Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The sower, the seeds and immigration reform

Deacon Walter Ayres, director of the Commission on Peace and Justice, reflected on the Gospel and immigration reform in his homily for July 13, the 15th Sunday of Ordinary time:

            Today’s Gospel is so familiar to most of us, that the church doesn’t even require that we read it in its entirety. Instead, we have the option of reading a shortened version, as I did today.
            As Jesus explains in the full version of the Gospel, the seed that falls along the path is the person who hears the message without understanding it.
            The seed that fell on patches of rock is the person who first receives the message with joy, but falters when times get rough.
            The seed sown among the thorns is the person who hears the message, but who is choked off by worldly anxiety and the lure of money.
            Finally, the seed on good soil is the person who hears the word and takes it in, resulting in a miraculous yield.
            I assume that most Christians think of themselves as belonging to that last category, but many of them are wrong.
            We need to read the signs of the times to understand this better.

            Now, the phrase “the signs of the times” has been of particular importance to Catholics since Vatican II, because it signifies an understanding that the Church needs to attend more closely to the world if it is to remain faithful to its calling. It has been used by every Pope since Pope John XXIII.
            And when we read today’s Gospel in light of the signs of the times, we can see that it gives us a lens through which we can comprehend the issues of our time, such as the current immigration crisis.
            You see, this reading comes at a particularly opportune time.
            Just this week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops held a national migration conference in Washington.
            The goals were to share and apply Catholic Social Teaching on migration; and to deepen the capacity of diocesan and parish leaders to minister to, and advocate for, immigrants, refugees, and other people on the move.
            This occurred around the time people were blocking buses with immigrant children and families from places where they could be housed and fed.
            And the hatred spewing from the mouths of some protestors was a disgrace to us as a nation and a people.

            The influx of unaccompanied children is an important issue that we must face, but we must do it with the love and understanding that our faith requires of us.
            Now, the plight of immigrants is imbedded in our sacred scripture. From the plight of the Hebrew people in Egypt to the flight of Jesus and his family to escape from Herod, immigrants are presented to us as people for whom we must show particular concern.
            The children who cross our borders have crossed some of the worst land we can imagine, and under the worst conditions.
            They are the seeds that God has scattered on the ground. And we are called to help them grow.
            How do we know?
            The bible tells us so.

            In the book of Exodus we are told, “Do not oppress the stranger: you know how a stranger feels, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt.”
            Psalm 82 tells us, “No more mockery of justice . . . rescue the weak and the needy.”
            Isaiah tells us, “Woe to legislators of infamous laws . . . who refuse justice to the unfortunate.”
            Jeremiah proclaims, “Do not exploit the stranger . . .”
            The message is carried throughout Leviticus, Proverbs, and other books of the bible.
            So what are we to do?                                                           
            First, we must understand that these children are like the seeds mentioned in today’s Gospel. They have fallen on the worst ground, and they are being choked off by worldly anxiety and the lure of money. By lure of money, I mean the fear some people have that immigrants will take their jobs, a belief which has been proven false.
            Some people fear that immigrants are a burden on the healthcare system, which has been shown not to be true.
            Others argue that they are a drain on the economy, and that, too, is not correct.

            Our church, through Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, is working to help these vulnerable people.
            And because the church sees the world as it is, and not how we would like it to be, we are working in Central America to provide education and employment opportunities to young people so that they will not feel that they have to leave their country in order to find a better life.
            These children have the potential – as do our own children – of producing the miraculous harvest that Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel, a harvest of a hundred-fold.
            One of them might discover the medicine that may someday save your life.
            Or they might start a company that employs your grandchild.
            They might return to their own country and become a politician who promotes the good that is needed at that time.
            But none of that can happen if we don’t take care of them now.

            When we think of today’s Gospel – about the sower and the seeds and the harvest – we must think not only about these children and the harvest they can provide as they mature. We must also ask ourselves what kind of harvest we are producing in our own lives.
            Does the word of God produce in us a willingness to help others in need, a desire to care for our neighbors as ourselves?
            Or has our love of neighbor been choked off by the weeds of selfishness and fear?
            Can we provide a bountiful harvest of love and compassion, or will we ignore the face of Jesus in these desperate children?

            The gospel of Matthew tells us that one day Jesus will come to us and we will ask Him, “when…. when did I see you?” When did I see you a stranger? When did I see you hungry? When did I see you needing clothes?
            Today, as you hear my words, a little girl is on her way across a desert land. A little boy is walking the same path. There is a good chance that both of them are Catholic.
            If they do not die alone on the way, they will arrive here as strangers. They will be hungry. They probably will need clothes.
            Like the tender shoots of today’s parable, their grip on life will be tenuous at best.
            We can help them by praying – praying for their safety and for a resolution to the current crisis.
            We also can send money to Catholic Charities or Catholic Relief Services.
            And we can contact our legislators and ask them to support sensible and fair immigration reform, and let them know that we do not object to housing some of these children in our own community as they await the next phase of their journey.
            But we must not stand idly by and do nothing.
            When the attendees at this week’s Migration Conference received their registration packet, they found a letter from the office of the Vatican Secretariat of State, who wrote to them on behalf of Pope Francis. This is part of what he had to say:
            “It is [the Pope’s] hope that, in the best traditions of the Church in the United States, the Catholic community will continue to welcome new immigrants, defend the unity of families, and provide opportunities for their full integration into society.”
            May the Pope not be disappointed in how we respond to this current immigration crisis.

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