The Book of Joel, from where today’s first reading is taken, is born out of a time of crisis and trauma. A plague of locusts, as powerful and dangerous as an invasion of a foreign army, swept through the land of Judah destroying everything in sight. As a result, drought and wildfire ravage what is left. So devastating is this disaster that life in Judah as it was known has ended. All that was good and bountiful has shriveled up and died. Sources of food and life run empty. Starvation and death stalk the streets. The animals groan. The earth cries out. Even joy itself has dried up among the people.
In the midst of all this death and all this suffering, the Lord is calling his people to turn their whole hearts toward God. For God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness. God is calling God’s people out of the darkness. And together they respond by calling the assembly of the old and the young. As a people, they render their hearts to God and in the midst of all this suffering, have hope in what the world ought to be.
There are many parallels we can draw upon today. The coronavirus pandemic continues to wage war, tearing through our world, and stealing the lives of 500,000 mothers, daughters, fathers, and friends in the United States alone. Times of crisis unveil putrid systems of injustice that lay beneath placid waters. In times of crisis, we must ask ourselves “who are the most affected?” and “why?” As theologian L. Juliana Claassens writes, “questions regarding God’s role in suffering ought to be coupled with questions regarding economic and social justice.”
The pandemic has only magnified disparities in race and socioeconomic status. Early data showed that black Americans were dying at disproportionate rates, and it hasn’t slowed since. Indigenous and native peoples are dying at twice the rate of white Americans. The loss of tribal elders is not simply the loss of a loved one but the loss of a language and connection to history and culture. And the unemployment rate is the highest its been since 1930 and millions struggle to provide food and shelter for their families.
The murders of Ahmaud Arberry, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor held up a mirror to our nation, which lead many people, for the first time, to ask “why does this keep on happening?” Their senseless deaths have awoken a national racial reckoning 400 years in the making. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed generations of institutional harm and destruction.
The animals groan. The earth cries out. Even joy itself has dried up among the people.
And yet, in the midst of this darkness, God is crying out for us to turn our hearts toward God. There is still hope for what the world ought to be, a vision of a world where justice is restored. As Joel prophesied, the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills flow with milk, All the streams of Judah will flow with water. In the midst of darkness, it is courageous to hope.
Reciting her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, Amanda Gorman concluded on this message of hope. She proclaimed
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
For those early Christians and for us now, the new dawn is Christ Jesus, to whom we turn to mourning and weeping and fasting. Just as the Judeans could not return to life as normal, we cannot return to the status quo. For we cannot unsee what we have seen nor can we unknow the things we have learned.
In speaking to his disciples, the Jesus of Matthew’s gospel constantly challenges the status quo and those who have grown complacent. The Pharisees at that time were more focused on following the law than caring for others. So at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus instructs his disciples on almsgiving, praying, and fasting not for the sake of following a law nor for the sake of others but for an internal turning of their hearts toward God, to place their hope in a better future. For Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. To restore ruptured relationships, to right the wrongs, to forgive sins.
St. Paul reminds us that we, sisters and brothers and siblings in Christ, are ambassadors for Christ. It is together that we reconcile ourselves to God. And though we shall do the work of almsgiving, praying, and fasting on our own, we are not alone. Together we can be the light that blazes a path forward with the hope for what the world ought to be.
So as we enter into this season of Lent, let us turn our whole hearts to God and place in God our trust. Let us give alms not just by giving money to the poor but by working for economic security of all. Let us pray not just by reciting rote prayers but by opening our hearts to listen to the Spirit. Let us fast, not just from food and drink but from the privileges we have been given to stand in solidarity with the oppressed. Let us work together to repair relationships and co-create systems of economic and social justice. Let us be brave enough to be the light as we free a new dawn.
Teresa Marie Cariño
Teresa Marie Cariño
Teresa Marie Cariño serves as the Director of Faith Formation at St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco, CA and is studying for her Masters of Theological Studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA. A native of the San Francisco – Bay Area, Teresa received her Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco. While at USF, she studied in the Philippines for a semester in the Casa Bayanihan program. After USF, Teresa moved to New York City as a Jesuit Volunteer working in community organizing for affordable housing. She spent the next five years working as a Pastoral Associate at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan.
Teresa is an extended member of the Benincasa community. She serves on the Board of Directors for the National Catholic Reporter and on the National Advising Committee for the Ignatian Solidarity Network.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
“Catholic Women Preach is one of the more inspiring collection of homilies available today. Based on the deep spirituality and insights of the various women authors, the homilies are solidly based on the scriptures and offer refreshing and engaging insights for homilists and listeners. The feminine perspective has long been absent in the preached word, and its inclusion in this work offers a long overdue and pastorally necessary resource for the liturgical life of the Church.” - Catholic Media Association
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