Good News

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Thank you, dear reader, for praying. The judge ruled to keep the family together, here in the United States. Praise the Lord!

…You may remember that we had a theme for Passiontide last year: The failure of faith involved in the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of Jesus for blasphemy.

This year, let’s focus on one aspect of Abraham’s faith. We and the Sanhedrin have failed to believe something, and this lack of faith caused Christ’s Passion. But, of course, God brought great good out of that evil.

Abraham simultaneously believed that God would give him countless progeny through his son Isaac, and that God demanded Isaac as a sacrifice.

Either Abraham was utterly irrational, or he reasoned that… [Hint: Hebrews 11:19]

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Say Some Prayers, Please

Crystal City immigration court
Immigration Court building, Crystal City, Virginia

Tomorrow will find your unworthy servant in a courtroom, along with a score of my beloved people.

One of them faces possible deportation. But tomorrow’s hearing could put him on a path to full American citizenship.

The rest of us will testify, one after another. We will explain a. our dear friend’s exemplary character, and b. the extreme hardship that his family will face if the government separates them.

Please pray for a good outcome! Thank you!

Migration, “Legal” and “Illegal”

Genesis Illegal Alien cd

Most people never migrate from their native land. It takes more courage, and more resourcefulness, than most people have. It involves risks. Most people avoid risks.

Some rationale moves every migrant. A rationale found on a wide spectrum, stretching from “I must leave this country, or I will perish in the war going on around me,” to “Let me get out of this lawless, desperate land, and seek a home where the streets are safe,” to “I’m bored here. I heard they have nicer weather there.”

Granted, there can be an evil rationale for migrating: “I’m on the run from the righteous law in my own land, so let me get out of here!” Such an evil rationale deserves an evil welcome, so to speak. Extradition. But that rationale accounts for very little of the migration in the world.

So some reason moves every migrant. Many of us can say that our forebears migrated here to the US because their native lands had stultified social structures, poorly organized economies, a hopelessly meager way of life.

flag-mapThey sought the means to travel to the US. They likely did not pause to consider “illegal” vs. “legal” immigration. They simply came here, however they could.

What greeted them? A relatively well-organized and expeditious means of entry, with few technicalities and fewer expenses. Also: a fair promise. Live an honest, hard-working life, and you will be an American.

The USA offered such a welcome to our forebears because she could, and because it served her interests to do so.

We still could; we have plenty of room left. And it still would serve our interests to do so.

In Franklin and Henry counties, Virginia, employers desperately seek able-bodied workers. To the point of calling the priest to help them find people. Many employers in the USA desperately seek workers.

But we do not offer the same welcome that we did in the old days.

The migrants of the past forty years have come for the same general set of reasons as the migrants of the preceding three centuries. They have come with the same hopes, and willing to live the same hard-working, honest lives.

But the USA has not greeted most of the recent migrants with the same well-organized and expeditious means of entry. And instead of making good on the basic American-immigrant compact (work hard, obey the law, and become a citizen) the America of our generation has welcomed a chosen few, while leaving millions to languish in a second-class, non-citizen status.

Not an alien mass, estranged from our social life. To the contrary: the parents and grandparents of many of the friends and spouses of our children and grandchildren.

Migrants migrate, for the reasons that move them to do so. If they migrate imprudently, incorrectly measuring the prospects in the land to which they choose to travel, then they have to live with the consequences of such a mistake.

But if someone migrates for a good reason–somewhere on the wide spectrum mentioned above–to a place where there are good prospects (like the USA, right now), then… Well, only a foolish, self-destructive people would try to shut the door.

As wise teachers like our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Paul, Socrates, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have taken pains to point out: A higher law determines whether human laws are just or unjust.

The tens of millions of undocumented, law-abiding immigrants, dedicated to honest work, currently living in the US–we cannot in any just sense call them “illegal.”

They took the risk of migrating here for solid reasons, just like the American immigrants of old. And they have blessed and enriched our land, just like the immigrants of old.

They did not receive the welcome that our forebears received, which is our fault, not theirs.

They deserve exactly what we deserve. Equality under law. Basic human rights. The benefit of the doubt. Respect and courtesy.

[I offer this, dear reader, by way of an answer to some questions and comments that I got about my homily at Mass today.]

