The Way of Christ toward Friend and Foreigner

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A Highlighting Exodus and Matthew (All Readings featured at the conclusion of the homily)

At the invitation of the Paulist Father’s National Office on Ecumenical and Multi—Faith Relations I have recently become a Board Member for RELIGIONS FOR PEACE, (RFP) USA with its offices here at the United Nations.

This week RFP conducted an online symposium on Immigration and Refugees that was provocative and inspiring.  Is it Providence or coincidence that having participated in the 5-session symposium this week, I found that our Reading from the Book of EXODUS explicitly addresses how we are to treat foreigners in our midst?  You tell me!   But let me tell you, how often I heard representatives of different faith repeat in their own words, from their own faith traditions, words so closely aligned to those of Jesus we heard today “Love of God and Neighbor as ourselves.”  These two commandments are the constants meant to be observed in every Christian’s life.  Still, the purpose for which God bestowed these laws upon us has yet to be fulfilled because along with grace, sin is always in evidence.

Yet, we have come to mass to be humbled—have we not?  We have come to be grateful for charity, generosity.  Indeed, the largess of the human heart continues to pervade our world. Grateful that, wherever we are on our faith journey, whatever our attitudes toward foreigners, immigrants, or any people unlike ourselves may be, God gives us yet another chance for conversion, for transformation, for renewed commitment to the Great Commandments.

I would like to share a story told by Rev. Bill Jenkins, of Christ Ministry Center in San Diego and his alliance with the United Methodist Refugee Assistance Program– a wonderful sign of HOPE for us all: In 2009, a great and terrible Earthquake devasted Haiti. With lives lost, and so many homeless with no signs of constructive reconstruction, all seemed hopeless. Yet through Providence or because of sheer mercenary considerations, Representatives of Brazil’s government travelled to Haiti.  They recruited some 46,000 Haitians to work in Brazil, to prepare for and maintain the 2016 Summer Olympics.

When the Olympics were over, however, the Brazilian economy collapsed, the Brazilian president impeached, and the Haitians who had made their homes there, with babies who were born there, were ordered to leave. Meanwhile, the living situations in Haiti went from bad to worse. Thousands had no reason or justification to return home.  So, the Brazilian Haitians began a march through that country– some by foot, some with carts, and on through Central America to find homes elsewhere. Crossing 11 borders, they were mistreated by each successive country: spat upon, ridiculed, and bullied; women were raped, men were killed.  Despite this, many found ways to remain in one Latin American country after another as day laborers and harvesters.

 It came to pass that 600 Haitian men, women and children made it to Tijuana, Mexico to apply to the US Immigration Court in San Diego.  There, their passports were stamped, and they were told to return in four months’ time for their individual court hearings. Not welcomed back into Tijuana, and not understanding English or Spanish (native language is French and Creole), they kept themselves in small groups and slept in San Diego’s streets and outdoor malls awaiting their turn.   

Now it so happened that there was already a small contingency of Haitians in Rev. Bill Jenkins’ San Diego Methodist Church. When they heard of their fellow countrymen’s plight on the streets, the Haitian church members drove through their city to find them.  Over the course of a few days, the Methodists found all 600, offering them food and shelter in their (fortunately large) church, with space enough for all to sleep in the pews at night. News of the Methodist’s hospitality spread and in five months, 5,000 Haitians came through the Center–not at all at once, of course, but as many as could be assisted at one time as they awaited their Court appearances. Other organizations stepped in to help, although, initially, no one was able to provide decent temporary homes or apartments.  Instead, more church pews and basements were opened for nightly shelter.

         Today San Diego Churches and other organizations have expanded their refugee ministries to include a network of temporary housing– all because of the Haitians’ stories and the witness of the Methodist Church. The biblical mandate from the Book of Exodus was and continues to be fulfilled by people of faith there. And here’s a touching footnote:  five years ago, when all this began, Rev. Bill Jenkins and his wife, at the age of 68, took in an 8-month-old boy separated from his mother somewhere between Tijuana and Sand Diego.  He is now their adopted son, Harry, and recently Harry’s birth mother was able to locate them and now all three adults are raising Harry together.

Beyond the San Diego story, there are legions of stories of compassion from the efforts of our very own Catholic Relief Services, local Catholic Charities in here in New York and in cities throughout our nation and the world.  The number of agencies for immigrants and refugees are legion.  There’s Amnesty International, World Vision USA, Jesuit Refugee Services, and dozens of other faith and secular based asylum initiatives.   I got a taste of some of these this week, but all of them repeatedly impressed upon me this truth: Most immigrants don’t flee their countries of origin because they desire “a better life,” most flee in fear because they just want to be able to LIVE!   

I’m not taking up a collection today for Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Charities but I think that it is important to remind us that as the governments of the world continue to argue as to what can be done, what can’t be done, what won’t be done for the neglected, the weary, the poor of this world, by the grace of God, people of many different faiths are upholding the Golden Rule.  We may take heart today that Good News is a reality and will continue to be a reality because of us, good people of faith.

So, now you have heard the Scriptures and one example of how FAITH COMES ALIVE! As we approach the altar to receive Jesus Christ again, may this Eucharist inspire us to persevere in making the Good News a living reality. I will close with this passage from the Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4:  

Book of Wisdom Chapter 4

My child, do not mock the life of the poor;
    do not keep needy eyes[a] waiting.
Do not grieve the hungry,
    nor anger the needy.
Do not aggravate a heart already angry,
    nor delay giving to the needy.
A beggar’s request do not reject;
    do not turn your face away from the poor.
From the needy do not turn your eyes;
    do not give them reason to curse you.
If in their pain they cry out bitterly,
    their Rock, (our God) will hear the sound of their cry.

THE SCRIPTURE READINGS

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1: EX 22:20-26

Thus, says the LORD:
“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.

“If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people,
you shall not act like an extortioner toward him
by demanding interest from him. 
If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge,
you shall return it to him before sunset;
for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. 
What else has he to sleep in?
If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”
 

Responsorial Psalm

PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

R. (2) I love you, Lord, my strength.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.
The LORD lives and blessed be my rock!
Extolled be God my savior.
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed.
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.

Reading 2: 1 THES 1:5C-10

Brothers and sisters:
You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake. 
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord,
receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit,
so that you became a model for all the believers
in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth
not only in Macedonia and in Achaia,
but in every place your faith in God has gone forth,
so that we have no need to say anything. 
For they themselves openly declare about us
what sort of reception we had among you,
and how you turned to God from idols
to serve the living and true God
and to await his Son from heaven,
whom he raised from the dead,
Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.

Alleluia

JN 14:23

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord,
and my Father will love him, and we will come to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel: MT 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

2 thoughts on “The Way of Christ toward Friend and Foreigner

  1. Dear Fr James, So happy to hear you are now on the RFP board. You are the perfect person to share your views. You have always been a champion of multi-faith relations and of course always a friend to the poor and needy, especially those needing a safe haven for their families. You truly are an inspiration to me. Hope you have a blessed day. Looking forward to seeing you in November. Love and prayers Sheila

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