SAU CFDD
May 082014
 

(Editor’s note: The following column is excerpted from a theological reflection Father Rudolph Juarez presented during a “Journeys in Faith” Speakers Forum last month in Iowa City. It is based on the Jewish-Christian Scriptures, Catholic theology and Catholic social teaching, said Fr. Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City and Vicar for Hispanics in the Davenport Diocese.)

I start with that original covenant of creation when after the seventh day of work of creating the earth and creatures of land and sea, God forms man out of the clay of the earth and creates both Adam and Eve. And yet we know that this original covenant of creation comes to an end because of pride, temptation, disobedience and sin. And as a result of these things, Adam and Eve lose their status as perfect human beings and graced creatures and end up deported from Paradise.

The first aliens or deportees from God’s grace, Adam and Eve find themselves sojourners in a new and hostile world. So, Adam and Eve find themselves faced with the task of every human being who has come after them of making a living and from the spiritual side of things of facing the task of finding their way back to paradise, to that original blessing, grace and image of God.

Fr. Juarez

Of sojourning through foreign lands the descendants of Adam and Eve, the people of Israel, will come to know all too well what it means to be an oppressed and displaced people. And yet, Scripture tells us that through a series of events and covenants the people will define and redefine itself in accord with their relationship to God. And so it’s interesting to see that the Lord’s call and command to Abram is one of self-definition and destiny: OBEY and MOVE — define yourself in relation to me and get up and go, the Lord says in Genesis 12:1,2.

Abram becomes a migrant and goes to the land of Canaan, already inhabited by others but because of circumstances beyond his control, because of famine in the land being so severe, Abram leaves with his wife Sarai for Egypt until Egyptian Homeland Security gets ahold of them in Genesis 12:20. And the future doesn’t seem so good for the Israelites in Genesis 15:13: “Then the Lord said to Abraham: ‘Know for certain that your descendants shall be aliens in a land not their own, where they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.’”

Later in history, the wonderful story of Joseph and his brothers will play a pivotal role in bringing the Israelites back to Egypt for the same reason many in modern days migrate: natural and man-made disasters. Yet, famine takes Joseph’s most unworthy brothers to Egypt. And, honing their skills, and through the Egyptian bracero program — some acquire worker’s visas from Pharaoh himself.

But after Joseph’s generation dies and a change in administration in Egypt occurs, the resident aliens become personas non gratas and the tone in language of the majority culture changes. (Genesis 47:6, Exodus 1:10). Too many foreigners in their land taking too many Egyptian jobs cause a xenophobic reaction of oppression. It will be this experience of bondage, liberation and deliverance which will forge the identity of Israel and their responsibility to God, to one another and to those around them. And the Lord will ratify this identity on Mount Sinai reminding them of who they are and whose they are. So, the Lord and author of Creation who looked upon his creation and “saw that it was good,” calls the people of Israel to a “collective memory” and accountability in keeping a moral and just order for everyone in their midst, including aliens:

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

For it is said that the moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members: the poor, the widowed, the orphan, the afflicted, the marginalized and the undocumented. The Christian basis toward a Theology of Immigration or Migration is incarnational and comes from Christ himself. Christ crossed a border that had not ever been crossed before — without legal or political documentation to verify his birth or parentage.

Christ crosses what Father Daniel Groody, theologian and professor at the University of Notre Dame, calls the Divine–Human divide. And in so doing: “… helps us to see the utter gratuity of God, who moved from his homeland (one in being with the Father and the Spirit), with a love that could not be limited by legal or political policies and reached out to those whose lives are most threatened; the sinner, the tax-collector, the prostitute, the outsider and the poor.”

Theologians call this great sojourn and crossing over of Christ the Kenosis — the emptying of himself. And so Christ leaves heaven to dwell with humanity on earth, coming to his own as John says: “… but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name” (John 1:11,12).
The Scriptures are clear that once Jesus took on human flesh, he was subject to human law and to the political eventualities of the times. The Holy Family is not immune to persecution and they become refugees and aliens in a foreign land when they flee the wrath of Herod after it is revealed to Joseph in a dream of his plot to kill Jesus. The Scriptures are silent as to whether Joseph had to ask for asylum, obtain a tourist Visa, a temporary worker’s permit, whether Mary was forced to work as a domestic, or whether the Egyptian politicians made the argument that Jesus was probably an anchor baby seeking Egyptian citizenship. But we do know this: Jesus was certainly a Dreamer — seeking a more perfect world.

And so we see in a Theology of Immigration-Migration, that Jesus crosses the human-human divide as Fr. Groody states “when he reveals his ability to cross racial, religious, political, economic and social barriers to foster a vision of human solidarity that highlights our interconnection as one human family of God.” So, we see Jesus crossing that human–human divide over again as he heals the son of the Roman army official, he saves the woman in adultery, he cures the grateful non-Jewish leper ….

