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“The Conflict Within The Conflict: Welcoming the Refugee and Migrant” (Homily for 30th Sunday Ordinary Time)

A woman arrived in New York from her home in southern Europe.  Her experience mirrored that of many immigrants in this world: in other words, she was told to go home.  A house that was promised for her and her sisters by the Archdiocese of New York was no longer available. In fact, the archbishop of New York insisted she return to Europe.

 

She refused.

 

Improvised housing was found, and she and her sisters went to work scrambling (even begging) for funds, overcoming hardship after hardship. To serve the poor, the uneducated, the sick, the abandoned, and especially the immigrant, ultimately this woman and her companions founded 67 institutions, schools, orphanages, nurseries, hospitals, institutes and colleges in New York; Chicago; Des Plaines, Illinois; Seattle; New Orleans; Denver; Golden, Colorado; Los Angeles and Philadelphia not to mention similar establishments throughout South America and Europe.

This year, on the centennial of her death, Pope Francis launched Share the Journey, a global campaign inviting people around the world to love our immigrant and refugee neighbors, because Mother Francis Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants.

Incidentally, the Share the Journey initiative web site includes ways to “Get Involved,” a Resource Library, a “Week of Prayer and Action,” a “Meet Your Neighbors” section and social media resources.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Now, Pope Francis is calling us to share a journey with our neighbors – all our neighbors, not only those who live near us, look like us, speak like us or pray like us. Our neighbors include many of the world’s most vulnerable people: migrants and refugees fleeing war, poverty and persecution, people who seek nothing more than basic needs and a path forward. Just like us, they are children of God, deserving of dignity and love. We as a church are answering the Pope’s call to encounter and walk with these migrants and refugees in support and solidarity.

Why is the Holy Father doing this? As the Pope writes:

You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.

Last week we read how the Sadducees tried to trick Jesus in speech and how Jesus had turned the tables on them.  This week we read that, once the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. They gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him.  As Catholics, we are currently being tested by significant corners of our society and in fact, by people and groups throughout the wider world who do not agree with who we are, what we believe and what we do.

The “official” Catholic position on immigration is one of those contested areas. Other recent fault lines of conflict have included religious freedom within the context of health care, freedom to express our faith in schools, universities and workplaces, moral issues.  What is intriguing – and perhaps disconcerting- are the rifts between fellow Catholics on these issues. Often they seem to center, not so much on the issue itself, but on particular aspects of the issue that we find most important.

On the wall of my office hang two framed pictures. One is of a ship, the Noordland, a passenger ship built in in 1883 by Laird Bros, Birkenhead (near Liverpool, England) for Red Star Line. The other picture is a copy of the passenger manifest from Ellis Island. One passenger is listed as a “laborer” from Austria-Hungary, headed to the town of Lansford, PA. He was my grandfather, Paul. Hence, I have a particular opinion on the current debate surround immigration based on my family history.

Others have different opinions. Disagreements center on how much importance we put on truth, mercy, justice and peace. John Paul Lederach is a professor of international peacebuilding and director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Lederach is the founding director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, the author of twenty-two books and manuals and numerous academic articles and monographs on peace education, conflict transformation, and mediation training, he has worked in international reconciliation for more than thirty years and has has developed training in conflict transformation and provided direct mediation and support services for reconciliation efforts in some of the most violently conflicted regions across five continents.

In his original 1999 book, The Journey Toward Reconciliation, and in a later 2014 version entitled, Reconcile Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians:  he presents a poetic “conversation” between  four virtues, Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace:

“I am Truth,” she said. “I am like light cast so that all may see. At times of conflict I am concerned with bringing forward, out into the open, what really happened. Not with the watered down version. Not with a partial recounting. My handmaidens are transparency, honesty, and clarity.

 

Truth then pointed to Mercy. “I fear him,” she said quietly. “In his haste to heal he covers my light and clouds my clarity. He forgets,”

I am Mercy.” He seemed to begin with a plea, as though he knew that he, among them all, was under tight scrutiny. “And I am the new beginning. I am concerned with people and their relationships. Acceptance, compassion and support stand with me. I know the frailty of the human condition. Who among them is perfect?”

