A crowd gathered outside the walls of the juvenile detention center early in the morning, the sky beginning to turn from the darkness of night to the light blue of day. This detention center sits on the periphery of Los Angeles County, symbolic of the margins that folks involved in our criminal justice system are relegated to. This morning, we were gathering for an Easter sunrise service. The group gathered was composed, largely, of parents of the children locked up inside. Also in the crowd were a few parents whose children had been killed by gang violence. The tears began, almost immediately, when the Mass did. The tears of mothers who had lost their children, to violence and to the sentencing of their children to life without the possibility of parole. I witnessed in the tears of those mothers that day the same anguish that Mary confronted Jesus with. I can only imagine the mothers in the crowd exclaiming, “Lord if only you would have been here” my son would still be here. A desperate plea of finding oneself, one’s family, broken by systems of mass incarceration, of the school to prison pipeline, of the systems of inequity that push people to the margins.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus travels to stand in the place of death, to remind us that death does not have the final word, “that you may believe.” He goes to be with those broken by loss and lets his tears join with theirs. Jesus wept…for love of his friend, Jesus wept. In the many times that I would return to be with the young men locked up inside the walls of that juvenile detention center, I would be moved to tears by the pain and sadness of seeing society throwing young people away to life in prison. I find myself perturbed and deeply troubled by a society that can stand silently watching an entire community be decimated by the system of mass incarceration. Pope Francis said that “sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.” It was in the tears of the mothers outside those walls that I saw Jesus weeping for the loss of the children. In the tears of the youth locked up that I saw Jesus desperately desiring our liberation. And we know that death does not have the final word. We carry with us the radical hope that the dead will rise, and the systems of injustice will be no more.
Am I perturbed and troubled by the system of mass incarceration, by the school to prison pipeline channeling young people of color into this system?
How will I show up for the Marys and Marthas around me, crying for the loss of their brothers, their fathers, their children?
How does the kinship that connects us call me to respond?
Marcos Gonzales serves as the director of trauma-informed education at Chicago Jesuit Academy. His pursuit of a faith that does justice has taken him from the islands of Micronesia as a Jesuit Volunteer to the streets of Los Angeles working at Homeboy Industries as a case manager. He received his BA in theology and master’s in education from Loyola Marymount University and completed his master’s in social work at Loyola University Chicago.