Lent 4.5: Christian Simplicity — Calling Catholics to Reduce Their Consumption By Marnie McAllister – The Record – March 11, 2010 Five parishes and a Catholic high school are trying to broaden their scope of sacrifice this Lent. They’re taking part in a pilot program offered by the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center that asks participants to change the way they consume Earth’s resources. “It’s tied into fasting and almsgiving,” said Passionist Father Joseph Mitchell during an interview last week. Father Mitchell is the director of the Earth and Spirit Center. “Instead of fasting from chocolate, why not fast from overconsumption? “We’re using Lenten discipline to bring forth a world that is sustainable, just and spiritually fulfilling,” he said. While environmental sustainability, social justice and spiritual fulfillment are popular modern terms and issues of “our time,” the values they reflect can be found throughout Scripture and in the “ancient Christian value” of simplicity, said Father Mitchell.
think (about the fact) that the environment comes into their houses everyday, through the faucet, electrical outlets and shopping bags. We’ve lost a sense of the Earth as a sacred endowment.” And that’s a destructive disconnect from the Bible, he noted. Also, he said, Americans have become programmed to be consumers through advertising and the constant emergence of newer and “better” products. “In our consumption patterns, we find ourselves so spiritually deplete where we are overly attached to our worldly possessions.” Yet, he said, “in even a cursory reading of the Gospels, you cannot miss Jesus’ teaching on attachment (to material possessions) and justice.
An explanation at the bottom of the program’s handouts asks participants to “imagine that everything you need — food energy, home, clothing, gadgets — must come from those 4.5 acres. But it takes 22.3 acres to maintain the average American lifestyle. “There is a new way of observing Lent that helps us care for God’s creation by taking steps toward using only our fair share of resources,” it says. “Moving in the direction of 4.5 is essential for anyone walking in the footsteps of Jesus today.” Father Mitchell said these calculations come from an organization called The Global Footprint, and more information about it can be found at www.footprintnetwork.org. To put it simply, “if we over consume, others cannot have the basics of life,” Father Mitchell noted. “Our actions have impacts. For example, “When you think about environmental problems, people think, ‘They’re way bigger than me,’ ” he said. “They don’t
Curriculum based on the program also has been distributed to parish schools and Assumption High School, where students are learning about these issues within their regular lessons. Sister of Charity Mary Caroline Marchal, director of religious education at Our Lady of Lourdes, said she recommends other parishes adopt the program. “It really focuses on Christian simplicity,” she noted during an interview. “Everything is grounded in what the church is saying, and it’s well-researched. “Lourdes is a stewardship parish, so it dovetails with our understanding of gratitude for all the things God has given us,” she said. “To be good stewards means you are careful with these gifts.”
And they’re at the heart of “Lent 4.5,” the name of the program that parishioners of Ascension, St. Francis of Assisi, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Agnes and St. William churches are piloting along with students from Assumption High School. The “4.5” in the title is a reference to the number of acres each person on Earth would receive if it were divided equally among all people. This is explained in detail in the Lent 4.5 program materials.
Another component of the program brings the participating parishes together for large gatherings on a weekly basis to discuss the issue of the week. Some parishioners also choose to continue the conversation in small group meetings that focus on “voluntary simplicity” and “food and faith.”
“We cannot continue to live as we have in the past. There are too many of us,” he added. The program takes these broad — seemingly insurmountable — challenges to American culture and simplifies them. Each week of Lent, parish bulletins contain a one-page insert describing a certain issue for the week. This week’s issue is water and its accessibility among the 6 billion people on this planet. According to the insert, nearly 18 percent of the world’s population lacks access to safe drinking water. It also notes that people can reduce their “water footprint” by up to 25 percent by being more careful with the way they use water in their homes. Among the suggestions are turning off water while brushing teeth and doing dishes. The insert also includes church teaching and statements the pope has made on the issue. On the back page there’s a list of “action steps” — practical sacrifices people can make to balance their consumption of resources. This week’s handout asks people to “abstain” from wasting water. It also asks people to give up the habit of buying disposable plastic water bottles.
Lori Brown, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes and a mother of two children — one 7 and one 4-years-old — said she keeps the lessons simple for her kids. “If we use less, there will be more around for the rest of the world,” she said she tells them. “And the less money we spend, the more we can give to other people.” The entire family also has started adopting the practical action steps they’ve learned. “Our cabinets are always full,” Brown noted. “I’m trying to buy less and consume what we already have. We’re throwing very little food away — eating leftovers and only cooking what we need. “We’re unplugging computers, and we’re not running water when we brush teeth or wash dishes,” she added. The family also tries to keep in mind, she said, “how blessed we are” to have the things they need. Father Mitchell said the Earth and Spirit Center plans to take the program to parishes throughout this archdiocese and around the nation next year during Lent. In the meantime, he said, people interested in participating are welcome to visit www.lent45.org, a Web site that includes the bulletin inserts and other materials.