As the youngest of nine with six older brothers, my musical tastes go to the singer songwriters of the 70’s – Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and Simon and Garfunkel. I have also been a big fan of Jackson Browne and have seen him perform live on a few occasions. However, when I was younger I liked Browne’s music, but was not always fond of his lyrics, which did not square with some of my political views. Several years later and in part due to the influence of Catholic social teaching (CST), I have a much greater appreciation for his lyrics – which are filled with insight and compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters on the margins.
Browne is a classic humanist – unabashed in his views and not confessing any particular faith or creed. CST can build bridges with humanists in the values we share, while also challenging the lack of a consistent life ethic that some humanists espouse. What is more, for those who are open to it, we can enter into authentic dialogue and offer the light of Scripture, tradition, and truth – consistent with nature.
Recently, on a warm evening in south Texas, I was listening to Browne’s “Looking East” where he offers a prophetic critique of the indifference of Americans to those on the margins and a plea for a more inclusive and compassionate society. His song concludes:
“On the edge of my country, I pray for the ones with the least….
And there’s a God-sized hunger underneath the questions of the age
And an absence of light
In the deepening night
Where I wait for the sun
Here in south Texas, I have been thinking and praying for the ones with the least, including our immigrant brothers and sisters. What does the light of Scripture, tradition, and the truth of nature say to the plight of those seeking lives of dignity and flourishing. Yesterday in the Mass, St. James said: “faith without works is dead….If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat, well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” Matthew 25 says that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Christ himself.
Pope Francis has consistently decried a globalization of indifference and has from the beginning of his pontificate advocated for immigrants who are seeking a better life, including those who die trying. Francis’ first venture out of the Vatican as pope was to the Italian port city of Lampedusa where he preached a stirring homily which reminded me of the Old Testament prophets – exhorting believers to move from sin to back to love of God and neighbor.
What does the Catholic Church teach about immigration? First, that human persons have a natural right to emigrate for just reasons, which among others, include fear of violence or persecution, family unity, or the need to financially support one’s family. Second, sovereign countries have a right to regulate their boarders. Third, the immigration policies of a given country should be just. Finally, wealthier countries have more of an obligation in justice to enact a generous immigration policy.
I understand that the United States is a nation of laws and that this is an important principle of our republican democracy. As Catholics, we also understand that law, in order for it to be considered just, must be in accord with the natural law and promote the dignity and well-being of the good that is common to all. Additionally, law as seen through the lens of Catholic social teaching, should manifest a special care and choice for the poor and vulnerable.
Most important to moving hearts of Christians beyond our comfortable apathy, are the stories of those, who out of desperation, leave their families and their homeland to search for human flourishing. Have we attempted to walk in their shoes – to imagine the anguish that is the impetus for their flight? Last October, members of the Lourdes’ community traveled to Tijuana where we have a partnership with a parish that is served by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. With them, was Jason Adkins, Executive Director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference who wrote a reflection on his experience. The group came back with moving “stories from the boarder” which once again communicate, as Pope Francis says often, that reality is more important than ideas.
Here in south Texas, near the edge of my country, I am looking south to the challenges of all our immigrant brothers and sisters who seek a life consistent with their God-given dignity. My hope is that we would be open to their stories, unite with them in solidarity, and be compassionate in providing for their needs. Today, I ask you to join me in offering a prayer for the ones with the least.