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IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK: BREAK FORTH 41

Day 41: Prophets to Set Us Free
By Marcos Gonzales, S.J.

Carlos joined Homeboy Industries seven months ago. One of the biggest challenges that kept him from coming through the doors at Homeboy was unlearning the hate that he had been taught throughout his life in prison and his gang. From the moment he entered prison, it was predetermined who he could associate with and who was the enemy. His arrival at Homeboy flipped all this past experience on its head. The people he had always been told were his enemies were now the ones greeting him at the door, showing him how to roll dough in the bakery, and tutoring him toward completion of his GED. He said it was like a veil had been lifted from his eyes and suddenly, he saw the world in a completely different way.

In today’s reading, the Prophet Isaiah proclaims that we are called to “open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement.” What I have come to learn in my short time at Homeboy Industries is that it’s not only concrete prison walls that hold us captive. There are a thousand ways that we find ourselves in darkness. It is easy to find ourselves blinded by the division that embroils our country. Many of us remain blind to see how the social sins of institutional racism, xenophobia, and mass incarceration keep us in a dungeon of darkness.

And yet, we are privileged to have prophets like Carlos in our midst. Carlos and the many women and men of Homeboy Industries stand as living testaments to the world we hope for, a beloved community of kinship. They are the light breaking forth in the darkness. They remind us that we belong to one another. Their prophetic witness challenges us today, just like Isaiah’s did then. We must see them. We must hear their voices. Only then will we be able to bring forth justice to the nations.

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IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK: BREAK FORTH 40

Day 40: Why Have We Abandoned Them?
By Karen Clifton

After watching our country put people to death monthly over these last 20 years, I read the Passion narrative in a completely new light.

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Ps 22:2) has become “My God, my God, why have we abandoned them?”

When Jesus was arrested and brought into custody, he was stripped, scourged, and spat upon. It reminds me of the numerous stories of false confessions given after threats, beatings, and deprivation of food, water, and sleep.

Jesus challenged the status quo of the religious authorities who produced false witnesses at one of his 3 religious trials (Mk 14: 55-60). We commonly execute people solely on the witness of jailhouse informants who have been offered leniency and use juries which exclude anyone opposed to the death penalty.

Jesus was crowned with thorns, mocked, blindfolded and struck with reeds (Mk 15:6-20).  Most on death row are tortured by solitary confinement 23 hours a day, erratic, substandard food, and the terror of their imminent death.

The nailing of Jesus to a cross evokes the image of the convicted on the gurney, arms extended for IV placement. Failed executions are common because non-medical personnel frequently botch the job. No one knows whether the drugs used work as quickly and painlessly as intended because the compounded drugs used are veiled in secrecy laws.

The Passion is the ultimate picture of God’s solidarity with all of us as frail humans who are easily swayed from choosing life. Jesus always identified with the outcast, the sinners, and the disabled.

My God, my God, why have we abandoned them?

The Passion, as cruel as it was, is the foremost lesson in the unimaginable forgiveness and mercy of God. This Lent, God has been leading us towards wholeness in preparation for the joy of Easter.

IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK: BREAK FORTH 39

Day 38: My Weary Heart is Strengthened
By Justin White

As I picture the exchange between Jesus and his accusers, I draw parallels to when the Pharisees questioned Jesus about stoning the woman caught in adultery. Both scenes contain a group of accusers looking to work within the law and within a socially accepted form of punishment. Jesus makes both groups go beyond the law—he forces them to have an encounter with the integrity of their own faith, their sins, and their humanity.

Today’s Gospel scene made me feel weary because such denunciation still continues.  

My Latino brothers and sisters are ripped from their families and deported.

Black Lives Matter is labeled a terrorist group.

Police brutality continues.

A woman’s testimony of sexual harassment or abuse can be dismissed because there is not “enough evidence.”

Great indignation is displayed towards those who call for more common sense gun laws.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is left alone to face his accusers. They even try to arrest him, but he “escapes from their power.” There is no mention of assistance from anyone else.

In the case of the woman caught in adultery, she is not left alone. Jesus steps in and confronts the law, confronts the socially accepted form of punishment. The woman’s accusers walk away one by one.

So—when reflecting upon both scenes—my weary heart is strengthened. It is strengthened because our breaking forth is too powerful to be “arrested.” Our breaking forth includes institutions, organizations, groups, and individuals who challenge laws and policies that hurl rocks of judgment, ridicule, hate, and ultimately death.

Our breaking forth is a testament to the world that “in my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.”

IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK: BREAK FORTH 37

Day 37: Bridges, Borders, and Transformational Change
By Jessica Mayo

“Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” John 8:58

My son loves roller coasters. He draws dozens of them every week. But he was indignant when I complimented his most recent design. “That is not a roller coaster! It’s a bridge! You know, mom—build bridges, not walls.” As an immigration attorney, this felt like a huge parenting win, even if I had mistaken his beautiful bridge for a roller coaster.

Today’s readings tell us that God is. God always is. God is outside of time, existing both then and now. And God is everywhere, both here and there.

Let’s stretch ourselves further. With God, there is no “then” and “now.” No “here” and there.” God created a world without borders. Humans are the ones that draw squiggly lines across the map and then imbue those scribbles with manifest destiny, border walls, and legal ramifications.

