//What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.// – James 2:14-18
Words by Charles Baker
I’VE BEEN ASKING MYSELF this whole time, “what am I writing?” Is this a proscription against the Trump Administration’s immigration policy? Is this a highlight reel of Catholicism’s pro-immigrant, anti-fascist positions and teachings? Both? Neither? What is the endpoint? What on earth does Dietrich Bonhoeffer have to do with all this? Synthesis has always been a weakness of mine. But having remonstrated the present crisis of family separation, and having demonstrated not only the righteousness but also the necessity of just social action from the Christian Church, herein I will prescribe how Catholics, fellow Christians, and people of all faith traditions and at all levels of belief can “take up their cross daily” at the parish/community level.
First and foremost, Christians should be aware of immigrant families in their home churches, and make every effort to welcome them in the spirit of Christ. Just as Jesus was made known in the breaking of the bread on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), so too is Christ present wherever strangers break bread in fellowship with one another. So, little things, such as holding fellowship meals offering authentic food from an immigrant family’s home country – these “small things with great love” bind us together in solidarity, that we may truly be the Body of Christ.
Beyond this, local dioceses need to be always educating the faithful and their ecclesial leadership about the presence and plight of migrants and refugees in their own communities, and then supporting them when they are thus spurred to action. Local drives to provide for basic needs, hosting families, and interest-free microloan programs are all tried-and-true ways of providing concrete support, and these programs have better success when they have support from a wider network of like-minded faith communities.
Have you ever reached out to your faith leaders? It is likely your faith community or diocese is already running programs to provide for the needs of migrant/refugee families and children; and if they do, they are in desperate need of your support – not just financially, but with volunteer work, the kind of work that requires you to be face to face with these vulnerable people, to “meet the poor in the flesh” as Pope Francis might say. In my home Archdiocese of Washington, our local division of Catholic Charities runs a number of programs targeted to support immigrants and refugees locally.
People of faith should also be willing to look to the past in an effort to combat the injustices of the present. The Right of Asylum is rooted in the medieval tradition of fugitives being immune from arrest in sacred places, such as churches. To this day, the tradition and right of ‘claiming sanctuary’ still exists, but holds no legal recognition in any country. This is where the Church must engage. The Vatican has already granted local dioceses and parishes the authority to open sanctuary to illegal immigrants and refugees, but there is a lot of misunderstanding about what sanctuary is and is not. Nevertheless, depending on one’s interpretation of the right of sanctuary, The Church has a unique opportunity to engage in a very powerful act of civil disobedience, one that would cut to the heart of both freedom of religion AND separation of church and state.
Looking ahead, we must also prepare for things to get worse politically. We must prepare for the government of the United States to become increasingly more hostile to migrant families and children from non-European nations. As this progresses, what began as social outreach will slowly morph into martyrdom of a lesser kind, as our effort to aid these people inevitably becomes illicit and clandestine. How many priests, pastors, and other faith leaders have already allowed themselves to be arrested protesting immigration policy in Congress? Before all is said and done, how many more faith leaders and laypeople will walk the same path? Who among us, when the family is at our door begging to be hidden, will turn them away for fear of prosecution? When that day comes, I pray that “as for me and my house, we serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
As I consider how to bring closure to this declamation, my mind wanders to Blessed Stanley Rother. Beatified by Pope Francis just last year, Blessed Stanley Rother was an Oklahoman priest and missionary to the Tz’utujil Native American community in Guatemala during a time of social and political turmoil. Blessed Stanley is near and dear to my heart, having gone to seminary at my own alma mater, Mount Saint Mary’s College and Seminary (now Mount Saint Mary’s University). He personally requested that his bishop assign him to the missions in Guatemala, taught himself Spanish and later translated the Bible into the Tz’utujil language, and even used his boyhood knowledge of farming in his efforts to serve the people. When his work with these poor, indigenous peoples made him a target of far-right paramilitary death squads, leading to the murder of his catechists and several parishioners, Rother refused to return to the United States, save a short visit home to see his family. In a 1980 letter to the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Rother insisted that the violence compelled him to remain, writing: “This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm. The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” Blessed Stanley Rother was murdered in odium fidei in his mission rectory in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, on July 28, 1981. His last words were “kill me here!”
As this administration grows more and more hostile toward the poor and toward the migrant, I pray that we have a sliver of the fortitude of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Rother, and answer the Universal Call to Holiness that our Blessed Lord challenged us to answer in the Sermon on the Mount. Offering up our lives in service to the Call need not necessarily mean our death, let alone our execution; rather, that each and every day, until the last day, we stand in the gap, and let the Light of Christ shine. Thanks be to God. ¡Viva Cristo Rey!
//“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”// – Matthew 5:14-16