Homily for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - February 5th, 2017
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Like some of you, perhaps most of you, it’s been a difficult week for me. The news and fallout of President Trump’s executive order on refugees and migrants have been overwhelming to take in and digest. Unfortunately, I’ve made trying to make sense of it and deciding how to respond more difficult for myself because I’ve tried to keep all of it at bay. As irresponsible as I knew it was, I wanted to keep it at a distance because I fear what it demands of me as a follower of Jesus.
But, while preparing for today’s homily, the first reading from Isaiah kept the issue right in front of my face: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked … and do not turn your back on your own … Then, your light will break forth like the dawn.” Matthew didn’t help either: “… your light must shine."
President Trump’s executive order suspends agreements we have with members of the international community, it suspends much of our current immigration policy, and it suspends our country’s traditional posture towards the hundreds of thousands of innocent people who have fled poverty, persecution, terror, and war in their home countries because they rightfully fear for their lives.
In their statement last week, the US bishops said: “Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.”
“They are Jesus.” That’s the part that grabs me and won’t let go. It comes from Matthew 25, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which ends with: “’Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or ill, or in prison and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you what you did not do for one of these least ones you did not do for me.’”
If we translate that for this issue of refugees and migrants, as Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. has, it means that it is Jesus whom we turn away from when we build walls; it is Jesus whom we reject when we cut quotas for refugees; it is Jesus who dies when we let them die in poverty or war rather than opening our doors to them.
And I simply cannot escape that uncomfortable truth; I feel the full weight of that personally and as pastor of this faith community. Even though the executive order is temporarily suspended, I am still on the hook because this issue will remain no matter what the legal resolution is in the courts.
We must see this for what it is – a right-to-life issue. The bishops make that clear in their statement: “…we call upon all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity ... We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends… Our actions must remind people of Jesus … Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life.”
Of course, as the bishops say, a nation has the right – and the responsibility – to protect its citizens. But, this must be balanced with God’s call to us down through salvation history beginning with Exodus (23:9): “You shall not oppress an alien; you know well how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” This notion of caring for the stranger appears no less than 35 more times in the Hebrew Scriptures, including today’s reading from Isaiah. This should speak to all of us who are of other than Native American heritage, for we are daughters and sons of immigrants; we too are aliens in this land.
St. John Paul II wrote extensively on this topic of migration. In his message for World Migration Day in 1996, he said: “Today the illegal migrant comes before us like that ‘stranger’ in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is the duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.”
Pope Francis was even stronger last year on his return flight to Rome after a visit to Mexico: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”
Throughout the Catholic Church’s history in North America, the Church has welcomed the stranger. The Society of Jesus, alongside the Church through our work in high schools, colleges, and parishes, has a long tradition of welcoming and accompanying refugees, regardless of their religion, as they begin their new lives in our country. The provincials of California and Oregon said in their statement: “We unequivocally denounce the Trump Administration’s Executive Order as an affront to our mission, an assault on American and Christian values, and the repudiation of our humanity.” With their brother provincials in the US and Canada, they reaffirmed the Society’s commitment to the call of the Gospel when they said: “We will continue that work, defending and standing in solidarity with all children of God, whether Muslim or Christian.”
And Archbishop Cordileone brings this home to our local Church and our parish: “We are called, then, to stand with our immigrant parishioners and assure them that they are not alone, and that our Church loves them and will work arduously to protect them.”
My sisters and brothers, here is the Good News for us today: As uncomfortable as this makes us, these immigrant and refugee sisters and brothers of ours give us the opportunity put ourselves in the first part of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: “Whatever you did to these least, you did to me.” However we respond to this crisis – and we are called to do so – we have the opportunity to minister to Jesus as he is incarnate in the face of those children in refugee camps, those people exposed and huddled in boats, and those homeless asking for a handout at Market and Octavia. We get to be the Body of Christ, to be His hands reaching out to the stranger, and His Heart loving those in need, wherever we find them.
And they will minister to us, giving us the gift to become more fully human, because that’s what happens when we give ourselves away and care for the other, especially those in need. As Isaiah says in the first reading: “… then light will rise for you in the darkness and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
To help you consider and frame your own response to this issues, we will be posting on our website the various statements I’ve mentioned, along with others, and opportunities for you to educate yourselves a bit and to get involved. This Tuesday, at our monthly Leadership Night, I will ask the members of our five commissions to consider how our parish community can appropriately and responsibly respond to this issue.
I’d like to close with a poem that is written on our collective US American heart and part of our self-understanding as a nation. It is by Emma Lazarus, and it is called The New Colossus. The title refers to the ancient colossus, that statue of the Greek god of the sun, Helios, which stood in the city of Rhodes for more than half of the third century BC. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ms. Lazarus’s sonnet is inscribed on a tablet within the base of the Statue of Liberty:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
You’re huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Today’s scriptures invite us to live out the very best of our US American selves and live in fidelity to the call we have received from Jesus. Let us lift our lamps, in our time and in these circumstances, and be light in our world, light for our sisters and brothers who live in darkness.
Click on the links below for more information:
Statements on Immigration and Refugees
Articles to Read
Rapid Response Trainings: Faith In Action Bay Area will be offering a series of trainings designed to help congregations and communities respond to immigrant needs and build a Rapid Response network to resist illegal deportation and discrimination:
February 9, 6:30-9:00 p.m., St. Agnes Church – No RSVP necessary.
February 12, 4:00-6:00 p.m., Congregational Church of San Mateo, 225 Tilton Ave., San Mateo - Register here.
February 23, 6:30-8:30 pm, St. Dominic's Catholic Church, Parish Hall – No RSVP necessary.
February 27, 5:00-7:00 p.m., Fromm Hall, USF – No RSVP necessary.
February 28, 6:30-8:30 p.m., San Francisco - Register here.
On February 26, there is also a training session to inform immigrants of their rights and how to connect to the effort to protect immigrant communities. St. Mary’s Cathedral, SF, 2:30-4:30 p.m. – No RSVP necessary.
Call your U.S. Senator (PICO)
Programs and Education
Heal, Learn, Thrive: The Work of the Jesuit Refugee Service
Presented by Rev. Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., Executive Director
Tuesday, February 14 / 3:30-5:00 p.m.
Santa Clara University, Benson Center, California Mission Room
More information here.
Sanctuary as Love of Neighbor
USF / Tuesday, February 21 / 4:00 - 6:00 pm
More information here.
FAQs about Islam and the people who practice it here.