Reflections for an Unusual Lent

This Lent has been a particularly heavy one. For me, it began with a trip to the El Paso/Juárez Border with a group of 13 people from the School of Theology and Ministry. There, we learned about the legal, economic, and humanitarian sides of the border crisis, and met some incredibly strong people who are there supporting their communities. When we returned, it was only a few days before we learned that our classes would be online for the rest of the semester, and joined the rest of the world in watching as the coronavirus situation worsened. We had just begun to process our experience at the border when it seemed like every day added on something new for us to adjust to. We were already missing the community that we had formed there when we found out we would have to separate ourselves from any sort of community for an indefinite amount of time.

All of this has deeply impacted the way in which I have experienced this season of Lent. We have all had to sacrifice much more than we initially intended, and the sufferings of both migrants at the border and all those who are sick or have loved ones who are sick have been weighing heavy on my heart. But I know I am not alone in this. One of the unexpected graces of this time has been having the opportunity to read daily reflections from my classmates as one of the ways in which we have been trying to maintain community while at a distance. In addition to that, I was able to participate in writing two different Stations of the Cross: one reflecting on our experience at the border, and one reflecting on the Way of the Cross during COVID-19.

I had been planning on writing something weaving together all of these things I’ve been processing, but I still don’t have all of the words to do so. Maybe at some point I will, but for now, I am grateful that those around me have helped to find words through their reflections. Both my experience at the border and the coronavirus have taught me how deeply interdependent we all are, so it feels appropriate that I need other people to help me process.

I wish I could share all of the reflections written by my classmates. I highly recommend watching the entire Stations of the Cross reflection made by my group that traveled to the border, because like I said, I don’t have all of the words. But here is a compilation of those words that I have been able to find in a few short reflections:

For the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
On the first day of our Border Encounter trip, we met two Sisters of Charity who run a clinic for children with special needs on the outskirts of Juárez. They had originally moved to the area for a different ministry, but after seeing the lack of resources there for families with children who have special needs, they decided to change course and open the clinic, which they named “Santo Niño” (The Child Jesus). As they told us their story, they explained that their motto is to “do what presents itself,” and to not turn away from it because of “fear or repugnance.”

The phrase “do what presents itself” has been on my mind ever since that day, and I am particularly reminded of those women as I reflect on the Blessed Mother’s fiat. Like them, Mary had a plan for her life that was disrupted when Gabriel showed up to announce that she would give birth to the Son of God. Although she was “greatly troubled,” Mary did not turn away because of fear. Instead, she welcomed the angel and her son, choosing to say “yes” to what God was asking of her. There was no way for her to know everything that would lie ahead – the social ridicule, the need to flee persecution, the confusion in raising the son of God, or the agony in seeing him suffer and die. But she had the courage to say, “May it be done to me according to your word” without having all of the answers.

In these days, we are faced with our own opportunities to “do what presents itself” in the midst of fear and uncertainty. None of us expected to be quarantined this semester, and it seems like each day we are being asked to say “yes” to one more sacrifice without knowing where the finish line is. Each day, we awake to a new opportunity to say “yes” to finding hope in the face of increasing monotony; “yes” to the social responsibility of slowing the spread of the virus; “yes” to reaching out to those who we think feel most isolated; and “yes” to finding new ways to commune with ourselves and with God. Though we don’t know what new sacrifices may lay ahead, we do know God is with us saying, “Do not be afraid.”

The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother

Mary did not have to be at the cross. She could have stayed home because it was too painful, or she could have fled out of fear, like many of the Apostles did. But Mary’s love for her son is not a weak love. It is a love that leans into hurt and suffering; that shows up even stronger when things get tough.

As Mary watched her son walk toward His death, I imagine she wished she could go through it all for Him. And as Jesus looked at the heartbroken face of the woman who had been by His side as He learned to walk, to pray, and to begin His ministry, I imagine He wanted to linger a bit longer and somehow find the words to make it okay.

Real love compels us toward each other even in the darkest moments. A heart-wrenching part of our current reality is that when every true and good instinct is telling us to be near each other, we must stay at a distance.

As the death rates from COVID-19 continue to increase, more families are being deprived of the ability to be physically present to their loved ones in their suffering. Many ICUs have made policies that do not allow visitors; therefore, at a time when many people feel compelled to be at the foot of the cross with the person they love, they cannot be. Patients are dying without the benefit of the loving face or tender touch that Mary provided to Jesus in His last hours.

We are being asked to do things that go against every instinct we have about Christian love. However, even when love means staying at a physical distance, we remain in our hearts with those who are suffering in solitude, as do Mary and Jesus, who know how hard it is to say goodbye to those we love.

Mary, as we face the reality of being unable to be near those we love in this time of suffering, please pray for us, that we may find new ways to express our care and solidarity.

Lord, please be near those who are suffering from COVID-19 and help them to know that they are not alone as they carry their cross.

The Tenth Station: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

Jesus – who has undergone scourging, thorns digging into his skull, and a cross weighing heavily upon his back – is now faced with one last act of humiliation before being nailed to the cross. Covered with blood and sweat and exhausted from the journey, Jesus is stripped of his garments and mocked by those around him in this moment of vulnerability.

Like Jesus, who appeared garment-less with his wounds exposed before the crowd, people arrive at our country’s doorstep with their energy, money, possessions, and sometimes even family members, taken from them. They stand on our soil, vulnerable, waiting to hear their fate. 

Unfortunately, our laws now send migrants arriving at the El Paso border back to Mexico, stripping them of the opportunity to wait for their asylum court date safely with family members already in the United States. While in Juarez, we met several women and children who were in this situation, and in many ways had been stripped of control over their lives. Yet, like Jesus, who persevered until the end, they retained incredible strength, finding ways to support themselves and their children. We, as a nation, may have stripped them of opportunities, but we cannot strip them of their inherent dignity.

Jesus, help us to see your face in the people who arrive at our borders, stripped of their garments. Help us not to follow the way of the soldiers, who mocked you in your moment of vulnerability, but to show the same compassion that you did to all whom you encountered.

The Thirteenth Station: The Body of Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross

After the drama of the crucifixion, the crowd left, and Jesus’s limp body was lowered from the cross. In the silence, Joseph of Arimathea asks for the body, to properly wrap it in linen and place it in a tomb, presumably forever. Suddenly, it was finished: Jesus’s ministry, his journey to the cross, his life.

At Sr. Betty and Fr. Peter’s house, we remembered the people who had died in the journey of migration. One by one, we wrote down their names. We prayed for them: men and women, children and adults, coming from different places. But someday, their names will fade, and new names will be written. Their lives, vibrant and significant, especially to the people whom they loved, were ended too soon.

How do we, like Joseph of Arimathea, honor these people? We cannot physically hold their bodies and wrap them in linen, but how do we hold their stories, their lives, in our hearts? How are we going to live our lives differently for having held them?

Jesus, help us to hold with love those who have died as a result of the harsh realities of migration. The enormity of the situation feels heavy, but please grant us the strength to do the lifting together, as your body, as we work toward a more just world.

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