Whether we consider this important or not depends on whether we consider our entry into the Kingdom of heaven important, or not.

The human kindness exhibited in the words of the Gospel emphasizes what it means to cross the human-to-human divide and challenges all of us to cross it, because when we do so, we fulfill the words of Jesus who said: “Whenever you did this for the least of mine, you did it to me.” Consequently, we not only fulfill his divine mandate but also affirm the humanity of those among us, especially those who are in most need of our attention and solicitude.

So, if we are to speak of a Theology of Immigration-Migration we cannot avoid speaking about Catholic Social Teaching whose foundation as John Paul II said: “rests on the three-fold cornerstones of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity.”

This option of charity toward the marginalized, the outcast, the hungry and those without shelter is what is known in Catholic Social Teaching as the “preferential option for the poor” which is based on the innate dignity of men and women. Some argue that not much can be done since Jesus himself said: “The poor you will always have with you.” In the late 1960s a woman religious by the name of Sister Concetta Bendicente, a Poor Handmaid of Jesus and who worked in Davenport’s inner city, had a different response to those who would argue for doing nothing or little by saying: “Yes but the poor will always have needs.” It is these needs which we must try to address and alleviate as best we can both on a personal and societal level employing the two feet of Social Justice – the foot of charity and direct service and the foot of empowerment and getting at the root causes of injustice.

Central to Catholic theology and philosophy and a Theology of Immigration-Migration is the notion of community and the pursuit of the common good. Catholic philosophers and theologians have held for centuries that the common good is the end for which society (and government – I would add) exists. As the Jesuit writer Austin Fagothey states in his work Right and Reason: “The Common Good is realized only in the individuals who make up society. But it is a good that they could achieve only by the interaction of many cooperators.” Further: “The state has a positive moral function. It is an instrument to promote human dignity, protect human rights, and build the common good. All people have a right and responsibility to participate in political institutions so that government can achieve its proper goals. The principle of subsidiarity holds that the function of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately. When the needs in question cannot adequately be met at the lower level, then it is not only necessary, but imperative that higher levels of government intervene.”

I believe that the principle of subsidiarity can be used as an argument for some of the efforts at reforming the immigration laws of our country. Not only has the hierarchy of the Catholic Church argued for reform of our immigration laws, but other faith communities have spoken clearly on this issue. Efforts such as the Dreamers Act to grant educational opportunities and legal status to immigrants brought here as children, the Sanctuary City Movement here in Iowa City, the push to issue Drivers licenses in states like California and Illinois — all these efforts could be argued from the notion of subsidiarity — but conversely. In other words, because we have been unable to pass any immigration reform laws on the national level, immigration reform has had to come from the local level.

A primary example is what is happening here in Johnson County, where a group of workers, religious leaders, union representatives, educators and average citizens organized the Center for Worker Justice to address the needs of workers and immigrants in Johnson County. Through a survey of immigrants conducted by the Voices of Immigrants task force, on concerns such as housing, transportation, employment, schools and police community relations, we learned more about the experience of immigrants in Johnson County and some of the challenges they face.

One of the overriding concerns was the matter of a recognizable form of identification for such purposes as purchasing medications, verifying credit cards, signing contracts, or getting stopped by law-enforcement. For you and me, who might get stopped by a police officer for speeding or having a burned out light, we might get off with a ticket or warning. For someone without an official ID an ordinary traffic stop could end up putting you in jail and in deportation proceedings and if you have three minor children at home relying on you for food and shelter — this is not a good place to be in. And yet it happens.

Fr. Groody adds one more divide in his Theology of Migration: the divide of Country-Kingdom. He says: “… where we begin to see beyond national identities in recognition that the Christian’s true citizenship is in heaven, our true calling is to cross borders as agents of God’s reconciliation. As pilgrims of faith, Christians are spiritual migrants searching for a true homeland, an identity that should make us more sympathetic to all people on the move today.”

He makes one particular point which I think serves us well if we are to articulate a Theology of Immigration and Migration and that is: “… that the word alien describes not those who lack political papers but those who have so disconnected themselves from their neighbor in need that they cannot see in the stranger an image of themselves, a reflection of Christ and a challenge to human solidarity.”

The Scriptures are clear that once Jesus took on human flesh, he was subject to human law and to the political eventualities of the times. The Holy Family is not immune to persecution and they become refugees and aliens in a foreign land when they flee the wrath of Herod after it is revealed to Joseph in a dream of his plot to kill Jesus. The Scriptures are silent as to whether Joseph had to ask for asylum, obtain a tourist visa, a temporary worker’s permit, whether Mary was forced to work as a domestic, or whether the Egyp­tian politicians made the argument that Jesus was probably an anchor baby seeking Egyptian citizenship. But we do know this: Jesus was certainly a Dreamer — seeking a more perfect world.

