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.

The Quintessence’s Reason

What a beautiful spectacle this, that is thus given to the world, to angels, and to men! How worthy of eternal praise are such deeds! Many individuals, members either of the Knights of Columbus, or officers of the Federation for Religious Freedom, of the Union of Catholic Women of Mexico, or of the Society of Mexican Youth, have been taken to prison handcuffed, through the public streets, surrounded by armed soldiers, locked up in foul jails, harshly treated, and punished with prison sentences or fines. Moreover, Venerable Brothers, and in narrating this We can scarcely keep back Our tears, some of these young men and boys have gladly met death, the rosary in their hands and the name of Christ King on their lips. (Iniquis afflictisque 27)

Pope Pius XI wrote these words in 1926, in his encyclical letter about the persecution of the Church in Mexico.

The question asked by the Mexican authorities was: ¿Quien vive? Who lives? –The Revolution? The supreme government of the socialist republic?

The soldiers asked St. Rodrigo Aguilar Aleman this question three times—tightening the noose around his neck each time they asked, because he did not give the answer they were looking for.

¿Quien vive? Viva…Cristo Rey.

In the geographic center of Mexico, a large hill holds an enormous statue of Christ the King, re-built from the ashes. The Mexican bishops first conceived of erecting it in 1914. In 1923, Father Jose Maria Robles Hurtado led a procession of 40,000 people to pray for peace at the shrine. In 1926, the statue was bombed to smithereens by order of the President. And on June 26 of that year, Fr. Hurtado was hanged.

“We are always courageous,” writes St. Paul, “because we walk by faith…faith in the One Who died for us and rose again.”

In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet reflects on human nature: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”

Good question, Hamlet. What is this quintessence of dust, man? What makes us make sense?

Are we meant to make everything work perfectly on earth? Right all wrongs, balance all scales of justice—make life easy and comfortable and low-maintenance for everyone?

How could a Mexican soldier in 1928 bring himself to cut the soles off the feet of a 14-year-old boy, just because the boy would not say “Viva la Revolucion?” How could the soldier then bring himself to march the boy through the streets and bayonet him to death, when the boy cried out, “Viva Cristo Rey?”

The soldier could do it because he was certain that the Church stood in the way of Mexico’s progress toward utopia. Because social engineering could lift the poor out of their kneeling stupor. And only the old-fashioned, foreigner-controlled, popish superstition of the rosary-clutching women stood in the way. If we can just get this intransigent, reactionary Catholic Church to knuckle under, then true progress will finally be possible!

…What is this quintessence of dust, man? Fed, sated, rested, lesiured, sensually satisfied—marking the days till the long sleep with amusements and recreations of constant diversion? Is this what we are? Just one more technological advance away from perfect computerized comfort?

Cubilete
Sure. Perfectly comfortable. On the backs of people waiting for the bus by the side of the smog-choked highway. On the backs of children who lost their one chance at reading a book when the local library lost its funding. On the back of our Mother Earth, who groans more and more under the weight of all the noxious compounds we spew out into the air, water, and soil in order to keep ourselves comfortable.

This quintessence of dust. What point can we really have? What makes us the paragon of animals and the beauty of the world?

Only one thing: God. God has distilled the dust of the earth to its quintessence, and produced us, for one reason: that we would know Him, love Him, serve Him, hope in Him.

The dignity of man: to glorify God. What a wretched mess our lives become when we forget this.

This week we begin our fortnight of prayer and fasting for religious freedom. We need religious freedom because we need God. We make no sense without Him. Let’s pray and fast and come together because we know we cannot live without God.

Cristero Movie

a.k.a. “101 Ways to Smoke and Drink Tequila While Defending the Holy Faith”

Movies in which the stirring orchestral score cues up before the five-minute mark make me suspicious. “For Greater Glory” will not be outdone as a music video of the Cristero War. Some resourceful acting manages to cover the relative lameness of the script. Andy Garcia makes sense by smoking in meaningful ways. Rubén Blades as President Plutarco Elias Calles almost steals the Opening-Scene-Menace Award from De Niro’s Al Capone as “The Untouchables” begins.

