Editor’s note: The following is part of a Lenten series on the topic of repentance. Lent is an ideal time to draw closer to God, turn away from sin and, in the words of St. John the Baptist, repent!
So much of our news these past weeks has been on the violent situation thrust upon our Ukrainian brothers and sisters from the selfish decisions of an individual. Ukraine has come to the forefront, not only in our news, but in our prayers and conversations and desire to know how we can help. We have seen stories of border nations welcoming these new refugees.
One powerful example showed a woman and her three young children getting off a bus in Poland. Her husband had stayed behind to protect their homeland. A gentleman greeted the woman, wrote down her name and asked where she was going to stay. As soon as she said, “We have nowhere,” a woman stepped forward and said, “You can stay with us.” It seems the cars waiting for the buses were filled with people who wanted to help — to be a refuge — whether they knew the people or not. Thank God they are there to help.
A scene such as this begs the questions, “Would I do the same?” or “How far would I go to open my home and heart to someone in need?” In this age of increased individualism in the United States and an almost “no-one-is-going-to-tell-me-what-to-do mentality,” we have forgotten not only the Gospel’s call to love and to care for those in need, but also the powerful intention of our nation’s founders to create a government based on and protecting the common good. In Lenten terms, we can remember to repent for our individual sins, but forget the equal importance of repenting from social sins.
Our role in social sin expresses itself in apathy, not caring unless something affects me personally, or having an “I’m-not-getting-involved attitude.” It can show in the ways we knowingly, or unknowingly, add to racism, sexism, homophobia or hatred. We see it in our making sure we get all we need and hanging on with tight fists, rather than with open hands, ready to share. It shows in the narrow vision that enters when our circle of friends includes only those similar to us. It is evident when strong divisions occur because the decision of mask or no mask, vaccine or no vaccine, were taken out of the context of relationships and centered on self.
We all have our own areas we need to be attentive to in prayer and fasting so that we become healthier disciples, making sure God is the center of our lives. We are all called to a greater sense of almsgiving or generosity. Let us not forget we are all called to recognize social sin, to repent from our role in allowing it to happen or adding to it, and to do all we can to remove it from our midst.
Repentance begins with acknowledging the wrong we have done and the good we have failed to do. True repentance then moves beyond, by changing our lives and the way we see our world. It also moves us into the area of action.
Perhaps we can act on our repentance by addressing the social sins we see: the organizations and institutions that repress people or put profit before humanity, the stereotyping and profiling that divides us, the words and actions by our leaders that oppose the common good, the laws created to limit voting rights, the disregard for how actions affect our Mother Earth.
With the invasion of Ukraine, we have seen many nations decrying this senseless violence with words and actions. We have seen the world come together in prayer and compassion. We have seen solidarity on the rise. Sunflowers, blue and yellow, and the outline of the Ukrainian country pepper our social media. This is a taste of who we should be; who we are meant to be at all times. And, if the actions and sin of one individual can create such an injustice, imagine how the actions and repentance of each one of us can turn our world back to goodness and peace. We can indeed help turn swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks.
A saying I have often turned to for the Lenten season, or when I become aware of a change I need in my own life is “Make one day, day one.” Friends, let us make this one day “our day one” in recognizing our need to repent from social sin. Let us strive to be the love Christ calls us to, and work to bring it to our community, our nation and our world.
Sr. Marla, a member of A New Genesis religious community, is pastoral leader at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Green Bay.
2022 Lenten Series
February 25: Journeying on the road of conversion
March 4: Repentance: acknowledging sin, embracing God
March 11: Opportunities for repentance are endless
March 18: Find repentance and be restored
March 25: Lenten focus on forgiveness, gift and humility
April 1: Let us make this day our ‘day one’ to repent