Lent, Fasting, Cesar Chavez, Robert F. Kennedy, and Justice

Ask yourself the questions based on lessons learned by Chavez and Kennedy
at the very end of this reflection

On March 10, 1968, which is 50 years ago today, labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez offered Senator Bobby Kennedy a piece of the bread he was given to break his 25 day fast of only drinking water as shown in the iconic photo above.  

Chavez called his fast a prayer and not a hunger strike. He had dedicated his life to empowering poor and disenfranchised farmworkers so they could stand up to the powerful agricultural industry. He wanted the farmworkers to stand up powerfully but peacefully. 

His prayerful fast, he proclaimed, was to reaffirm the Farm Workers Movement’s commitment to the principles of peaceful protest. He also declared his fast as penance for the violent acts that some of the movement’s leaders were harboring in their hearts and his fast as a prayer that these inner feelings would not be outwardly manifested.  

Kennedy broke bread with him by taking a piece and later proclaimed “I come here today to honor you for the long and patient commitment you have made to this great struggle for justice.” He also added, “you stand for justice and I am proud to stand with you.” 

            Lent, Fasting, Justice, and You 

March 10, 1968 was the day right before the second Sunday in Lent. Today, is the day right before the fourth Sunday of Lent and three weeks before Easter Sunday. Thus, there are still three weeks before Lent ends. 

What if you were to take some time before the end of Lent and integrate the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and solitude. Lent is associated with the 40 days that Christ spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry. Lent is also a time when we are encouraged to unite ourselves with the mystery of the experiences of Christ in the desert.  

The experiences of Christ in the desert are revealed to us in the temptations noted in the Gospels. The fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew states that 

First Temptation:

      1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
3And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God,
command that these stones become bread.”
4But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE,
BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’” 

Second Temptation:

5Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,
6and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down;
for it is written, ‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’; and
‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,
SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”
7Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written,
‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’” 

Third Temptation:

8Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and
showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;
9and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
10Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written,
‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”
11Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. 

The fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke states that after the temptations 

14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,
and news about him spread through the whole countryside.
15He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 

            What If 

What if you were to unite yourself with the mystery of the experiences of Christ in the desert sometime during the last three weeks of Lent and integrate the practices of prayer, fasting, and solitude.  

What if you remove yourself, even for limited amounts of time, from the basic necessities and comforts of your daily life and reflect on injustices such as extreme poverty, absence of health care, and lack of quality education?  

What ifyou were to also say

  • “I shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God;”
  • “I will not put the Lord my God to the test;” and
  • “I shall worship the Lord my God, and serve God only.” 

What if you are tempted to end your times of prayer, fasting, and solitude out of cravings for the basic necessities and comforts of your daily life? 

What if 

the Spirit is poured upon (you) from on high,
and (your place of prayer, fasting, and solitude) becomes a fertile field,
and the fertile field seems like a forest.
Justice will dwell in (your place of prayer, fasting, and solitude)
and righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be
quietness and confidence forever.
(Isaiah 32. 15-17) 

What if you were to return from your place of prayer, fasting, and solitude that became a fertile field of justice and righteousness and go into the communities in which you live, work, worship, socialize, and recreate in the power of the Spirit? 

            What Chavez Learned 

Fifty (50) years ago today, after a 25-day fast, Chavez wrote in a bold statement what he had learned and had someone else read it because he was too weak 

“When we are really honest with ourselves
we must admit that our lives are all that really belongs to us.
So it is how we use our lives that
determines what kind of (persons) we are.” 

Four years later Chavez ended a 24-day fast and proclaimed 

“We can choose to use our lives for others
to bring about a better and more just world for our children.
People who make that choice will know hardship and sacrifice.
But if you give yourself totally to the nonviolent struggle
you will never go hungry and never be alone.
And in giving of yourself you will discover
a whole new life full of meaning and love.”             

What Kennedy Learned 

Before meeting with Chavez on March 10, 1968, Kennedy turned to those around him and asked “what do you say to a guy on a fast.” 

After hearing Chavez say that our lives are all that really belong to us and how we use our lives determines what king of a person we are, Kennedy learned how committed Chavez and his supporters were to their struggle for justice and how he needed to stand in solidarity with them. He proclaimed, “You stand for justice and I am proud to stand with you.”  

            What Will You Learn 

What will you learn if you take time for prayer, fasting, and solitude and further prepare yourself for public ministry by focusing on injustices and not give into temptations to end your time because of cravings for the basic necessities and comforts of your daily life? 

You already know that you need to give into the cravings for the basic necessities of daily life such as food, rest, and shelter after taking time for prayer, fasting, and solitude. However, giving into the cravings for the comforts of your daily life to a degree that limits your ability to carry out effectively your public ministry after you took the time out to prepare for it, is another matter.  

How do you know if cravings for the comforts of your daily life is limiting your ability to carry out effectively your public ministry? 

Ask yourself the following questions based on the lessons learned by Chavez and Kennedy: 

  • Can I honestly admit to myself that my life is all that really belongs to me?
  • How is living my life determining what kind of person that I am?
  • Can I proudly stand in solidarity with others who seek to solve social ills and injustices? 

Perhaps it may be best to ask yourself these questions during a time for prayer, fasting, and solitude. Lenten blessings to you.

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