Why this Lent I will shift my focus from my personal sin to my social sin

For most of my life, my Lenten practice has focused on addressing my personal sins. As my family and friends will testify, I certainly need ongoing work in that area. But this Lent, I want to do something different. I’ve been inspired by what Pope Francis has been preaching but disturbed by what’s going on in the world, so this year, I plan to focus on my social sins.

By social sins, don’t mean bad things I’ve said on Facebook or at parties. Rather, I mean my involvement in sinful and evil social-political-economic structures. In Catholic Social Teaching, we have a rich tradition that teaches that because we are all interconnected, personal sins can become collective sins that infect social structures. (See John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei Socialis 35-37).

Lent is a penitential season that provides the opportunity for us to grieve our sins, seek forgiveness, make amends and move beyond our mistakes. A time to grow into the person God hopes us to be and find our place in the creation God has provided.

This Lent, these are some of my social sins that I want acknowledge, beg forgiveness for, strive to fix and grow away from, in order to grow closer to God:
  • Racism/sexism: As a white man, I “inherited” opportunities and privileges that many of my black brothers and sisters don’t have because of a history of slavery in this country and the ongoing reality of racism. Being born a man, I “inherited” opportunities and privileges that my daughters, don’t enjoy because of sexism, including the same opportunities to earn the same wages. 
  • Economic injustice: As a citizen of the U.S., I live and participate in an economic system that enjoys a disportionate share of the world’s resources and wealth. I am part of the 20% that uses 80% of the resources. Globally I live within the top 5% while the vast majority of people struggle on $1 to $2 day and 21,000 people die each day because of hunger related causes while I throw excess food away.
  • Ecological crisis: My lifestyle has a negative impact on God’s creation and I am a contributor to the ecological crisis. I use more energy than I need and produce more waste and pollution than is sustainable.
I commit to the following spiritual practices this Lent to address my social sin:
  • Prayer: Daily, I will endeavor to read the New York Times paying attention to the conditions and plight of others around the world and then spend 10-15 minutes in contemplative prayer hoping to increase my mindfulness and empathy around global solidarity. I will pray the Stations of the Cross to remember how the Way of the Cross continues in those who remain oppressed and are crucified today.
  • I will try to adjust my diet to reduce processed food and cut down on the amount of meat I eat (more than just fasting on Fridays). (It takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef.)
  • I will try to reduce my carbon footprint by walking to work and avoiding unnecessary car trips. (Every gallon of gas burned releases 24 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.)
  • I will take a hard look at the mutual funds in my retirement plans to work towards socially responsible investing.
  • I will advocate for refugees and the undocumented in this country, particularly to ensure that families who have lived here for a generation are not separated from each other.
  • I will try to use Facebook in a welcoming, but prophetic way, to raise awareness around social justice issues.
I admit that I have had a bad track record of starting out Lent with great intentions and rarely crossing the finish line 40 days later. I know I can do this better if I make this public commitment and moreover if I have the support of others who are struggling along the same path. If you want to join me in this, I’d love to hear from you and support each other on the journey. My email is mdulka@maryknoll.org

Matt Dulka is a deacon of the Oakland Diocese and the Associate Director for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in their engagement of the U.S Church to promote missionary discipleship.