Monday, July 21, 2014

Christ in the Border Crisis

With so much violence spilling over around the world--witness the Ukraine, Syria, Israel and Palestine, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan--it's easy to gloss over the violence which lurks behind our nation's ongoing border crisis.
In recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Unaccompanied Children, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas emphasized that "Violence perpetrated by organized transnational gangs, loosely-affiliated criminal imitators of gangs, and drug cartels, has permeated all aspects of life in Central American and is one of the primary factors driving the migration of children from the region" (p. 7).  Isn't it time that we begin to address both the immediate crisis and the root causes--through both works of mercy and works of justice?
Of course, even to ask this question and raise this topic is bound to offend someone:  The political polarization is so extreme; visceral reactions simmer just below the surface of apparent civility.  As followers of Jesus, however, we should be willing to admit to ourselves and to others that we know what needs to be done.  Here are seven starting points for more meaningful conversations about the boarder crisis: 
  1. We need to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and welcome the stranger (Mt 25:35), in whom we come to see Christ himself.  We may find God's self-revelation disturbing and hard to live out in practice, but what part of the "Judgment of the Nations" in Matthew 25 do we not understand?    
  2. We need to ignore the conspiracy theorists and the political opportunists who seem intent on manipulating this issue to serve their party's advantage.  How can we let people reduce this situation to a "zero-sum" political game?
  3. We need to acknowledge that any nation's right to secure its borders is always balanced by its responsibility to welcome immigrants (we should also be honest about all the ways that our nation has benefited from the influx of Central and South American immigrants in recent years).  What would happen if Catholics meditated on this passage from the Catechism: "The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin" (CCC, n. 2241)?
  4. We need to acknowledge that the right to immigrate must be regulated by just laws and should be balanced by the obligation of immigrants "to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens" (CCC, n. 2241).  Isn't this what we have always expected of immigrants, since the founding of our nation?
  5. We need to ask about our society's seemingly insatiable appetite for narcotics, pornography and victims for the sex trade.  Isn't it time we ask how our own dehumanizing vices and disordered views of "freedom" have contributed to the destabilization of Latin America? 
  6. We need to shine the light of the Gospel on the other social structures which have contributed to this crisis, including our apparent addiction to cheap labor for the food and clothing industries.  How do we benefit from a global market place which worships the false god of Profit, on the backs of sweat-shop labor and throw-away workers?
  7. We need to allow Jesus' words to echo in our hearts, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me” (Mk 9:37).  How can we say we are committed to defending the dignity of the human person and yet not reach out to help these children and families in need?
We live in a time marked by increasing tribalism--be it adherents of Islamic fundamentalism or radical secularism, be it political separatists or "American exceptionalists," be it members of street gangs or of international cartels.  More and more people want to impose their world view on others, and more and more are willing to justify their own violence to do so.  
As Christians we need to resist this temptation.  We need the courage to welcome the Other as other.  After all, some day we will all ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?..."  And some day we all hope to hear the Lord say, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Mt 25:37-40).
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patron of the Americas, pray for us--
P.S.  Here are a few relevant commentaries and resources on the topic, for your consideration:

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Metric for Missionary Disciples

What if we're all "on the spectrum"?  Wouldn't it be nice to evaluate to what extent we are "spiritually worldly" and to what extent we are becoming the "missionary disciples" Christ needs us to be?

The brief self-assessment below flows out of Pope Francis' commentary on "Spiritual Worldliness" in The Joy of the Gospel (EG, nn., 93-97).  The Holy Father lays out the issue as follows:  "Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord's glory but human glory and personal well-being" (EG, n. 93).  So, take a quick look at where you stand in relation to the goal of growing in holiness as a missionary disciple of Jesus:
Spiritual Worldliness                                                 Missionary Discipleship           
0       1        2         3            4          5          6          7          8         9         10    
Seeking human glory                                                     Seeking the Lord's glory
and personal well-being                                                 and the well-being of others
Subtly pursuing                                                               Openly pursing
one's own interests                                                          Christ's interests
Cultivating appearances                                                  Cultivating ongoing
                                                                                         conversion of heart
Concerned with feeling                                                    Concerned with the
superior to others                                                             Gospel and the good
                                                                                         of others
Pursuing the pleasure of                                                  Embracing evangelical
complacency and self-indulgence                                   fervor
Attracted by elitism                                                          Willing to open the door
and classifying others                                                       of grace to others

Preoccupied with the Church                                            Concerned with the
as an institution, the property                                            Church as the People of 
of a select few                                                                   God, especially the poor 
Enjoying talk about                                                            Offering of one's life
"what needs to be done"                                                    in a spirit of service
Fascinated with social                                                        Bearing the mark of
and political gain                                                                Christ crucified and risen

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Renewed Personal Encounter

"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment,
to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ,
or at least an openness to letting him encounter them;
I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. 
No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her..."
(Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel [=EG], n. 3). 