Our connectedness extends to our causes. Racism and injustice pervade our institutions. If we want to create transformational change, we must see the parallels between Black Lives Matter and the Sanctuary movement (protecting immigrants from deportation). We must see the importance of the issue of gun violence not just for high schools, but also for communities of color. And when our institutions seek to triangulate the issues—making one a political priority, or praising some activists and condemning others—we must recognize that this hampers all of our efforts for justice.

God is—now and every time, here and everywhere. God invites us to open ourselves in the same way, to recognize our common bonds and the threads that weave through all of our lives.

IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK: BREAK FORTH 36

Day 36: What Would You Stand For?
By Nathan Sessoms

In today’s reading, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar and forced to worship his god. However, rather than consider their own lives, they defied the existing power structure and in the face of extreme danger, trusted in their God. In the end, they demonstrated faith—not in King Nebuchadnezzar’s ability to change—but in the God they served, the God who stood with them in the fiery furnace, and, ultimately, they were victorious in converting the King.

Today, there are myriad social justice issues by which we are threatened on a daily basis—the continued oppression and marginalization of Black and Brown people and their communities, police brutality and militarization of urban communities, ongoing efforts to maintain the prison industrial complex, racist and anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric, etc. However, each day, we are also presented with opportunities to stand up against systemic racism and inequality. However, because it’s not the popular choice or because it’s going to attract negative attention, some remain seated and, in so doing, they not only remain silent—they become complicit. Our ability to stand is rooted in one’s knowledge of self.

IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK: BREAK FORTH 35

Day 35: Next Year’s Harvest
By Danny Swan

My sons, two little boys, will not eat fresh greens. Not a bite. That’s after I spent the last 10 years starting 4 urban farms and founding a nonprofit around community health and local food. My boys won’t touch my kale!

I found a way around it: smoothies. Every morning, I wake up and blend my homegrown greens with that most magical of starchy fruits: the banana. I rely on those bananas as the vehicle to deliver superfood greens into my kids’ bodies.

But lately, bananas have been giving me pause.

Bananas carry with them a history of injustice. Latin American plantations employ workers, often at pitiful rates with substandard working conditions. Abject poverty.

Every time I feed bananas to my boys, I’m feeding them the injustice, suffering, environmental degradation, and poor health of the banana plantations.

Meanwhile, I live in East Wheeling, West Virginia. I refer to my block as Wheeling’s “trauma ward”. Prostitutes and addicts convene for quick money and quick fixes on my corner. All of them—every last one of them—lived through horrible trauma in their childhoods, inflicted upon them by the hands of the adults charged with their care.

I raise my family on that block with intention. I want my boys to look our problems in the face, know them, love them, and work to heal them. As such, I raise my boys to be emotionally, physically, and spiritually strong. I hope they’ll know gardening’s greatest lesson: our waste, problems, and loss can all be composted into the energy that brings next year’s harvest.

My intentions for my boys—that they be strong enough to share their health with their community—leads to a simple act every morning: I make a banana-kale smoothie. Yet somehow, even those smoothies carry the embodied suffering of our Latin American brothers and sisters. Is that negligence? Is it irresponsible? Is it an inevitable compromise of the human condition? Or can I humbly, peacefully work to fashion new options for fair-trade bananas, for wellness, for composting, for healing in my community?

For reflection:

“Just as bread and wine are transformed into Jesus and taken into our bodies, the soil, water, and sun of our place is transformed into nutritious food. Eating local food connects us to the land (creation) in the same way that the Eucharist connects us to Christ. Not only symbolically but literally joining our bodies with the places we steward.”
-Eleanor Marshall, 23yo AmeriCorps VISTA at Grow Ohio Valley

  • How do you connect with creation?
  • How do you transform your health (physical, spiritual, economic, or otherwise) into a vehicle to alleviate the suffering of others—to make “next year’s harvest” one that is more just?

IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK: BREAK FORTH 33

Day 33: What Will Be the Harvest?
By Bishop Mark J. Seitz

“Those who, in the biblical phrase, would save their lives—that is, those who want to get along, who don’t want commitments, who don’t want to get into problems, who want to stay outside of a situation that demands the involvement of all of us—they will lose their lives. What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably, with no suffering, not getting involved in problems, quite tranquil, quite settled, with good connections politically, economically, socially—lacking nothing, having everything. To what good? They will lose their lives.” ― Oscar A. Romero

It is Spring! Soon it will be time to break forth out of the isolation of Winter, to cease, for a moment at least, our virtual lives. The soil of this world is ready to receive the seed of our lives. Plant the seed boldly in the ground. Bury it. Water it and walk away. Return now and then to water it again and make sure it is exposed to the sun. Protect the seed from the assault of gathering weeds that would choke it as it begins to break forth from its grave.

Blessed Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador in Central America understood what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel. He knew well the risks he took by identifying with the poor, so brutally persecuted, tortured, and slain during his country’s savage civil war. He knew that as a disciple of Christ he was called to unite himself with his people’s suffering. “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.  But if it dies…”

Yes, if it dies… “If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.” (from an interview, two weeks before his assassination as he celebrated Mass.)