning the tricks, seeing what works and developing content that picks up likes, shares and retweets. But again, there’s a temptation to reduce reflection to metrics, to turn calls for prayer into simple mechanisms to boost engagement.

That’s where the social aspect comes into play. As I see comments roll in, as I respond to tweets and share others’ images of Lent, I can’t help but come face to face with the communal journey that this season is all about. It’s the visual reminder that keeps me honest. I have the opportunity to see and engage with communities around the country as they walk through these 40 days. And while I may be tempted to relegate this time in the desert to graphs, presentations and meetings, these communities and individuals keep me in touch with what’s really at the heart of the season.

I once heard that as Catholics, we go to God together. We’re wrapped up in community — throughout time and space. Perhaps in my little way in my little cube in my little office, I glimpse this. The business of Lent is different for each of us, but it’s because we have each of us that we’re able to journey to God together, helping one another stay focused along the way.

Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services as part of the U.S. Church Engagement Division. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife and hedgehog.