When I am overwhelmed by the brokenness in the stories of the migrants that I encounter, I often ask them:
¿Que te da esperanza?
What gives you hope?
Last fall, the response of one woman after a Mass at a food bank in Juarez touched me deeply: “being here in this community.” Her answer reminded me how God responds to brokenness: by gathering people together to create spaces in which pain is transformed into hope.
In the first reading today, God responds to the urban decay of Nineveh by sending Jonah to gather his people. Every group needs a distinctive marking to set it apart: they will be those who have been affected by the suffering of the world. From the leaders to the common people, their sackcloth and ashes will reveal God’s mercy to the world. The work of the Spirit in the midst of their pain creates a space where the course of human history changes and hope emerges instead of death and destruction.
Last Wednesday, we gathered as a Christian community in the context of the brokenness of our world, our church, and our own lives. Like the people whom Jonah called, we too marked ourselves with ashes as a symbol of the sorrow that we felt. Yet a week later, some part of us remains like the crowds who listened to Jesus in the gospel: looking for a sign, waiting for someone else to do something, unwilling or unaware of a call to take the initiative.
As Lent continues, how might we heed the call of the Spirit in the pain around us to create more spaces of hope?
Rev. Stephen Pitts, S.J., is the director of religious formation and one of the associate pastors at Sacred Heart Church, the Jesuit parish four blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, TX. He also works with the Jesuit mission in Bachajón, Chiapas, Mexico.