The Border Wall is Illegal

Walk the Border

No one asked me who TIME Magazine’s Man/Person/People of the Year should be. But if they had, I would have said: Isn’t it obvious? Tenny Ostrem and Claire Wernstedt-Lynch.

They started walking a year ago at Friendship Park in San Diego, California. They walked the entire US-Mexico border. They reached the Gulf of Mexico in August.

Two thousand miles, the same length as the Appalachian Trail. (That’s where they met, the two brave young ladies–hiking the Appalachian Trail a few years ago.)

…Some American Catholics cling to an “it’s all about respect for the law” position, when it comes to US-Mexico immigration.

This school of thought, as I understand it, runs like this:

“I am no racist. But I believe in respect for the rule of law. Would-be immigrants to the US must abide by our laws. If they enter the country ‘illegally,’ we have the right to deprive them of their liberty and deport them.”

Similar line of thought, when it comes to the military action ordered by the late, lamented George H.W. Bush in 1991:

“We Americans believe in the territorial integrity of sovereign states. Saddam Hussein violated international law by attempting to annex by force the neighboring sovereign nation of Kuwait. Therefore, the USA legally and rightly made war against Iraq, to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.”

Makes sense because: The territorial integrity of sovereign states is one of the fundamental principles of international law. Our own assertion of the right to deport “illegal aliens” is based on that very principle.

Problem is: The current US-Mexico border is the legacy of a gross violation of that legal principle.

Mexico City occupation by US

This has everything to do with Our Lady of Guadalupe, because the treaty establishing the current border was signed, under duress, in the shadow of the basilica housing St. Juan Diego’s tilma.

And it has everything to do with human rights and morality since we, the United States of America, re-imposed slavery in Texas by annexing it and taking it away from Mexico. We took Texas away from the country that had abolished slavery there in 1829–nearly four decades before we abolished it.

Yes, this is what I am saying: The USA does not have a legitimate claim to the current US-Mexico border. The current border is not legal, according the principles of morality and international law. It is simply the result of the disproportion of military strength between the USA and Mexico 170 years ago.

Christians believe in the rule of law. We do not believe that might makes right. Therefore, we have to recognize that the USA does not have the right to build walls or use military or paramilitary force along the Rio Grande/Sonora Desert/San Diego border.

If we want the rule of law to prevail, we should insist that the US-Mexico border be the subject of bi-lateral negotiations, facilitated by a disinterested mediator. Such negotiations could result in a confrontation with the wrongs of the past, and could lead ultimately to reconciliation and peace.

On the other hand, the position of the current presidential administration with respect to that border does not have a genuine legal or moral basis. We Catholics cannot legitimately appeal to a “rule of law” justification for supporting the border policies of the Trump administration.

Comment, if You Please, re: Undocumented Persons

We reach out in love to the poor and the needy and most vulnerable. –New Bishop of Arlington, Virginia, Michael Burbidge, in his installation homily yesterday.

Dear Reader, I find myself stressed and distressed. I would like to explain this to you by way of a series of multiple choice questions.*

1. Which large group of people in the U.S. is more vulnerable?

a. The innocent and defenseless unborn
b. Undocumented immigrants

2. Who less deserve to have their survival put in jeopardy?

a. The innocent and defenseless unborn
b. Undocumented residents of the US who were brought here as infants or children

3. Whose basic human rights should the Church stand up for with more zeal?

a. Innocent and defenseless unborn children
b. Law-abiding undocumented immigrants facing the threat of deportation

Let me flesh out my distress some more by offering you the following subtle antitheses:

1. Undocumented immigrants have broken our U.S. laws de facto,

but

These include our neighbors, friends, and the school classmates of our children. And we whiteys can hardly claim to “own” these lands by divine right.

2. According to current rules, immigration-enforcement agents do not inquire at churches, schools, and hospitals to look for undocumented aliens,

and

The law-enforcement professionals I have spoken with do not foresee any significant change in procedure, even with a new presidential administration,

but

These rules could change rather suddenly,

and

Mr. Trump began his campaign with a a promise to deport all the undocumented (see above).

