Monday, November 24, 2014

The King and his Immigrant Peoples

Christ the Pantocrator, "the Enthroned"

Policy, politics and liturgy seem to have converged on one fundamental theme this past week: The question of the King.

Every year as the Catholic Church concludes her liturgical cycle, the same stunning Gospel passage confronts us.  Matthew 25's "Judgment of the Nations" rings out regarding the return of the King who will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left, based on one simple criterion:

"Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you...a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?'
...And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you,
whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’" 

(Mt 25:37-40)

The fundamental revelation is that the King is present in the "strangers" or "aliens" whom we welcome--or whom we fail to welcome.  How we treat--or mistreat--them is how we treat or mistreat the King himself.  Therefore, the Christian question regarding immigration policies needs to shift from the merely political to the very personal issue of what our stance will be toward those we see as "outsiders."

Additional questions abound, of course.  For example, in the uproar and furor over the President's recent executive action, will some Anglo Americans give their Hispanic brothers and sisters the not-so-subtle message that they are not welcome?  In the awkwardness surrounding the political polarization on this issue, will Christians unwittingly strike an unwelcoming stance toward the King--suggesting that our nation is somehow impoverished rather than enriched by the presence of hard-working families who want an opportunity to flourish?

Although the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops issued a statement of support for the executive action on immigration, this is still a politically complex matter for many faithful Catholics.  After all, the Obama administration has been an aggressive advocate of the greatest scourge in our nation's history, legalized abortion. Moreover, despite promises made in speeches such as the President's commencement address at the University of Notre Dame ("Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause..."), the current administration has thus far reneged on such guarantees of conscience protection. 

Indeed, the still-problematic HHS mandate not only extends this administration's support for unfettered abortion rights, but it threatens to impose the cost of these procedures on people who are deeply disturbed by this failed public policy.  Hence the call to support federal legislation for what used to be presupposed as reasonable and respectful politics: the "No taxpayer funding for abortion" and the "Abortion insurance full disclosure" acts.

All of this raises additional questions.  For example, will some faithful Christians miss the message regarding the King's immigrant peoples simply because they have legitimate concerns about the current political messenger?  If so, this would be an offense against the King himself.  Conversely, amid enthusiasm over pro-family executive action on immigration, will some faithful Christians feel compelled to accept this administration's other anti-family policies?  This would be tantamount to an attack on the King himself, who is present in the most vulnerable of all of his peoples, the unborn.

These may be uncomfortable issues for Christians to address, but they are questions which Christ the King ultimately asks us in Matthew 25.  Indeed, when Christians use the phrase "rule of law," we should think first of God's law which is written in the depths of our hearts and made visible in Jesus.  We should also dare to think critically about civil laws which most people recognize as inherently flawed--whether it be our "broken" immigration system or our unscientific and illogical defense of abortion on demand.  After all, as St. Augustine succinctly observed, "An unjust law is no law at all."

This is not to advocate lawlessness, of course.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically states that "Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions..."  To confront our flawed immigration policies and to establish reasonable juridical conditions for immigration, however, it is necessary to demand that they always be understood within the prior context which the Catechism articulates in the very same paragraph:  "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" (n. 2241).

As Christians who strive to follow Jesus more closely each day, Scriptural and liturgical insights should transform not only our personal politics but also our public policies.  Let's remind ourselves that immigrants, as well as the unborn and their mothers, bear within them the seed of hope for any nation; they communicate the very presence of the King. 

The King of kings mysteriously comes to each of us each day, often in "disturbing disguise" (Bl. Teresa of Calcutta).  Whether we recognize him or not, our temporal attitudes and actions toward those in need will determine our eternal destiny.  So let's pray that Christians in the U.S. and all people of good will might respond appropriately to today's challenges and thus someday hear these words:
"Come, you who are blessed by my Father. 
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

(Mt 25:31-34)