May 14, 2010
By Al Kresta
Christians are disciples of Christ. The word “disciple” means literally, “learner” i.e., a follower, pupil, or adherent of a teacher or religious leader. Claiming to be a disciple when you think you’ve got nothing more to learn is just plain dumb and shows you’ve got a lot to learn. Scripture teaches that when a disciple is fully trained he will be like his Teacher. Catholic disciples, i.e., learners, are followers of Christ who teaches them through His Body, the Church. So what has Christ taught on immigration? Do you know the mind of Christ on immigration?
I think the first response might be “Can I even know the mind of Christ on immigration?” If you mean you know what piece of legislation Jesus would pen to solve our immigration crisis, then “No”.
If you mean, however, having a knowledge of the priorities of the Kingdom and how the laity should function in ordering the temporal affairs of the state, then, “Yes”. By purifying our hearts and motives in prayer, allowing divine revelation to clarify the natural law that we know through right reason, civil debate, and by exercising the virtue of prudence, we can produce legislation that is more rather than less likely to reflect the Mind of Christ.
This scares some people and ends the discussion. They fear theocracy and mullahs and burning stakes, etc. The images are all wrong. This is not, first of all, a matter of divine revelation. For those who accept a divine revelation, God has spoken! Yes, this would a conversation stopper in political debate. How do argue with God?
But in the integration of faith and public life, political argument, not divine revelation, is foremost. Civil debate and discovery are central. The method is more that of trial and error than application of a divinely ordained policy. Consequently, we never have the certainty in prudential political matters that we have in revealed dogmas like the Trinity. Nevertheless, in reading through comments and commentary sparked by Arizona’s immigration debate, I’ve been so disappointed. So much of what I’ve read by Catholics seems to think that the teaching of the Church has no role to play in forming our minds on prudential political matters. As though there is no mind of Christ on the issue. As though the plight of immigrants or the safety of the host nation are matters of complete indifference to God.
For instance, in some circles, the Old Testament phrase “Welcome the stranger” (Lv 19:34; Dt 10:17-19)) is mocked as though it is sentimental whitewash concealing a left wing political agenda. Well, the devil can quote Scripture but, in fact, a quick look at some standard reference work like the Anchor Bible Dictionary would show lots of ink about the foreigner, the stranger, and the alien. Care for foreigners is central to ancient Israel’s self understanding since they were once strangers in a foreign land.
A related theme is picked up in the New Testament under the notion of “hospitality.” Strangely, it’s usually political conservatives that parody the “welcome the stranger” or “hospitality” motifs. Nevertheless, their importance as a mark of the faithful Church can be confirmed by any of the standard Bible dictionaries.
On the other hand, political liberals invite ridicule by acting as though a simple quote or practice from ancient Israel (whose borders were porous and often changing) can somehow be directly invoked to declare current immigration law unjust.
Shameful and silly arguments are advanced by both sides. From the left: that those concerned for border security are really racists and xenophobes in disguise. Just look in their car’s trunk and you’ll find a hood or a swastika flag. From the right: that Catholic ministry to migrant workers is a calculated and sinister church growth strategy.
All of this neglect and nonsense shout that most Catholics are unfamiliar with, for instance, the Pope’s annual message on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees easily available with a few keystrokes at http://www.usccb.org/mrs/papalstatements.shtml. I confess that on Kresta in the Afternoon I have rarely even mentioned these particular papal addresses never mind use them as the spur to commentary.
Or that John Paul II who hailed from a nation perpetually concerned about her borders could write that “the Church in America must be a vigilant advocate, defending against any unjust restriction on the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another. Attention must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration. Migrants should be met with a hospitable and welcoming attitude which can encourage them to become part of the Church’s life.” (John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, 236, 237).
John Paul II sounds like he’s familiar with the civil law of ancient Israel which had a different understanding of borders. Foreigner or sojourners had certain rights but also certain limitations while in Israel. Civil rights were provided for foreigners by the Law of Moses (Ex 12:49; Lv 24:22), and they came under the same legal processes and penalties (Lv 20:2; 24:16, 22; Dr 1:16). They were to be treated politely (Ex 22:21; 23:9) , loved and treated generously if poor and receive the fruits of the harvest (Lv 19:10;23:22; Dt 24;19-22). They could receive sanctuary in times of trouble (Nm 35:15; Jos 20:9). A foreigner could not take part in tribal deliberations or become a king (17:15) The prophet Ezekiel looked forward to the messianic age when the foreigner would share all the blessings of the land with God’s own people (Ez 47:22,23). He envisioned a coming Kingdom without borders. The Church is, today, that emerging, visible society in sacramental form.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives us as citizens of America, the lead nation of the world, reason to remember that to whom much is given, much will be demanded and that enforcement of our laws is a matter of the common good.
CCC 2240 “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country…
CCC 2241 “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.”
Now this teaching doesn’t translate very easily into public policy. Among Catholics, however, it should set the tone and establish some parameters.
Of course, the Church also teaches the importance of the rule of law. St. Thomas Aquinas regarded it as the “primary proper means of coordinating civil society.” As the Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput wrote “Illegal immigration is wrong and dangerous for everyone involved. There’s nothing ‘good’ about people risking their lives for the mere purpose of entering the United States. There’s nothing ‘good’ about our nation not knowing who crosses our borders and why they’re here, especially in an age of terrorism, drugs and organized violent crime. There’s nothing ‘good’ about people living in the shadows; or families being separated, or decent people being deported and having to start their lives all over again, sometimes in a country that they no longer- or never did-know.”
I am convinced that our southern borders will not suddenly be closed off. I am similarly convinced that 11-18 million illegal immigrants won’t be deported. With those assumptions in place, what do you want to do?
Indignation is understandable and natural since grave injustice has been committed. Indignation, however, is no exemption from dealing with reality. And the reality is that neither Democrats nor Republicans will close the borders nor will they deport the majority of illegal aliens.
Further, the American people will not support comprehensive immigration reform without a believable commitment to secure the border. We went through that in the last Bush administration.
So, in the meantime, how is the Church to treat illegal immigrants who are frequently already Catholic?
1. Welcome them so they will come out of the shadows. The Church is not an arm of law enforcement. When Jewish religio-civil authorities tried to lure Jesus into enforcing a particular legal penalty, he argued for discretion rather than strict retribution and said, “Go and sin no more.”
2. Minister the sacraments including penance.
3. Exhort them to pay back taxes, get to the back of the immigration line and pay a necessary financial penalty.
4. Give them sanctuary and promise to stand with them through the process of naturalization. Make disciples of them.
5. Where appropriate encourage them to turn state’s evidence against factories or agribusiness which lured them over here and held them in a form of indentured servanthood.
6. Insist that Federal and State authorities cease trivializing the law by lack of enforcement. Their failure discredits the law in the eyes of the citizens, invites violation, and wreaks havoc on the common good.
7. If the state interferes with the legitimate ministry of the Church, we must obey God rather than man.
What do you think?
Al Kresta is President and CEO of Ave Maria Communications.
His afternoon radio program is heard on over 200 stations as well as Sirius satellite radio.