And so we see in a Theology of Immigration-Migration, that Jesus crosses the human-human divide as Fr. Groody states “when he reveals his ability to cross racial, religious, political, economic and social barriers to foster a vision of human solidarity that highlights our interconnection as one human family of God.” So, we see Jesus crossing that human–human divide over again as he heals the son of the Roman army official, he saves the woman in adultery, he cures the grateful non-Jewish leper ….

Whether we consider this important or not depends on whether we consider our entry into the Kingdom of heaven important, or not.

The human kindness exhibited in the words of the Gospel emphasizes what it means to cross the human-to-human divide and challenges all of us to cross it, because when we do so, we fulfill the words of Jesus who said: “Whenever you did this for the least of mine, you did it to me.” Consequently, we not only fulfill his divine mandate but also affirm the humanity of those among us, especially those who are in most need of our attention and solicitude.

So, if we are to speak of a Theology of Immi­gration-Migration we cannot avoid speaking about Catholic Social Teaching whose foundation as John Paul II said: “rests on the three-fold cornerstones of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity.”

This option of charity toward the marginalized, the outcast, the hungry and those without shelter is what is known in Catholic Social Teaching as the “preferential option for the poor” which is based on the innate dignity of men and women. Some argue that not much can be done since Jesus himself said: “The poor you will always have with you.” In the late 1960s a woman religious by the name of Sister Concetta Bendicente, a Poor Handmaid of Jesus who worked in Daven­port’s inner city, had a different response to those who would argue for doing nothing or little by saying: “Yes but the poor will always have needs.” It is these needs which we must try to address and alleviate as best we can both on a personal and societal level employing the two feet of Social Justice — the foot of charity and direct service and the foot of empowerment and getting at the root causes of injustice.

Central to Catholic theology and philosophy and a Theology of Immigration-Migration is the notion of community and the pursuit of the common good. Catholic philosophers and theologians have held for centuries that the common good is the end for which society (and government — I would add) exists. As the Jesuit writer Austin Fagothey states in his work Right and Reason: “The Common Good is realized only in the individuals who make up society. But it is a good that they could achieve only by the interaction of many cooperators.” Further: “The state has a positive moral function. It is an instrument to promote human dignity, protect human rights, and build the common good. All people have a right and responsibility to participate in political institutions so that government can achieve its proper goals. The principle of subsidiarity holds that the function of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately. When the needs in question cannot adequately be met at the lower level, then it is not only necessary, but imperative that higher levels of government intervene.”

I believe that the principle of subsidiarity can be used as an argument for some of the efforts at reforming the immigration laws of our country. Not only has the hierarchy of the Catholic Church argued for reform of our immigration laws, but other faith communities have spoken clearly on this issue. Efforts such as the DREAM Act to grant educational opportunities and legal status to immigrants brought here as children, the sanctuary city movement here in Iowa City, the push to issue drivers’ licenses in states like California and Illinois — all these efforts could be argued from the notion of subsidiarity — but conversely. In other words, because we have been unable to pass any immigration reform laws on the national level, immigration reform has had to come from the local level.

A primary example is what is happening here in Johnson County, where a group of workers, religious leaders, union representatives, educators and average citizens organized the Center for Worker Justice to address the needs of workers and immigrants in Johnson County. Through a survey of immigrants conducted by the Voices of Immigrants task force, on concerns such as housing, transportation, employment, schools and police community relations, we learned more about the experience of immigrants in Johnson County and some of the challenges they face.

One of the overriding concerns was the matter of a recognizable form of identification for such purposes as purchasing medications, verifying credit cards, signing contracts, or getting stopped by law-enforcement. For you and me, who might get stopped by a police officer for speeding or having a burned out light, we might get off with a ticket or warning. For someone without an official ID an ordinary traffic stop could end up putting you in jail and in deportation proceedings and if you have three minor children at home relying on you for food and shelter — this is not a good place to be in. And yet it happens.

Fr. Groody adds one more divide in his Theology of Migration: the divide of Country-Kingdom. He says: “… where we begin to see beyond national identities in recognition that the Christian’s true citizenship is in heaven, our true calling is to cross borders as agents of God’s reconciliation. As pilgrims of faith, Christians are spiritual migrants searching for a true homeland, an identity that should make us more sympathetic to all people on the move today.”

He makes one particular point which I think serves us well if we are to articulate a Theology of Immi­gration and Migration and that is: “… that the word alien describes not those who lack political papers but those who have so disconnected themselves from their neighbor in need that they cannot see in the stranger an image of themselves, a reflection of Christ and a challenge to human solidarity.”

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