“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Mt 18:5)
Lord, when did we see you a stranger and welcome you?
Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me (Mt 25:40).
For many months, Jesus has been walking across our border with Mexico but too few of us are recognizing Him in the faces of children fleeing violence, persecution and hunger – fleeing homelands where there are more gang members than police. Catholic bishops across the nation have called the plight of these children a test of the moral character of our nation – a test that we must not fail. Pope Francis has said that we face a humanitarian emergency that requires us to welcome and protect these children.
Throughout this crisis, our hearts have been torn as we watched the desperate plight of these children walking in hope and being met with a mixture of compassion and at times scorn and hostility. One might ask how such a massive tragedy occurred. Why is there such poverty, disorder, crime, and death in Central America?
We do not know all the answers. We do not have all of the pieces to solve this painful puzzle but certainly the resolution is not the duty of government alone. Society as a whole has responsibility as well.
The burden on Christians is great. We must be the working hands and feet of the compassionate Jesus who fed the multitudes with loaves and fishes, who healed the blind and crippled, who calmed the raging seas. By doing what Jesus would do we can help to protect, feed, and heal these children and in doing so help to calm the seas of political rhetoric.
America has always been a light to the world – the land of hope, freedom and prosperity. So why should we be surprised that the poor, the suffering, the persecuted would want to come to America. When the potato famine struck Ireland – her children crossed an ocean to reach this great land.
How do we as Christians move from feel good compassionate thoughts to real help for these suffering children? What should we do?
We should start with prayer. Before every major event in His life, Jesus prayed. In our prayer, we should remember the words of the prophet Ezekiel who in a time of great desperation gave hope to the people of God by assuring them that God would breathe His Spirit into them and take away their hearts of stone to give to them new hearts – hearts of love and compassion. Once again, we should ask God to continue sending His Spirit and to take away the hearts of stone that have been breathing scorn and hostility. If we open our eyes, we can see that His Spirit already is at work throughout the nation in parish centers and Catholic Charity programs working to protect and care for these children.
But a more important thing that we can do is to be witnesses and signs to the world. In the early days of the Church, the disciples did so many signs that people would bring their sick to the road side just so Peter’s shadow would fall upon them. The gentiles said: “You can tell who the Christians are by their love for one another.” The signs of the disciples and the loving witness of the early Church brought people to accept Jesus and the challenge of living as Christians. Today, we have an opportunity to be witnesses for Christ by supporting these parish and Catholic Charities efforts with our money and with our personal labor to help the child refugees at our borders.
Our witness today should be the showering of unconditional compassion on the young strangers on our borders – that’s what Jesus would do.
One of the most misunderstood roles in the Scriptures is the role of the prophet. Some think of prophets as people who could foretell or predict the future. Today, that’s our common use of the word prophet. However, one of the most important responsibilities of a prophet – even in the face of death – was to call home the people of God when they had strayed from the great commandment of loving God and neighbor. Today, God calls each and every one of us to a prophetic role. The modern prophet does not preach on a soap box – the modern prophet has a more subtle role – the role of touching those we meet with our words. Christians are called to remind family, friends, neighbors and co-workers that we are facing a moral crisis that requires love more than legislation, lawyers and border guards. The call to look beyond our own self-interest and to care for strangers is counter cultural in our individualistic society.But that is the Christian call. That is why we need to begin with prayer.
In Scripture, one of the most familiar counsels from Jesus was “Do not be afraid.” Today, Jesus tells us that again – not in the strong wind, earthquake and fire in which Elijah sought God on Mount Horab but in His soft whisper that touches our hearts and souls.
So, be not afraid of God’s call to each of us to remind those we meet that it is the Lord Himself standing at our borders. Do not be afraid to call, write or email your member of Congress to tell them that on that glorious day when you will meet the Lord, you hope to hear: “Welcome good and faithful servant, when you welcomed these strangers – these children – you welcomed me.”
Editor’s note: Detailed information on pragmatic actions that can be taken related to the crisis of child refugees can be found at the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/index.cfm
Deacon Patrick Brannigan is executive director, New Jersey Catholic Conference.