From the USSCB Justice for Immigrants Conference
Moses was an unaccompanied minor. In his youth Jesus of Nazareth was a refugee. And when he became man and entered into God’s plan of salvation, as Simeon foretold (“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” [Lk 2: 34]), his execution happened as it because of his “status.” What he experienced at the hands of the state would not have happened had he been a Roman citizen. These are not original insights (but, you know, keep reading …?), rather, they have been brought to the forefront of my consciousness through the words and wisdom of my brothers and sisters who are living out our common call to welcome and to care for the strangers among us. But first, a word from our sponsor:
Father Robert Stark, a priest of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, introduced this video at the Justice for Immigrants conference sponsored by the USCCB, where Brother John Celichowski and I have spent the last three days. Its message arises from the work of the Vatican office on Migrants and Refugees. Once our eyes were dry he explained that the work of this Vatican section was foundational in the creation of the United Nations Global Compact on Migration. In these past days we have been preparing to bring these understandings, these Gospel values, to our representatives on Capitol Hill. About that, please return again soon, as there will be at least one more post from DC.
My faith, as I understand it, is not to be driven by polls. I don’t seek them out, I don’t avoid them, and I understand their role in policy-making. I am not a betting friar and therefore am not tempted to play the odds. That said, recall that when the current administration instituted its short-lived zero-tolerance and child separation policy for people arriving at the US southern border, it did not “poll well”. And it was altered, though government agencies are still struggling to deal with the surge of families arriving from Central America, even as our brothers and especially our sisters are committing whatever resources they can to respond. Still - why bring this up? Why talk about such a controversial issue?
Well, as the kids say – yeah, no. It’s not controversial. I beg you, dear reader, re-watch the video. Is there anything controversial in it? Does Pope Francis say anything contrary to the Gospel or to the example of Jesus, who he has called “the face of God’s mercy”? Where is the controversy? Where is the scandal? I was taught in moral theology that the Church’s definition of scandal is “to do or say anything that might cause another person to doubt their faith.” Not reaching out to help vulnerable people, not seeking out people who are suffering and offering them refuge, not responding to people who have lost their homes and safe havens – there we will find controversy to last all our days. Si flagitium requiris, circumspice.
Last night, as we prepared for today’s lobbying day on the Hill, one of the attendees heaved a heart-heavy sigh and despaired of bishops and priests unwilling to preach on the “controversial” issue of the rights of migrants and refugee. This is difficult to reconcile, because it is simply impossible to enter into Scripture without meditating on one of its foundations, the reality which permeates our ancestors’ experience of God and of life: “I will throw you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your ancestors have known” (Jer 16:13). And a minister from the San Bernardino diocese issued a polite but passionate correction, saying “This is not a ‘controversial’ issue. This is about people’s lives. This is about my life!” Amen. Happy the ones whose lives have not known what God revealed to Jeremiah. For those who have, and for everybody else – let us take up our cross.