I wish I were a better priest, a better friend of the Mexican nation, a better Knight of Columbus. If I were, then I would know more facts about the Mexican martyrs than I do. I do know that Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory makes the whole business 10,000 times more real that this film does. The novel gives us one of the greatest heroes I have ever encountered, and this film makes Greene seem all the more brilliant by comparison.

But “For Greater Glory” gives us some lovable heroes, too. I never really doubted that I am fighting for the right team. But if I had doubted it, the scene in which “El Catorce” tells the federal (who just hanged a priest for saying Mass) to “spend your money in hell, c-bron!” would have dispelled any doubts I had. Our church has room for bad-sses.

And fifteen-year-old Mauricio Kuri, playing Bl. José Luis Sánchez del Rio…In real life, the saint was not even yet fifteen when martyred. I wept when they cut up his poor little feet, to torture him. Come on, evil federales! But it really happened.

The Spanish-isms of the movie struck this gringo as patently ridiculous, even offensive. In what world does using “Mejico” instead of “Mexico”—in the middle of English patter with bad accents—in what world does this achieve verisimilitude?

But, al otro lado, the movie does give us Mexico, mainly by the authentic use of tequila in the interactions between men and in the open, airy style of the churches.

The main thing: Don’t die without going to Confession to a Catholic priest. Or die as a martyr. Don’t leave this world via any other exit. This movie makes it magnificently clear that leaving the world in any other way is really lame.

In the 1920’s, the Mexicans played big-league spiritual ball, while we dithered as a nation of t-ball strikeouts. The Spanish-speaking world made the rest of us look like piker Catholics. (The Spanish Civil War of the late 30’s produced scores of holy martyrs, too.)

Graham Greene grasped this fact a long time ago. Hopefully, “For Greater Glory” will remind us—and prepare us for whatever battle we will have to face.

Makes “O Brother,

Where Art Thou” look pedestrian by comparison; genuinely Homeric; funny in every paragraph: The Great Typo Hunt.

I could not put it down. I am in love with Jeff Deck.

The only problem: Split infinitives on practically every page! Really?

The Queen’s English, paragraph 238, FOREVER!!

May we learn wisely to use the language. Latin helped her speakers to articulate themselves artfully. We Anglophones prudently choose to guard slavishly Latin’s precision.

Priests are being murdered in Mexico again, like they were during the Terrible Triangle persecution.

May all the dead rest in peace. The times recall the novel which moved Pope Paul VI to say to its author: “Mr. Greene, some parts of your book are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that.”

Here are my favorite passages from The Power and the Glory.

He was a man who was supposed to save souls. It had seemed quite simple, once, preaching at Benediction, organizing the guilds, having coffee with the elderly ladies behind barred windows, blessing new houses with a little incense, wearing black gloves…It was as easy as saving money: now it was a mystery. He was aware of his own desperate inadequacy.

Laurence Olivier as the Whisky Priest

He said after a moment’s hesitation, very distinctly: “I am a priest.”

It was like the end: there was no need to hope any longer. The ten years’ hunt was over at last. There was silence all round him. This place was very like the world: overcrowded with lust and crime and unhappy love: it stank to heaven; but he realized that after all it was possible to find peace there, when you knew for certain that the time was short.

Henry Fonda as the Whisky Priest

When he woke up it was dawn. He woke with a huge feeling of hope which suddenly and completely left him at the first sight of the prison yard. It was the morning of his death. He crouched on the floor with the empty brandy-flask in his hand trying to remember an Act of Contrition. “O God, I am sorry and beg pardon for all my sins…crucified…worthy of Thy dreadful punishments.” He was confused, his mind was on other things: it was not the good death for which one always prayed. He caught sight of his own shadow on the cell wall; it had a look of surprise and grotesque unimportance. What a fool he had been to think that he was strong enough to stay when others fled. What an impossible fellow I am, he thought, and how useless. I have done nothing for anybody. I might just as well have never lived. His parents were dead–soon he wouldn’t even be a memory-–perhaps after all he wasn’t really Hell-worthy. Tears poured down his face; he was not at the moment afraid of damnation–even the fear of pain was in the back­ground. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted–to be a saint.