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Day 31: Draw Near to the Brokenhearted
By Kristin Heyer

[Image from the cover of Kinship Without Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration by Kristin Heyer]

Recent news stories profiling families separated due to new deportation tactics have brought me back to visits at the Kino Border Initiative’s Casa Nazaret in Nogales, Sonora. Sitting with the women there, I have heard heart-wrenching account after account of the splintering of families following shelter residents’ deportation to Mexico and the indignities of detention. These emotional visits are never about outsiders rationally weighing the risks and benefits of reattempted crossings, but mothers mourning deep scars of separation and uncertainty of reunification. They have left an indelible mark.

The rollercoaster of updates regarding the suspension of the DACA program have similarly brought me back to conversations with former students who risked trusting the government in the hopes that temporary protections would allow them to live their lives out from the shadows. Now further embedded in U.S. society, recipients remain in limbo and fear jeopardizing their loved ones, as well. The wider climate of heightened anti-immigrant sentiment is evident from emboldened playground bullies to chilling rallies.

The psalmist today reminds us that the “Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” God rescues the distressed and offers saving refuge to those “crushed in spirit.” As new policies and rhetoric ignite fear and threaten families, may we draw near to the brokenhearted and allow our own hearts to be broken. The “gift of tears” Pope Francis frequently invokes is not an invitation to pity or even to repentance alone, but rather to conversion and action, whether via risk-sharing disruption, keeping the heat on our legislators as the goal posts continue to shift, or simply engaging in difficult conversations across divides.



Day 30: A Heart Broken
By Samii Hartman

Working for social justice is not glamorous. It’s a commitment—one that is sometimes made daily. This past spring break I accompanied students on an immersion, as I do each break, this time in Guyana. These immersions always seem to come at the right time, when I am questioning God and the commitment I have made over the years to serving others.

At times I have questioned God for allowing my life to be seemingly lacking in obstacles in comparison to the resiliency and tenderness of the communities I have encountered—like those in Guyana. In those communities, the faith and understanding are overflowing. I’ve questioned what I decide to raise my voice for, what I decide to push, and have at times put blame on God.

After each immersion, I leave with a heart broken—yet filled at the same time. This week I’m left with a heart of cracks and bruises from witnessing the realities the indigenous people in Guyana are facing—drought, lack of technology, minimal resources and jobs, environmental crisis. Yet it’s a heart filled with laughter and light from the understanding that God is in all things—the earth around us, the mutuality of learning, the realization that we are all connected to one another and the Mother Earth.

Each morning as I awoke to the roosters and the tolls of church bells in Guyana before the sun came up, I was reminded of the commitment I am making. The commitment the communities are making without choice. My commitment to my God and forming relationships. We each have a light within us that burns differently. These passages of today remind me to recall what sets me on fire; what gets me out of bed each morning and what fills me with joy and gratitude.

We all are imperfectly perfect in God’s eyes, and no matter what we do, no matter what sins we commit, or whether we blame God for our misfortunes or injustice, God will always love us. God will always show us the light through the darkness. As Fr. Mario said in Guyana—“God is love, and love is about forgiveness.”

If I learned one thing this past week in Guyana, it is that my connection to my faith is rooted in my connection to people—a commitment to a faith that is filled with trust, honesty, imperfection, forgiveness, and above all, love.


Day 29: Solidarity Cannot Exist Without Empathy
By Kaya Oakes

Solidarity is a word many of us throw around without thinking about its deeper implications. At its root, solidarity is not just about working together toward justice, but about a willingness to enter into another person’s pain. This is what practicing empathy means. Many of us have been moved by the students from Parkland, Florida, who are standing up against the mass shootings that have become horrifically routine in America. But to truly empathize with those students, we have to leave the boundaries of our own emotional comfort zones and enter into their pain and suffering.

Today’s reading from Isaiah shows us how God models this kind of empathy for us.

In a time of favor I answer you,
on the day of salvation I help you.

In the footage of these students, their articulate words strike us. But visual images of the teenagers and their families move us, and they rarely capture a person standing alone. Here, a woman with an Ash Wednesday cross on her forehead clutching a child; here, a teenage student giving a speech, a supportive, anonymous hand on her shoulder; here, two girls holding up a sign together, a sign with only one word inked out in capital letters: ENOUGH.

Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth,
break forth into song, you mountains.
For the LORD comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted.