He turned to Truth and continued. “She knows that her light can bring clarity but too often it blinds and burns. What freedom is there without life and relationship? Forgiveness is indeed our child, but not when people are arrogantly clubbed to humiliation and agony with their imperfections and weaknesses.

But whom I fear the most, is my Brother Justice. In a clear voice Mercy said, “In his haste to change and make things right, he forgets that his roots lie in real people and relationships.”

“I am Justice,” he said as he rose to his feet.  “And Mercy is correct, I am concerned about making things right. I consider myself a person who looks beyond the surface and the issues about which people seem to fight. What lies at the root of most conflicts are inequality, greed, and wrongdoing. I stand with Truth who sheds her light on the paths of wrongdoing, to make sure that something is done to restore the damage that has been wreaked, particularly on the victims and the downtrodden. We must restore the relationship, but never at the expense of acknowledging and rectifying what broke the relationship in the first place.”

“But Brother Justice,” I just had to find out, “everybody in this room feels they have been wronged. And most are willing to justify their actions, even violent action, on the basis of doing your bidding. Is this not true?”

“It is indeed,” he responded. “And most do not understand.” He paused as he thought for a minute. “You see, I am most concerned about accountability.

I fear my children, Mercy and Peace. They see themselves as parents,” his voice carried a hint of gentle provocation, “when, in fact, they are the fruit of my labor.”

Peace burst into an irrepressible smile and said, “I am Peace, and I agree with all three. I am the child to whom they give birth, the mother who labors to give them life, and the spouse who accompanies them on the way. I hold the community together, with the encouragement of security, respect and well- being.”

Truth and Justice protested. “That is precisely the problem,” Truth said in a frustrated voice. “You see yourself as greater and bigger than the rest.” “It is this arrogance,” Justice’s finger pointed toward Peace. “You do not place yourself where you belong. You follow us. You do not precede us.”

This is true my dear Brother and Sister,” Peace responded. “I am more fully expressed through and after you both. But it is also true that without me there is no space for Truth to be heard. “And without me there is no respite from the vicious cycle of accusation, bitterness, and bloodshed. Justice cannot be fully embodied without my presence.

Silence fell for a moment. “Sister Peace, whom do you fear?” I ask.

“Not who, but what and when,” Peace said. “I fear manipulation – the manipulation of people who use Sister Truth for their purposes. Some ignore her, some use her as a whip, some claim to own her. I fear the times when for the sake of Mercy, Justice is sacrificed. I fear the blind manipulation that for the ideal of Justice some will sacrifice life itself. When manipulation such as these take place, I am violated and rendered a meaningless empty shell.”

So why bother? Why engage in these contentious issues and conflicts?

On July 27, 2017 Archbishop Chaput spoke at the Napa Institute conference in Napa, California. The institute aims to help Catholic leaders face the challenges of contemporary America. Chaput said the following:

Information can be true without telling the whole truth.  We live in what Peter Drucker called the world’s first knowledge economy.  We are a Niagara of facts in a 24/7 news cycle.  But knowledge is not the same as understanding. Knowledge is not wisdom.  Wisdom, not knowledge is the framework of a fully human life; the architecture of interior peace.  Ecclesiastes tells us that “the words of the wise in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.”  Wisdom is more powerful than might and better than the weapons of war (Eccles 9:16-18).

In his book Strangers in a Strange Land, Chaput writes, that “This isn’t a time to retreat from the world.  We need to engage the world and convert it.  And in that work, we have every reason to trust in God and find in him our hope.” Chaput mentioned three things needed to redeem the culture:

  1. We need to create silence in our schedules.
  2. We need to pray.
  3. We need to read – above all the Word of God, but also history and biographies and great novels.

This echoes what we read in the Scriptures in the 85th Psalm:

Show us Thy loving kindness, O LORD,  and grant us Thy salvation.

I will hear what God the LORD will say;

For He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones;

Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.

Loving kindness and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed.

Truth springs from the earth; and righteousness looks down from heaven.

 

Homework:

  • Do one thing this week to create silence in your schedule.
  • Look at the news and read about one area of conflict.
  • Prayer about that one issue for one day.

Advanced class:

  • Write to your Senator, Congressman and/or the President about that issue.

 

Audio versions of the homily is here:

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