3. The Church has a spiritual role to play, never an overtly political role. She offers Herself as a mother to all people (including all ‘liberals’ and all ‘conservatives’),

but

Parishes have administrative assets–ie., data–just like all other human organizations, and I’m responsible for it all, at the pleasure of our bishop. So I feel obliged to say:

I, unworthy shepherd that I am, would prefer to go to jail myself rather than

a. co-operate in an abortion
b. me, or anyone on my staff, providing information leading to the deportation of any person under my spiritual care**

I welcome your comments, dear reader.

__________________

* questions intentionally posed to provoke reflection; the author acknowledges they cannot be answered

**investigations involving suspected terrorists or dangerous felons, who are also subject to deportation, are a separate matter

Independence-Day-Weekend Homily

Juan Epstein

Two hundred forty years.  Twelve score years.  Since…?

Yes, the Declaration of Independence.  But also, the same summer of 1776: St. Junipero Serra founded the California missions of San Francisco of Assisi and San Juan Capistrano, just south of Santa Maria de Los Angeles.

As we read at Sunday Mass, the Lord Jesus said, ‘The harvest is abundant. But it requires a lot of labor.’  We have worked at this USA thing for 240 years, expending countless, noble labors.  Working hard to communicate with each other, to cultivate a harmonious life together, to find and elect the right leaders, to educate our children, to step together into a hopeful future.

How can we not take pride in our USA?  By God’s grace, we share a genuinely sublime identity.  The eternal Son of God became man to reveal the love with which our heavenly Father made us.  Christ came to shine the divine light on: the sacred dignity of the human being.

This idea–the beautiful truth that our Creator has willed us all to exist and to thrive–that is the central, unifying idea of our nation.  That idea unites a huge, motley collection of pale- and swarthy-skinned people, in the common enterprise of the United States of America.

We read:  The Lord commanded His evangelists to say “Peace.” Peace to you.  Peace to your family, to your household, to your town.

The idea of human dignity offers us the one, true pathway to lasting peace. ‘Justice’–what does it mean?  Doesn’t it mean:  Respecting the true dignity of my neighbor?  Doesn’t it mean always remembering:  ‘This is God’s child, too.’ When we treat each other justly, what breaks out?

american-flagPeace.  Peaceful things, like cookouts, games of horseshoes, flowers growing in peoples’ gardens, young men and women falling in love and getting married, babies getting born, then growing up and going to school and learning things like Shakespeare and astronomy.

Christ came to teach us:  the heavenly Father never willed you to suffer though a wretched, hopeless, slavish life.  He wills that you live in full–occasionally enjoying things like fried chicken and ice cream, avoiding sin, and getting to heaven in the end.

By God’s grace, and the labor of the patient generations that have come before us, America has offered us a home where we can occasionally enjoy fried chicken and ice cream, avoid sin, and make our pilgrim way to heaven.

Am I right that the Christian concept of human dignity really is the crucial idea? Government by consent of the governed.  Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Habeas corpus and trial by jury.  Freedom from unlawful search and seizure.  Free thinking, free assembling.  Praying and serving God according to my own well-educated conscience.

Human dignity.  The Creator endows every Tom, Dick, and Harry; every Beckah, Susan, and Sherri; every black, white, mestizo, olive-skinned, or chorizo-eating Puerto-rican Jew with the same dignity.  Child of God.  Our Founding Fathers declared this to be “self-evident.”  Sure.  It’s perfectly self-evident.  Provided you assume that Jesus Christ lives and breathes and teaches pure truth.

Now, we also read at Mass about how the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem nurse at the abundant breasts of truth, justice, and peace.  Prosperity flows over the heavenly city like a river:  the prosperity of genuine brotherly love. The kind of genuine brotherly love that fits with a modest lifestyle and a small carbon footprint.

If we get a tiny, little share of that heavenly peace at a happy, multi-generational, American-family Fourth-of-July barbecue–how do we maintain such a peace?

It takes work.  Patient, humble labor.  The harvest is abundant–when the laborers labor.

As our Holy Father put it in his encyclical on Mother Earth, we must labor to find a new, 21st-century way of interacting with the land, the rivers, and the seas.  The 19th- and 20th-century ways have brought us to the brink of ecological disaster.

