(Editor’s note: Deacon Dave Sallen shares the following homily he gave Feb. 25 and 26 at Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison.)
The Gospel message for the eighth Sunday in Ordinary time is very simple: we can’t serve both God’s values and the material values (mammon) of our society. Knowing that I would be in the state of Texas recently for other business, I wondered what I could do to bring home to you one of God’s values.
Certainly there has been much talk in the news media today and, frankly, in the social and political world about the needs and reasons, or lack thereof, for strengthening our country’s immigration controls. The shorthand way to describe this is “building a wall.” I wondered to myself, “How could I illustrate God’s value and God’s love in this great national debate that would respect my parishioners’ ability to make up their own minds on the specific solutions to these complicated issues?”
I realized that God’s son, Jesus, has first-hand experience in this area and he yearns to accompany and guide us as we search for solutions. So, I went to work and contacted a Texan artist, Alfredo Ledezma, and asked him to make a shirt for me that would bring this message home to you. It says, “Jesus was a political refugee, too.”
This happened to Jesus when he and his parents, Joseph and Mary, fled to Egypt to avoid certain death. They stayed away from Israel for several years until King Herod died and the political winds had changed. It was during this time that they were visited by the Magi, the Three Kings which we celebrate on the Feast of the Epiphany. The Holy Family had been seeking political asylum when they went into Egypt. They lived as refugees in a foreign land.
During my trip to Texas, I proceeded to the southernmost international border crossing and wall between the United States and Mexico — Brownsville, Texas — wearing my new shirt. I walked around, listened, meditated and prayed. I did this to bring home the point that our Lord himself had been a political refugee. As a side note, I was approached by an ICE officer who was concerned about possible loitering and he asked me to move. I complied and left.
I am sure you have watched TV and have seen the refugees and the protesters, too. It makes us ask, “What would Jesus do in our day?” In today’s Gospel, he says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We do this by loving others and treating them fairly.
So, regarding this issue of immigration: who are the people involved who we need to treat fairly? They are the immigrants and their families. They are the law enforcement officers who protect us. They are those who have filed legally to be here and are still waiting to be admitted, sometimes for years. They are those who tend to the needs of immigrants, providing food and housing. They are those who are crime victims of individuals who are in this county undocumented. They are the families of those individuals. There are others.
We find many people affected by this immigration and there is no simple solution. Many have different and opposing interests. But we can learn from Jesus that we can find solutions when we begin with the principal of love for all people, especially those just mentioned. When we put love into this quest, it changes the focus and the attitudes of all in trying to find a Christian solution. It colors our world with a positive moral force for good.
I don’t have the answers. Jesus tells us to pray and trust in him to guide us. He is the divine mercy. Our national Catholic bishops conference has been studying immigration issues closely and I refer you to their documents at their website, www.usccb.org. It’s a good place to start.
Pope Francis urges us to approach this with clarity and compassion for all. One way we can do this is to financially support the agencies helping those families in need such as Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Medical Mission Board, Mercy Corps, and the International Catholic Migration Commission.
Do not forget, “Jesus was a political refugee too” and he loves all people. He is Lord and he knows intimately what is involved because he lived it. So together as a people, as a country, we say, “Jesus, I trust in you and your mercy.” Let us go now and live it.