HOMILY – OCTOBER 29
On my mother’s side, I’m only three generations from Europe. My maternal great-grandparents all came here in the very early 1900’s. They were poor, they scraped together what they needed for the ocean voyage, they never expected to go back, and they knew that they were coming to a new and very different land. They had to answer questions at Ellis Island about their origins and about their plans. They were immigrants. On my dad’s side, they had come over several generations earlier; but they, too, were immigrants.
Then and now, there are people who leave homelands where life is so toxic that they are in perpetual danger. Any reform of our immigration laws must take this into account, and must make provision for those who truly live in fear for their lives. But it’s clear that pressure must be put on their countries of origin to work to correct what is so desperately wrong — crime, drugs, war, famine, whatever — that people will go to any lengths to get out. No country can really help to solve a refugee crisis by removing all borders and all restrictions. Every country has the right to see to the security and health of those who already live in it, including immigrants who are already there.
Those things being said, where do we stand as a Church with today’s first reading: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien?” Actually, it’s not difficult. We should be encouraging national policies which are just and fair. We cannot turn a blind eye to the genuine needs of other people, either within or outside our borders. And while we should not encourage the violation of just and reasonable laws, most of us do not have a personal responsibility to enforce such civil laws. People in need who come to the Church are responsible for their own civil situations. Far more than irritation with THEM, I tend to get upset with those who equate legal and illegal immigration by lumping them all together. I dislike being lectured on how my ancestors were immigrants, as though there were no difference even today between making applications, paying fees, and patiently waiting in line — as opposed to crossing borders in unauthorized ways.
What would Jesus do? He shows us in the way he speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well. He shows us in the healing he provides from a distance for the Roman centurion’s servant. He shows us in the faith he recognizes in the Syro-Phoenician woman who tells him of the demon harming her daughter. He was no stranger to strangers. In him we find the pattern of how we are to behave with others, focusing on the virtuous human acts of friendship, mercy, and healing.
We learn yet again from the Gospel that we do all these things, not just so that others will like us, and not out of some bleeding-heart need to have others in debt to us. Mere humanistic motives have led us to the entitlement mentality mess which we find in our own country and in nations throughout the world. We are commanded first of all to love God, not because God needs it, but because he knows that it helps to enrich and complete US, whom he has made in his own image. God is love, and he creates us, alone among all his creatures, to be able to receive, ponder, experience, and reflect his love. We are made to be in relationship with God. When we forget that, or are ignorant of it — well, the results are in the news every day, in Hollywood sex scandals, mass murders, terrorism, political corruption, out-of-control drug abuse, and in our own personal sins — which we are quite content NOT to see in the news. Think of that: all the sin, all the misery in our tired world, all due to people rejecting the God who gave them the gift of life and the capacity to leave the world a better place than they found it!
That love of God will brim over into the second commandment, love of neighbor. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t an authentic love of the one, true God in the first place. That’s why it’s “like” the first commandment. Jesus teaches us that unless we learn to serve him in others, we shall miss the chance to serve him at all. Our service is a form of witness. It might not be understood as such by many, but we are bound nonetheless to provide it, simply because WE AND THEY are made in the image and likeness of God. Love of God and love of neighbor — there is no better formula for genuine happiness now and eternal happiness forever, than the two great commandments given us by our Creator. We need to pray that many will discover or RE-discover the ultimate simplicity of God’s love.