And we must labor for the rights of our neighbors to whom the promise of human dignity does not currently apply.  That, too, is the story of our nation: fighting for those to whom the American promise has not been kept.  From where I’m standing, right now that includes two large classes of people: innocent and defenseless unborn children and law-abiding undocumented immigrants.

May the Lord bless and protect our country.  We Americans have always hoped for a good future, first and foremost because the Lord has given us such a wonderful land to live in.  Why would we stop hoping now?

Yes, in this world, we will have troubles.  But Jesus has overcome the evil of the world.  So Christian hope does not disappoint.  Because God is real; His Christ is real; His Kingdom is real.  He says to His children:  Take pride in who you are; rejoice that your names are written in heaven!

Voters’ Guide!

As we adults prepare to exercise the responsibility of voting, we must keep the following people in mind:

  1. The innocent and defenseless unborn children who have no rights. Abortionists slaughter them with impunity, by the thousands, every day.
  2. All our children, who deserve to grow up in a society where the law preserves the bond of marriage between parents.
  3. The potential victims of the immigration enforcement called for by Messrs. Trump and Cruz.

Re: #3…  We cannot imagine that any genuine justice lies in a specious attempt to distinguish “legal” from “illegal” immigration. From the point-of-view of the immigrant, the “legal” immigration of three, four, five, or six generations ago differs in no way from the “illegal” immigration of the past two generations. What changed was the arbitrary stipulations of American immigration statutes.

voting-boothDid our undocumented neighbors have the option of coming to America legally, but failed to exercise that option, through their own blameworthy fault?  Hardly.

We have to start with the fact that our neighbors are our neighbors.  Can any decent person support the proposal that the government remove some of my neighbors by force, for no good reason? No.

In fact, even now Trump’s and Cruz’s ideas have the effect of terrorizing whole families. If we have any decency and Christian love, we will rush to declare that we ourselves have no share whatsoever in such cruel nonsense.

…Now, we pastors do not have the duty to tell anyone how to vote. But as a shepherd of souls I say to you, dear reader:

We must think of 1. the innocent and defenseless unborn babies, of 2. all children, who have the right to a home with mother and father, and of 3. our undocumented neighbors who have no legal rights.

If we vote without thinking of these brothers and sisters, who have no vote, we will face a rigorous judgment for our negligence, when the Day of the Lord comes.

Another Dispatch from Near “the Border”

One thing that the cities of Phoenix and Roanoke have in common is:  Breathtaking mountain vistas can sneak up on you in any nook or cranny of town.  Like when you’re ambling through South Mountain Park…

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Another thing:  This place is a bona fide desert.  I cannot get used to the dry air and all the dust.

How the eastern boys in the Confederate Arizona company must have suffered.  Chapped hands, chapped lips, sneezing constantly.  We Easterners need more ambient moisture.

Yesterday I got to assist at Holy Mass at the Mission of San Xavier del Bac, on the road south of Tucson towards Nogales.

San Xavier del Bac

(Just about 300 miles due west, in fact, from where our Holy Father will make his final stop, during his visit to Mexico next week.)

Fr. Eusebio Kino founded the mission.  He came from Germany to evangelize in territory held by the Spanish crown.  He made a map of all the little hamlets on all the woebegone waterways of the Sonoran desert.

Eusebio Kino map

A certain borderline does not, of course, appear on this map.  The land itself offers no natural feature here that would divide one nation from another.

We Catholics stand for law and order, of course.  But we have to reflect on this question, when we consider all the election-year issues:  Is it morally incumbent on a Mexican person to respect the border between the states of Arizona and Sonora, or Texas and Chihuahua?

I’m not going to comment right now on whether the Civil War constituted a “war of northern aggression.”  But there was certainly a war of northern aggression fifteen years earlier.  The Mexican-American War.

The saints who evangelized New Spain never knew an “Arizona” border, or a Texas border.  The sacred deposit of the Catholic faith does not include the American doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

I myself refuse to use the term “illegal.” Not because of dainty political correctness.  But because the term is, in and of itself, fundamentally unsound.

The whole business could have gone the other way in 1847.  Then the whiteys in this desert would be the “illegals.”

The humane thing now is:  path to citizenship.  Our neighbors who have to live a shadow existence without “papers” deserve all the rights the rest of us have.  And we owe them our thoughts when we vote, right alongside the innocent and defenseless unborn, who likewise do not have the legal protections they should have.

