Lent I

Lent I
2017 – Cycle A
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

They work in our restaurants and on our suburban lawns.
They labour in our factories and build our homes.
They do odd jobs or any job.
They work long hours to harvest the fruits and vegetables we eat.
Their children go to our schools and play with our sons and daughters.

immigrants-1immigrants-5immigrants-3immigrants-7immigrants-4immigrants-6

The “they’ are undocumented immigrants.

Immigrants and refugees cross our borders from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea to the borders of Europe from Iraq, Syria and the Sub – Sahara. They are on the move for all the same reasons people have always been on the move throughout history. They are on the move for all the same reasons our grandparents, great grandparents and families came to this continent: tyranny, war, a better life, famine, economic hardship, disease.

The discussion of undocumented, illegal immigrants and refugees has filled the media and led me to reflect that there seems to be an unspoken presumption that all our families arrived here legally and for the best of reasons.  But did they?

Being a nation, a continent, a hemisphere of immigrants, for even the indigenous peoples came from Africa through Asia, no one can claim to be native.  From tens of thousands of years ago through the last two centuries to our present day, we all originally hail from another land, culture and history.

I’ve always had to wonder though, why once a wave of us immigrants gets accepted and established with our Little Italys and Polands, Korea and Chinatowns do we turn on the next wave of immigrants with the same bigotry, fear and often violence with which we were treated?  “Irish Need Not Apply” also meant “Catholics Need Not Apply”.  Our nation has an ironic tendency toward a recurring and ugly nativist streak.  It never goes away it just submerges for a time.  The reemergence of racism against Afro – Americans, Anti – Semitism, and Anti – Catholicism are always just under the surface.  Today nativism may only be more nuanced and subtle – or not – than previous generations.  Have Jews and Catholics really arrived because we make up the entire Supreme Court membership?

As a child, I always thought it was odd that my grandparents were called “aliens”.  Aren’t aliens from outer space?  Aliens are portrayed as physically and so radically different from us that throughout science fiction they strike fear into us.  Consider the 1956 movie, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers or, who can forget Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds?  We earthlings always react negatively to that which is unknown.  Is it not thought-provoking then that we label certain humans with the term alien and react in the same fear-filled way toward them?

What are your thoughts in regard to undocumented immigrants, to refugees, to legal immigrants, to children of deported immigrants, to dreamers?  This question raises the issues of justice, jobs, fear, terrorism, fairness and many perceptions all combining to result in polarization of discussions.

Despite the legitimate divisions among Catholic laity on this issue, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops are following a century – old precedent.  Since the early 1900s, the US Catholic bishops have consistently spoken out on behalf of immigrants.  This was especially true during the 1920s and ‘30s, a period of xenophobic passion in our country when unprecedented immigration restrictions were enacted.  And the bishops were concerned not only with critiquing immigration legislation but they founded Catholic agencies and offered resources that were able to go beyond the efforts of charity and welfare to focus on legal and political advocacy for immigrants.   The basis for such advocacy is that the moral teachings and the social justice arms of the Catholic tradition begin as there starting point, the human being.

Human beings are not “aliens”.
Though it is easy to fall into the temptation that such people are to be feared.

Immigrants and refugees, undocumented, illegal or legal are “the stranger in our midst”.
It is easy to fall into the temptation of scapegoating people who are different from us.  And scapegoating leads to exclusion.

Humans are not to be entrapped.
Yet, it is easy to fall into the temptation to use undocumented immigrants even as we vilify them.  Are not the threats of farmers to reveal undocumented immigrants who harvest their crops to the authorities so as to pay them lower wages, not a form of entrapment and slavery?

The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants, refugees, and people on the move.  Our Church has responded to Christ’s call for us to “welcome the stranger among us,” for in this encounter with the immigrant, the migrant, and the refugee in our midst, we encounter Christ.  It is on the shoulders of this proud Catholic tradition upon which we stand, immigrants and the sons and daughters of immigrants, and the grandsons and daughters of immigrants.

The temptations of Adam and Eve in the garden and Jesus in desert are real.

All countries have a right to security and to enforce fair and just immigration laws. The fear many people feel is real and needs to be acknowledged.  In an age of competing media outlets and fake news, we have a responsibility to seek out truth.  Truth is necessary so that we can discern as Christians if we are welcoming the stranger the way Christ instructed us to.  Our moral duty is to always put the human person first above all else.

I would strongly encourage us during this Lenten Season to being to educate ourselves in our Catholic and biblical traditions.  The website of The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is a good place to start.

Consider, did a group of immigrant Irish Catholic bishops at the beginning of the last century make a difference in the lives of your and my relatives because they spoke up?

Who will speak out today?

syrian refugee 3

[Phrases and ideas taken from “Still Welcoming the Stranger” by Julia G. Young, COMMONWEAL, March 10, 2017 and “Undocumented in America” by Kevin Clarke and Robert David Sullivan, AMERICA, February 20, 2017.]

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