"The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It's always about the people." – Cesar Chavez
Chavez was a farmworker activist and organizer who drew on his Catholic faith to fight for more dignified working conditions on and off the fields.
In today's Gospel, when tempted by the devil, Jesus answered him, “It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Jesus and Chavez were two people who knew that to accompany the consumption of our daily food we also need spiritual fulfillment. Sitting in mass, thinking about the real presence of Jesus in the bread can be overwhelming; to find and feel the real presence of Jesus in Communion also takes commitment and prayer.
Similarly, when we consume produce throughout the week it can be hard to remember that real hands picked the crops that we eat daily. It can be hard to recall the interconnectedness we share with our Church body through food.
While not a perfect human being, one of the things Chavez did well that I much admired was always grounding his activism and politics in human dignity. When I read the way Chavez talked so prominently about seeing the face of God in each human being, it reminds us of the incarnation; it reminds us of the way Jesus becomes flesh for us.
This week's readings also remind us to draw on God during our suffering. In today's first reading it says.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,
and he heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
Affliction, tolling and oppression are terms used often to describe the condition in which farm workers in this country work. Farm workers work through pandemics and wildfires; hard labor is imposed on farm workers often, regardless of temperature.
Throughout his life, Chavez would use the practice of fasting to promote peace and non violence. One of his longest fasts was 36 days. Not an easy feat, Chavez drew on his faith to carry him through these long fasts, Chavez cried to the Lord many times as he fought for something bigger than himself.
As Lent begins, let us remember that we cannot survive on bread alone. Just as we cannot produce all the food we need for a happy and full life on our own. Let us remember to lean on Jesus in our most justice filled fights and in our moments of weakness.
As today's second reading states:
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
Let us remember Chavez and his fast for farmworks to labor in dignified conditions, for a living wage. Let us think about where our food comes from these next 40 days. Let us also dive deeper into reflecting on our relationship with our daily bread.
Where do we seek nourishment from when bread alone is not enough? How are we inviting God into our fight for justice?
Melissa Cedillo was born and raised in California's Coachella Valley. For the past five years, Melissa has worked in campaigns in Florida, Texas, California, and Washington DC. Working at the intersection of religion and politics, Melissa has worked on issues of reproductive justice, immigration advocacy, and healthcare access. She attended Loyola Marymount University (LMU) for undergrad and Harvard Divinity School for graduate school. Melissa currently lives in Sacramento, CA.
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