By Tony Magliano
On Ash Wednesday, with dust-like ashes crossed upon our foreheads we were each invited to call to mind that this mortal body, this earthly life, is passing away – sooner than we realize – and that you and I would be wise to diligently prepare for eternity, to get our lives in God-like order: “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”
Another essential message presented to us as we received ashes is that we are to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Scripture often equates sin with darkness – the inability to see clearly, causing us to stumble around in this life with no clear direction; with no sure way to the truth that sets us free – free from enslaving deadly sin.
Left unchecked, with no repentance, our many collective individual sins metastasize into what St. Pope John Paul II called the “structures of sin” – those larger elements within our cultures, societies, governments and corporations that operate in the darkness of self-absorbed greed, power-lust, violence and indifference to suffering.
We desperately need to turn away from sin – both personal sin and the structures of sin. An honest look into many of our human-made institutions surely reveals decadent sinful structures that need conversion.
From abortion to war, from poverty and hunger to homelessness, from the refugee crisis to unfair trade agreements, from sweatshop labor to low frozen minimum wages, from the international arms trade to neighborhood gun violence, from nuclear weapons to astronomical military budgets, from lack of affordable health care to COVID-19, from drug abuse to insufficient drug treatment facilities, from crumbling infrastructures to unemployment, from racism to human trafficking and from environmental pollution to climate change … it is undeniable that our world is deeply suffering from human-caused structures of sin.
As the world struggles to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, we must even more importantly be determined to emerge – with the grace of God – from all of our structures of sin. Let us instead build structures worthy of human beings for the greater glory of God!
Our nation and our world desperately need a new standard to measure human progress: not gross national product, not the stock market and not military supremacy.
The new standard we need to creatively envision and fully implement is as old as the Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s final judgment of the nations scene in Matthew’s Gospel. And it’s as modern as Catholic social teaching.
Pope Francis continues to urge us to see how all of humanity is interconnected. And that we are interconnected to all of creation. In order to survive and thrive, we need to join hands and hearts in prayer, and to tirelessly work together to build a world of love, social justice and peace.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
As we more faithfully walk in the Master’s footsteps, we become more and more radiantly like him. And we begin to better understand and more fully live out his related challenge to us: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. … Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
There is no better time than Lent to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel!”