Lent is hard. It humbles us to reflect on our wounds and brokenness, our failures to love, our resistance to giving our life in generous service to those in need.
Today’s Gospel reading is The Lord’s Prayer. We are taught to come before God and ask, “Forgive us our trespasses.”
While this causes us to reflect on our personal sin, another dimension needing deep reflection is social sin, also referred to as structural sin: policies and practices carried out by government and societal institutions that crush the economically poor and cause unimaginable pain and cruelty to whole segments of God’s people, as well as to Earth herself. Such sins are rarely even acknowledged.
Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are being thwarted from entering the U.S. There’s little recognition that decades of failed U.S. economic and military policies toward Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have destroyed their economies and created the very conditions of spiraling violence and poverty from which people are fleeing for their lives. Yet we “blame the victims” and send them back to furnaces of violence, many deported to their deaths.
Last Thanksgiving, our family went to Juarez, Mexico to lend help for a few days. We saw hundreds of migrants camped out in the cold near the bridge into El Paso, waiting and hoping to be allowed into the U.S. to make asylum claims. Families with babies and sick children were, and still are, living in the streets where rats roam at night. No one should have to live like that—NO one.Are these not social sins? Where is our country in this picture? And what is my role in asking forgiveness for the trespasses of my country’s policies?
Advocacy, however, isn’t really penance. Movements for social change inspire and give meaning. We can shift our prayer position from weeping alone at the foot of the cross to linking arms together and facing the light cracking from Holy Saturday’s stone. Radical hope awaits!
Jean Stokan serves as on the justice team with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and as vice-chair of the National Council for Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement. She has led many dozens of delegations to Central America and the U.S.-Mexico border, and advocates on immigration policy issues in Washington, D.C. She is married to Scott Wright and has a daughter who is a senior social work major at Loyola University Chicago.