An Exchange of E-mails

Dear Fr. White – Last Saturday evening I was a visitor at your 5:30 PM Mass. I was appalled and disappointed on several levels at your remarks regarding Margaret Sanger and Donald Trump.

I feel that bringing a current candidate for public office into your homily to illustrate a point was unnecessary and did nothing to add to your lesson.

Furthermore, your inference that Mr. Trump is against the birth of babies with colored skin was patently untrue. Although I’m not necessarily a follower of Mr. Trump I understand that his objection is to giving U. S. citizenship to any child born of aliens who are in the country illegally. Your equation of Sanger and Trump was, in my opinion, both offensive and untrue.

I am a lifelong practicing Catholic and will probably attend Mass from time to time at St. Andrew’s. I’m certain that I will hear uplifting and wonderful homilies during my future visits!

[name withheld]

**********

Dear —,

I appreciate your writing. I apologize for offending you.

As far as analyzing whether or not what I had to say at Mass is untrue, I would ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a teenage or young-adult child of undocumented parents, hearing Mr. Trump’s proposals. As the shepherd of many such individuals, I feel an obligation to reassure them that their church family stands with them, not against them. Also, as I suggested in my homily, I ask everyone to imagine what would actually happen if Mr. Trump’s entire immigration “plan” were put into effect. The amount of human suffering would be of catastrophic proportions.

Our first obligation as Christians is to love our neighbors as our own brothers and sisters. Whether our neighbor has immigration documents is a secondary matter. I stand by my conclusion that it is impossible for a Christian to endorse Mr. Trump’s immigration proposals. If I am wrong about his being a racist of the same stamp as Margaret Sanger, I will do penance in this life, or in purgatory, for my error, once it is demonstrated. At this point in time, the evidence I see supports my conclusion.

I agree with you that generally speaking it is unwise for a preacher to refer by name to any current candidate for office. Given the immense inhumanity of what Mr. Trump has proposed, however, I do not hesitate, as a shepherd of the flock, to warn you or anyone else that supporting Mr. Trump is spiritually dangerous, just as supporting any candidate who agrees with Margaret Sanger’s doctrines is spiritually dangerous.

Love, Fr. Mark

Mr. Donald Trump, “de quien la humanidad debe sentirse avergonzada.”

— Armando Fuentes Aguirre, Reforma, Mexico City

US Mexico border wall

Dear reader, hope you have enjoyed your vacation! (From me.) You certainly deserved it.

But when anyone publicly refers to the border wall in Israel as a good idea, I start to get riled. I can’t just loll on the beach anymore. Anger overwhelms my capacity to relax. I have seen the wall in Bethlehem with my own eyes. I have seen its effects on the city where our Lord was born. And I have wept.

Donald Trump broke the sabbath this past Sunday to give us an immigration-policy proposal. If actually put into effect, his plan would produce a humanitarian catastrophe rivaling the Syrian refugee crisis.

In addition to writing that “humanity should be ashamed” of such a proposal, Mr. Fuentes writes in Reforma words that I hope we will all take to heart:

Creo en la esencial vocación de bien de la criatura humana… Confío en que los norteamericanos se quitarán de encima ese feo forúnculo que brotó repentinamente en su vida nacional.

“I believe in the fundamental goodness of man. I believe that the Americans will lance this ugly boil that has erupted suddenly in their national life.”

Dearly beloved, let’s greet this moment like we should. Our nation needs our pro-life/pro-immigrant message.

–The courageous undercover Planned-Parenthood videos have exposed the incontrovertible truth of what abortion involves.

–Meanwhile, the smallness of American-nativist suspicion of immigrants has also been thrown into focus. It is a cancer from which the USA has suffered for centuries.

We Catholics have a unique point-of-view: our Church family includes the documented and the un-documented, and we love all our brothers and sisters (without pausing for one moment to consider INS status). And of course we love all the babies, and all the mothers. We have the audacity to believe that our sexual power to conceive the next generation does not amount to a medical problem, but rather a beautiful blessing.

We have the message that our country most needs at this very point in her history: our pro-life/pro-immigrant message. Let’s be consistent about it, and let’s share it, with love!