Empathy may mean encountering discomfort, but it also means creating an end to fear, because once we are open to it, we can understand, at last, that we are never truly alone. Solidarity is about unity of feeling and action. Justice work must also be heart work, and soul work, and in order to do either, we need to hold one another up.

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Day 28: Perspectives That Bind Us
By Marilyn Nash

On May 10th, 1869, a photograph commonly referred to as the “Champagne Photo” was taken at Promontory Summit in Utah. It is an elaborately staged image of the ceremonial completion of the transcontinental railroad. Photographer Andrew Russell shows two engines nearly touching, surrounded by a large group of proud, white men shaking hands and raising bottles—a captured moment in US history.

Recently, I had the honor of viewing an exhibit by artist Zhi LIN entitled In Search of the Lost History of Chinese Migrants and the Transcontinental Railroads. He tells a different story. The Chinese laborers who did much of the backbreaking work, who likely had just laid the final rails, were deliberately removed from the iconic scene. The photo’s image is distorted and false, managed through the lens of whiteness, belying the real story of labor, violence, and racism.

Lin’s exhibit includes a reenacted video of the scene, called Chinaman’s Chance (2014). Shown from the perspective of the marginalized workers, it keeps the viewer off to the side, unable to access the central moment. Lin reminds us who has control of the “dominant…narrative,” and evokes the frustration of being excluded from the recorded story.

In today’s Gospel, the man at Bethesda has been unable to access the healing waters for most of his life. Jesus breaks into the story, liberating the man, healing him right where he lay. Then Jesus tells the man to move, to take up his mat and rejoin the fullness of life.

Racial justice demands that we break forth from the perspectives that bind us and others, questioning images and narratives in the systems around us – especially those capturing the story from a dominant perspective. Lin and Jesus draw our attention to the marginalized, suppressed places. They remind us that self-congratulatory stories of breaking champagne bottles are often at the expense of the lives, stories, and freedom of so many others.

This Lenten season, let us take Jesus’s questions to heart.

What do you see? Do you want to be healed? Are you willing to move?

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Day 27: A Lifestyle That Says—“Welcome Home!”
By Eric Fitts

“They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.” Isaiah 65:21

Sounds pretty basic, right? Sounds like common sense and a foundational understanding of justice. Isaiah shares God’s promise that faith, commitment, and determination will be rewarded with peace and longevity on the land. But for too many families in West Virginia, and across Appalachia, it is a promise denied. The reasons are as complicated as each person’s story, but it may come as a surprise that you and I have participated in this broken promise . . . and that you and I are part of the answer to restoring this promise.

We were installing a new roof with a neighbor, Greg, and the topic of mountaintop removal coal mining came up. Greg shared with us that he could never again return to his homeplace. His family had been pushed off their ancestral land by coal companies, which went on to blast away the mountains above his hollow in search of coal, burying his homeplace under hundreds of feet of “overburden” from the dismembered mountains above.

“I can never go home…they took that away from me.”

I will never forget those words or the look on Greg’s face.

Greg is not alone.

And his story is all too common.

The setting may be different:

·         poisoned land, air, and water from natural gas fracking and its pipelines

·         farm fields tainted by toxic residue left behind by industry

·         food tainted by GMOs, herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers

When you and I participate in these systems without question, we hinder people from living God’s promise.

What do we do when standing face to face with injustice? Harder still, what do we do when our eyes are vigilantly protected from coming face to face with the injustices we participate in?

We break forth from our stale Lenten traditions of giving up chocolate and throwing an extra dollar in the second collection and then checking another season of repentance off the calendar. We rip our plug out of the wall and engage in fasting from electricity, technology, and ignorance. We take that dollar and give it to a local sustainable farmer for real, clean food or to a campaign for renewable energy. We plant a seed in the ground as our prayer, one that will nourish not only our body, but also those with whom we share our harvest. At Easter, rather than gorging on jelly beans, we consider how our Lenten practices might rise with Christ into a new lifestyle.

How will you participate in the “new heavens and new earth” (Is 65:17) created by simple actions of solidarity?

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Day 26: “Father, I don’t know what you see me.”
By Fr. Stephen Katsouros, S.J.

“Father, I don’t know what you see me.”

Isaiah, a sophomore at Arrupe College, said those words to me a few months ago. I’m the dean at Arrupe, a college within Loyola University Chicago that enrolled its first class in 2015. Arrupe is a junior college; our students commute, qualify for federal and state aid, and are generally the first in their families to attend college. Our inaugural class graduated with their associates degrees in August 2017.

