The Rule to Love

Last week on Ash Wednesday at 1:45 AM, I set out to pick up two of the healthcare providers for our Medical Mission Trip to Guatemala. Just 19 hours later we arrived where we would be staying in a remote part of the Guatemalan mountains surrounding Lake Atitlan. It was dark, cold and windy. The last thing I felt like doing was sitting down for a meal with the group. I just wanted to go to bed.

Soon, after enjoying a delicious meal prepared by a lady named Kenia, I realized I had just eaten chicken! Uh oh! It’s Ash Wednesday; we’re not supposed to eat meat!

We always joke that Mrs. Jan Jones, a longtime teacher at Jesuit, with whom I attended several mission trips, used to “give us permission” to be able to eat meat. We used to joke that she had been given the blessing by the pope himself. This is of course not true but it has been discussed from time to time.

What if we abstained from eating the chicken Kenia prepared that day and all left it on our plates? What message would that send Kenia? What message does that send all the hungry rural Guatemalans? I think of what Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

"I tell you,
unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”
(Mt 5:20)

I always think of the scribes and Pharisees as missing the point; of following the dietary rules and the customs but missing the point of love entirely. And that’s how I think of our time in Guatemala during Lent. We might be eating meat on Ash Wednesday and the First Friday of Lent but we’re there for reasons that hopefully surpass those rules under the circumstances. We are in the care of friends of other cultures, our greater righteousness is to embrace their kindness rather than dismiss it with a rule.

I am not saying that abstaining from meat or other things during Lent is wrong, not at all; I am merely coming to realize that abstinence is not a substitute for loving human connection, even connection as simple as an accepted meal.

My prayer today is to continue to step out from behind rules and codes to love like Jesus did.

Author: Max von Schlehenried, Science Department


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