What’s in a Rice Bowl?

What’s in a Rice Bowl?

by Deacon Joseph Chebli

There is no shortage of exhortations from the Church Fathers, the Desert Fathers and our own Maronite monks and hermits on the spiritual benefits of fasting. Perhaps St Leo the Great puts it best when speaking of fasting, praying and almsgiving: 

“And though our minds must at all times be set on holiness of mind and body, yet now during these 40 days of fasting bestir yourselves to yet more active works of piety, not only in the distribution of alms, which are very effectual in attesting reform, but also in forgiving offenses, and in being merciful to those accused of wrongdoing, that the condition which God has laid down between Himself and us may not be against us when we pray.”

Forty days of lent is an invitation and a challenge to prepare ourselves for the resurrection of Christ and the recreation of humanity in the magnificent imago dei (image of God).  We speak of almsgiving, praying and fasting during lent and many of us have adopted various practices of these three pillars. To engage our deep Maronite spirituality during lent is not to simply fast as our ancestors did, or deprive ourselves of the luxury of life, or follow our church precepts. While these are great acts of piety, they are the roots of our Maronite heritage- the simplicity of living. Our Maronite heritage is built on the premise of living simply daily before the awesomeness of God.

I was speaking once about the Rice Bowl, a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) initiative, and a young girl asked me: what is in the rice bowl? At first, I dismissed the question as childish. However, a child’s question seems to always come from a deeper root. And so, I pondered.

During my recent trip to Uganda, I realized the benefits of Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl initiative, that invites us to participate in acts of charity and justice on a personal and communal level. I quickly understood what is really in in the Rice Bowl besides rice. What we may not see is the other essential ingredients it contains: 

There is of course, “rice”.  Nutrition for those who cannot find sufficient food. 

There is also clean water and sanitation for those who thirst and have no homes. 

There is a shelter for refugees who live in the open space.

There is education and empowerment of farmers.

There is apprenticeship to those who drop out of school.

There is school fees and resilience building for families. 

There is re-unification of families whose circumstances shattered their unity. 

But perhaps the greatest thing that the Rice Bowl has is our solidarity with the least of Christ’s brothers. The greatest thing is our effort to get to know up-close the lives of those affected, to understand the world through the eyes of Christ. It engages us in small subtle ways in the defense of those who have no voice or who’s voices are drummed by the sound of the hunger, poverty, war and persecution. 

A child’s question always seems to take us to a different dimension. Children’s simplicity, this uninhibited curiosity, always challenges adults and makes us re-discover the child-like faith that we have lost somewhere along the road of growing up and sinicism. The Rice Bowl is a great addition to the family prayer time and gathering during the Lenten season. A great reminder to the father and mother that the things we take for granted are lacking necessities for others. It is also a great reminder for children that the world they are growing into is shrinking around them and that the events that happen thousands of miles away affect them in ways unfathomable. So, if I meet this little 5thgrader who asked me what is in the Rice Bowl besides rice, I will make sure to tell her: “it has all of what the world need starting with your smile and your small caring hands”.

Deacon Joseph Chebli is a deacon in the Eparchy of St. Maron, licensed pharmacist, the executive director of New Jersey-based JC Rx Consulting, and an adjunct assistant professor at Felician College.