This Reflection is based on the scripture readings for 30th Sunday, Year A in the Catholic liturgical calendar.
The great Christian mystic, John of the Cross, once said, “In the evening of our lives we will be judged by love alone.” Today’s readings are bound to create a genuine problem for preachers and congregations in Catholic parishes across the world, unless of course, preachers decide to by-pass the issue. The very first statement in today’s first reading says- “Thus says the LORD: You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20-21). Across the globe, national elections are being won and lost based on particular political party’s stand on both documented and undocumented aliens or immigrants. Not only do some Catholics disagree with the Catholic Church’s pastoral teaching on immigration, but they have gone so as far as to openly dissent with Pope Francis and the US Catholic bishops on the issue. the
Let me discuss immigration under three points: aliens, strangers, and foreigners in the Bible; understanding modern day immigration; and, the implications of today’s scripture and Church teachings on immigration for Catholics.
Immigrants in the Bible. The Biblical society, as primitive as it was, viewed social oppression very seriously. There were some people whose oppression was treated more stringently than others - the widows, orphans, and aliens. The seriousness of oppression of this group of people is expressed in the fact that, unlike the other crimes for which the justice system meted out the punishment, it was the Lord’s himself who would punish those who oppressed widows, orphans, and foreigners. The Bible does not explain why punishment for these crimes was reserved for the Lord. Perhaps the reason was that the widows, orphans, and foreigners were the most helpless and vulnerable in society. Besides these laws, however, there were other structures built into society to help the the poor and the oppressed. Even the animals and the land was protected from being exploited. The Jubilee laws, for examples, prescribed that every seventh year, the land be left fallow. Not only did this provide rest to the animals and the land, but whatever grain or fruit the fallow land produced, was to left for the poor. To make it even more fair, every fiftieth year, every debt was forgiven, land was restored to its original owner, and slaves were set free. This gave people a new beginning. No body was indebted or oppressed forever! These rights were extended to the aliens who lived in the land. The reason for the founding and existing of these laws is very clear - the Israelites were themselves once aliens in the foreign land. If God protected them and finally set them free, then Israel owed the same to the aliens among them. The goodness Israel showed to the aliens was also a way to integrate them into the mainstream.
Modern Day Immigration. We live in what we call a “globalized world.” We can trace the origins of the globalized world to the colonial era. In those days, however, the colonists were both the oppressors and the aliens. Later in history, unprecedented progress and development in the means of transport and communication made it possible for larger number of people to move greater distances. Today, we see mass movements of people across the globe. People migrate in large numbers for various reasons - some to escape war, violence, famine, misery, and oppression; others to find better opportunities; and still others to increase their profits. Entire corporate offices are also moved to other part of the global to maximize profits. However, and in my opinion unfairly, it is the migration of the undocumented poor and marginalized victims of war, violence and oppression that is considered to be most problematic. This is perceived as a problem because large number of immigrant and refugees have the capacity to change the very fabric of society. Most people who take the stand against undocumented migrants/refugees make the argument that they are welcome if they come in legally. There is only one problem. Legal immigration is a very expensive, long, complicated, and excruciating process. Most people who look to migrate are poor and can neither afford the cost or the time to pursue the cumbersome process. Moreover, after spending all time and money, the chance of the application being accepted is very low. On the other hand, the fact that people risk their lives to come into safer countries shows the desperation of people oppressed by war, violence, poverty, and misery. Even today, desperate refugees and migrant drowning in the sea, being killed during transition, or being exploited by human traffickers is not rare news. Certainly, the Church cannot ignore the issue.
Practical Implication. I leave you with the case of a 10-year-old Rosamaria Hernandez, an undocumented girl with cerebral palsy. Last Wednesday, after a gall bladder surgery, instead of being taken home by her family, she was taken by Border Protection Agents to a Texas detention center. Rosamaria has lived with her mother, Felipa Delacruz, in Laredo, on the border with Mexico since she was three months old. Her mother said, “It never crossed my mind that they would detain her. I thought the letter we had from a social worker would be enough. I feel so hopeless.” The word “hopelessness” describes the case of most immigrants and refugees. Folks, I am a documented immigrant and now a citizen. I understand the meaning and purpose of the law of the land. However, when the issue is human life and we are confronted with todays scripture reading, we have to discern what God might be saying to us as well. After all, we are not merely American. We are Catholic Americans. In today’s gospel reading, the Pharisees came to Jesus to ask him questions about the Law. When it comes to immigration, is not our question about legality? OR is the immigration issue merely an issue of legality? “Which commandment in law is the greatest,” the Pharisees asked. Jesus knew that there were 613 laws prescribed but the Torah. Jesus summarized these 613 laws into two. “Love God”,” he said, for that was the first commandment. And then to every one’s surprise he added a second commandment to the first. He said, “The second is like it - love your neighbor.” If it is a question of following laws, from the Christian perspective when it come to human life, the law of love must prevail. Following the gospel of love, Pope Francis has launched a worldwide campaign to encourage greater prayer and action for migrants, titled Share the Journey. Locally, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr has expressed his solidarity with local immigrants. Joining with other dioceses and partners throughout Ohio, he is calling for 10,000 letters to Congress for a pathway to residency for young immigrants protected by the DACA program. Here is what the US Catholic Bishops have to say about immigration: “The present Immigration Principles and Policies do not provide the way forward for comprehensive immigration reform rooted in respect for human life and dignity, and for the security of our citizens. They are not reflective of our country's immigrant past, and they attack the most vulnerable, notably unaccompanied children and many others who flee persecution. Most unfortunately, the principles fail to recognize that the family is the fundamental building block of our immigration system, our society, and our Church.” In the final analysis, each one of us is left with a decision to make. I, for one, believe what John of the Cross also believed, that, “In the evening of our lives, we will be judged by love alone.”For this reason, on the immigration issue, I personally stand uncompromisingly with Pope Francis and the US Catholic Bishops.
- Fr. Satish Joseph