What if you had a chance to hear the basic proclamation of the Gospel anew, as if for the first time?  Wouldn't it be wonderful to really hear not just that there is a God, but that he is both higher than the highest height and closer than our inmost self?

Wouldn't it be transformative and life-changing to hear that this one true God is a Father?  Your Father, and my Father.  Wouldn't it change our lives to know that the Father loves us intimately and personally--in and through the seemingly mundane details of our daily lives.

What if we could embrace the truth that this loving Father knows that our world is a mess and understands that each of us is wounded or hurting in some way?  So passionate and so compassionate is this Father that he is literally willing to give away his only-begotten Son.  For you, and for me.  Wouldn't it fill you with wonder and awe to learn that this heavenly Father purposefully sent his beloved Son to empty himself, so that the world might again be full of love?  He wants each of us to know that we are never alone and that the Son saves us--through his passion, death and Resurrection.

What if we could open our hearts to this beautiful revelation of the Triune God, as he pours out his Spirit upon us right now?  The salvation and wholeness offered by the God-Man is extended to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Wouldn't it bring us true peace and authentic hope if we really knew that the Son of God wants each of us to have so much more life?  Indeed, he knows we cannot be who we want to be on our own, so he reassures us that the Holy Spirit transforms us.  The Lord knows that we cannot find the fulfillment of our heart's deepest desires on our own; so, thanks to the work of the Spirit, he liberates us from self-centered slavery, for other-centered freedom.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Self-Evident Truths

"We hold these truths
to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed
by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are
Life, Liberty and the
pursuit of Happiness."
These words from the Declaration of Independence provide the foundation upon which our democracy stands.  Or falls.
If we accept the premise that our Creator has made all men and women equal and has endowed us with "unalienable" rights--rights which are not to be separated, given away, or taken away--, then we have a common ground for meaningful public discourse and rational decisions about particular policies.  However, if we deny truths such as the right to life or liberty or the pursuit of happiness, our society becomes subject to the arbitrary whims of those wielding power.
Indeed, if the only "self-evident" truth is that there is no truth, then we have effectively embraced a new Declaration of Dependence:  Our "rights" will be perceived as coming from the government; our value for human "life" will be determined by whether it is "productive" or "wanted"; our definition of "liberty" will be dictated by whatever the often tyrannical majority deems appropriate.  Our laws will inevitably become unjust.  And, as Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, "An unjust law is no law at all."

Monday, June 23, 2014

Loving Ugly

Statue of Homeless Jesus
In sports, we often talk about "winning ugly."  As Christians, it's time we start talking about "loving ugly." 

In other words, we need to ask ourselves whether we are willing to love our neighbors even when they don't live up to our almighty expectations.  We need to look beyond the pedigree or paperwork or social position or nationality which we deem worthy.  And we need to ponder the mysterious fact that God himself loves ugly.

It's not that God thinks ugliness is a good thing, of course.  It was certainly not part of his original plan.  Rather, having allowed us the freedom to love as we desire, God is willing to reach out to us even when we've rejected or mocked or silenced him.  Moreover, Jesus revealed that he expects his followers to do the same: "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust" (Mt 5:45). 

From a merely worldly perspective, this is either ridiculous or down-right offensive.  In the eyes of the Pharisaical world, only perfect people count.  Whether it's the "beautiful crowd" (judging by outward physical appearances, of course), or whether it's those gifted with strength, smarts, or wealth, the message is all about dividing and conquering:  We're in--you're out; we measure up--you never will.  Those who are into "loving pretty" basically imply that they are the "blessed" and that the rest of us should step aside.  The economy of exclusion and spiritual Gnosticism both hinge on such a mentality, as Pope Francis has pointed out, since some people count more than others.  And most don't count at all.