Lent and Life in the ‘Affluent Fifth’

Lent is an opportunity to right-size our relationships with our neighbors. Today, less than one-fifth of the world’s people have more than four-fifths of the global wealth, but the poorest billion have less than one-fiftieth, according to the U.S. Catholic bishops. The most affluent fifth control 80 percent of world trade, savings, and investment.

Sometimes we who live in the “affluent fifth” feel immediately uncomfortable or guilty at reading this information. But our faith gives us the opportunity at Lent to think creatively about our balance in the world–and to act in new ways with our time, money, possessions. We are invited to refresh our hearts through prayer and scripture. We can lay down the burdens accumulated in an over-sated society. We can fast and rest; sing ancient songs; draw closer to God. Lent is an invitation.

“Over a few short generations,” observes Alan Durning, “we in the affluent fifth of humanity have become car drivers, television watchers, mall shoppers, and throwaway buyers.” But many in our culture are concerned about the prevalence of greed, selfishness and conspicuous consumption, which seem to be crowding out meaningful family, community and spiritual values. We fail to think about the damaging consequences of our lifestyle for the future of our children – and our planet.

The 10th commandment is straightforward: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.” And Jesus was often blunt about over-consuming and attachment to material goods: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19)

Christian simplicity is not frugality for the sake of penny-pinching or deprivation. Rather, we want to become aware of how our personal choices and spending habits are connected to the issues of global poverty and care for creation. Our faith motivates us to develop life-styles that respect the limitations of our planetary resources and protect the creation for the future of our children. The hallmark of such a life-style is not greedy accumulation, but compassionate sharing, and heartfelt contentment. That is the abundant life which Jesus promised.–From Lent 4.5 on Christian Simplicity