Isaiah is a member of the Class of 2018. He struggles academically, and he struggles under the burden of what my colleagues at Arrupe call the deficit narrative. For first gen, marginalized, students of color like Isaiah, the deficit narrative portrays him as needy, broken, vulnerable, a product of past failures. At Arrupe, we emphasize the asset narrative–our students’ strengths and possibilities, their successes, and their abilities to navigate a variety of situations that for other undergrads would be unimaginable. In short, we want our students to believe they contribute positively to Jesuit higher education–because they do.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, John repeats the word “believe” five times. For John, unbelief is a sin. Whoever believes will have eternal life; whoever does not believe will be condemned.

The deficit narrative is sinful at Arrupe College because it prevents students like Isaiah from believing that they bring assets to our community–they are very much co-pioneering a new way of creating access to Jesuit higher education.

John tells us in the Gospel that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world. I am reminded here of the world-affirming theology espoused by Ignatius, who calls us to find God in all things. God is active in our communities and contexts. It is easy for me to find God present in the students and in the ways my colleagues and I accompany them during their first post-secondary educational experiences.

God was certainly present the other day when Isaiah appeared in my office. “Check this out, Father,” he said, and offered a paper for my review from his Shakespeare class. A-. Isaiah’s professor is demanding; this grade was no gift. Isaiah was over the moon. We celebrated his success, and he described how he had written the paper, a process I suggested he might want to repeat if applicable. We had moved a bit from Isaiah’s statement: “Father, I don’t know what you see you in me.” I believe God sees everything in Isaiah, a student who is beginning to believe what God knows–Isaiah is an asset to the Arrupe College community.

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Day 25: The Mission Director and Patricio
By Jodie Bowers

One of the most poignant scenes on our parish mission trips to El Salvador is breaking bread on the final evening of the trip in the home of one of our hosts. Our delegations stay in a modest hotel in the town and eat dinner in modest restaurants near the hotel where the chefs “know how to prepare the food” so us Northerners do not get sick.

But on the final evening, we travel into a simple home of our Salvadoran hosts. Yes, a house with a dirt floor, metal roof, and walls made of bamboo. We sit at a very modest table low to the ground. Chickens, dogs, and cats run through our feet. Outside, a big pig and turkey that the family is growing for next Christmas roam about as our security guards.

Patricio and his wife, Maria, come forward presenting our group with sopa de pollo, bowls of chicken soup with vegetables grown from behind their tiny home. With grace and dignity, Maria places a bowl in front of each of us. Then she brings hot tortillas that she made by hand. Finally, she brings salt to season the tortillas just right.

People in the group look at one another anxiously. They know the itinerary says we are eating dinner at Patricio’s house. The reality, however, of eating in abject poverty is a total shock to the system. One of the travelers passes hand sanitizer to the person next to her. Others murmur about whether or not Patricio’s wife “knows how to prepare the food.”

Patricio offers grace. He thanks us for visiting his humble home. He considers it an honor to host us. A blessing from God. He prays for us, that God might reward us for our goodness.

I am half listening, preoccupied with the bowl in front of me. Is the water clean? A sister hen stops at my feet looking upward at me. I can’t help but think this chicken in my bowl was alive just a few moments ago. I quietly thank God that I do not live in a home like this. That I am not poor. That I am not like Patricio. Suddenly all of the solidarity that we have been practicing for the week is out the window.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus presents us with the parable of the “Pharisee and the Tax Collector” – the Pharisee thanking God that he is not like the rest. The parable should be called the “Mission Director and Patricio.”

Sadly, even with our best efforts and with all the good that our parish has accomplished in Santo Domingo, if we do not have a humble and joyous heart, the work is for naught. We experience it every day, connected to the Ignatian family, attending Jesuit schools and parishes. It is tempting to think that we have the best universities, best sports teams, and, yes, best mission programs.

Being the best is empty unless we accompany others, hand-in-hand, along the way. It may take us to some strange and scary places. To the margins. To a hut in a remote part of the world.  Humility invites us to ask for mercy for our own shortcomings with the willingness to have an open heart so we might grow and change and learn and see the world differently. Humility invites us to see each other differently too, as true sisters and brothers.

The reality is that we receive far more than we will ever give to the people of El Salvador. It is the secret and truth of immersion. I am grateful to Patricio and Maria for teaching me this lesson.

Our translators bring forth their guitars. Moments later, there is not a dry eye in the house. Even the chickens are crying, moved by the enormity and spirit of the experience: united in love, in the breaking of the bread, and the sipping of the soup.

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