Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Consequences of the Failure to Form People about Social Justice

Anyone else out there getting sick and tired of all the hate-speak?  After months of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the wake of the passage of the recent law in Arizona and the flap over the request of some Muslims to build a house of prayer and meditation near Ground Zero, I find myself increasingly disgusted not only with many of my fellow Americans, but with some of my fellow Catholics. (This is not to mention the name-calling and racism shown by some of my Catholic friends who support the agenda of the so-called "Tea Party".)

Some of these otherwise-good people are among the loudest to attack those who are not like themselves and therefore make them uncomfortable - the poor and oppressed immigrants who have, braving many dangers in their desperation, come here for nothing more than a better life - the peace-loving Muslims who worship the very same God the Father we do and just want to create a place for people to come together in prayer and memory of an injustice perpetrated by extremists who do not fairly represent their faith.  These are the same folks who complained loudly about national health insurance being provided at affordable cost for the poor, who make prejudiced and venomous personal remarks about our elected president (who, by the way is just as white as he is black) and who want to make English the official language of their states and counties.

Under the guise of flag-waving Americanism, these folks - people who call themselves "Christians" - betray their own inability to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, who encouraged us to "love your enemy" and whose first followers made a special effort to take care of the indigent, the widowed and the orphaned. (Witess the first Sunday reading after Easter from Acts 1, when the first Christians lived in such harmony that no one wanted for anything.)  This Christian faith is based on the Old Testament history of Jesus' Jewish forbears - a migrant people, the Israelites - who came into a land not their own, speaking a new language and worshiping a strange God. 

Jesus is very clear about how he wants us to behave toward those who are unfortunate or strangers - in other words, "not like us."  Matthew 25:34-40  has Jesus telling us that our final judgment will be based, among other things, on how well we treat those who are different - how we welcome the stranger - this is the basis for the Corporal Works of Mercy:

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Catholics who embrace the vocal, radical bigotry of the political right against immigrants, those with whom they disagree politically, and those of the Muslim faith are rejecting, in effect, the teachings of the Church and of Christ himself.  They are also rejecting the cardinal virtue of Charity in favor of angry, accusatory hatred of those who are different.

What we have here, folks, is a major failure of catechesis. We have failed to help a large number of Catholics understand that many of the teachings of Jesus are "counter-cultural" - they call us to fight for the poor, the oppressed, the stranger and the unfortunate - not to fear them, judge them and call them names.  In the spirit of Christian love, I am tonight praying for those who are blind and uncharitable toward immigrants, strangers, those of other faiths, and those of other political persuasions - that they find it in their hearts to love their enemies. I love these folks anyhow, even though they sometimes make me very angry!  I actually would be very sad to see them among the goats and not the sheep.  :-)

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