Feast of the Holy Family – Year C
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
December 30, 2018 – 10:30 AM
I Samuel 1:20-22;24-28 | Psalm 84:2-3;5-6;9-10
Colossians 3:12-17 | Luke 2:41-52
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
A missing family member is a source of great anxiety, whether we’re talking about a child, a spouse, and of course, the canine and feline members of our families as well. When someone to whom we are emotionally attached goes missing, we often fear the worst, just like Mary and Joseph did when they couldn’t find Jesus after they left Jerusalem to go home. The psychological profession might refer to that state of affairs as “separation anxiety.”
I’ve experienced that myself. Before we got our Tesla, which is equipped with a GPS tracking system, I would really stress out when I didn’t know where Deacon Sharon was and could not reach her on her cell phone. Now I can simply open an app on my phone, and I know exactly where Deacon Sharon is and can breathe a sigh of relief when I see the car parked at the movies, knowing that she is safe and will return within a few hours, barring some unforeseen circumstance.
However, Mary and Joseph in the first century did not have today’s technology. Nor was there a police department available to take a missing persons report. Nor were first responders available to conduct a search-and-rescue mission. Mary and Joseph were left to suffer separation anxiety alone as they searched for Jesus with no help from a government agency or even from their friends. But alas, they found Jesus, safe and sound.
Not all missing family member stories have happy endings. This summer, the news media carried a story about Mollie Tibbets, a missing Iowa college student who was ultimately found, dead and murdered. When a loved one is missing, part of our anxiety is fear that something bad might happen, and sometimes, it unfortunately does. Hence, I can only imagine what it’s like for the refugee parents whose children have been forcibly separated from them as they try to cross the Southern border of the United States. Some of these children are barely old enough to walk. Some are infants still in their mothers’ arms when they were torn away from their parents. The children are then taken to locations undisclosed to the parents as part of the implementation of a very sick public policy as a deterrent to undocumented immigration. The United States Government has separated over ten thousand children to fulfill a political promise to the deplorable people who imposed the present White House regime upon the United States.
Even today, thousands of parents do not still know where their children are. Thousands of children do not know where their parents are. Thousands of children are in detention in facilities that look like cages at a zoo. In these child internment camps, strange rules have been imposed that prevent shelter workers from touching or holding the little children to comfort them. Neglect of the health needs of these children has been so bad that at least two have suffered preventable deaths in recent months.
It is beyond argument that the stupid and cruel policy of separating children from their parents inflicts emotional harm on these children. Absent pathological parenting, rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring. Separation of the kind practiced by the immigration authorities can cause irreparable harm to lifelong development by disrupting a child’s brain architecture.
The family separation and child neglect flowing from the present set of decision-makers is a statement that we as a society do not value children, and in particular, children who aren’t white. Notice that we don’t see these tactics at the Canadian border, where the people on the other side are mostly white. That should tell you something about what’s really going on. It’s called racism.
The actions of the United States government in the handling of immigrant children is the opposite of the thoughts expressed in Psalm 127, “Children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward.” God did not create children to be instruments of deterrence. Children are a blessing from God. Using children as pawns to implement a political objective is beyond disgusting. It is EVIL.
But it is not a new policy for the United States Government to do this. In the Nineteenth Century, the United States sought to expand its territory by forcibly conquering the Native American people and displacing them from their land. When the Dakota Tribe lost to the United States Army, about seventeen hundred surviving tribe members were forced to march from their land to Fort Snelling. Soon after, boarding schools would open across the country under federal legislation that encouraged and supported assimilation of Native Americans into mainstream, Anglo-American culture. Native American children were taken from their families and placed in those schools, where the most despicable brain-washing tactics occurred, like calling them savages and beating them up because of their appearance and customs.
The family separation policies two centuries ago directed against Native Americans, and those aimed at undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America, both originate from a fear of people of people of color who do not embody the supposedly “superior” white Anglo-American culture. That fear was unchristian then, and it is unchristian now. We as Christians have a duty to oppose that garbage.
As illustrated in today’s gospel, the anxiety experienced by a parent who cannot find her or his missing child is a universal human experience from the beginning of time. It is true for the animal kingdom as well. Have you ever seen a mother cat searching for her lost kittens? The Native American families of the Nineteenth Century, and today’s asylum-seeking parents at the Southern Border, are experiencing the same feelings that Mary and Joseph felt as they worried about where Jesus was on their way home from Jerusalem: “Where is my child?”
Our conservative sisters and brothers style themselves as “pro family”, but they ignore this most basic of human emotions: a parent’s concern for the welfare of her or his child. Once again, we see those folks relegate human empathy to the back seat. They do this to achieve and maintain power and dominance over the machinery of government to make money for themselves and maintain their precious little culture. The justification they give us for family separation is that the parents are “breaking the law” by entering the United States without jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops. And even more reprehensibly, we have public officials like former Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoting the tenth chapter of Romans talking about a religious duty to obey the government. His ignorance illustrates the stupidity of reading the Bible literally. That kind of misreading could potentially justify obedience to a fascist regime like that of Hitler.
Under the present White House regime, the United States is becoming a nation where “zero tolerance” means no mercy. We hear public officials proud to announce that the United States will no longer grant asylum to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. In the name of “border security,” the United States is willing to break up families and shatter the lives of innocent children.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus railed, ranted, and raved against this whole “laws are more important than people” mentality, which animated the forces of evil that crucified him. People who take the “the law is the law” viewpoint forget that God’s law is superior to human law. Laws which run afoul of the Two Great Commandments, to love God and one’s neighbor are not worthy of respect. Trying to keep God’s law by following words in a book stands the dignity of God on its head. The only way to fulfill God’s law is to love God and love others. Only by loving others, do we fulfill God’s law. All of that comes from the heart, not words printed on a page. No Christian can properly support obedience to laws and law enforcement operations that inflict suffering on human persons, never, ever. That includes separating families and denying asylum to those fleeing violence, oppression and degradation.
Human dignity comes always ahead of maintaining human authority. Some hints as to how to do that are found in today’s second reading. I’m talking about heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and to forgiving one another as God forgives us. And over all these, we are to put on love, the bond of perfection.
Some may say that in condemning immigration policies, the church is becoming political, and somehow, that’s bad. They call it, “politicizing the gospel.” The answer to that is simple. Jesus was very political. He took sides. The side he took was that of poor and oppressed people against the ruling religious and political classes who used and abused them.
Jesus spoke out about injustice.
Jesus riled up crowds of people against them.
Jesus was a rabble-rouser, a community organizer whose mission was to bring down the human power structure and replace it with the Kingdom of God.
Jesus was here to effectuate regime change. That is very political. In spotlighting the cruel treatment of helpless children, the Church acts in the best tradition of Jesus. When the Church does otherwise, it fails.
When we as the church calls out injustice, when it calls out public policy that lacks love and compassion, we’re doing our job. We’re taking care of business, just as Jesus was doing in the Temple when Mary and Joseph found him taking care of the business of his heavenly Father in the Temple engaging in theological discussions with learned individuals. Jesus was doing what God sent him to do. God sent us to do the same things Jesus did.
On January 13, we will have a baptism here at Sunday Mass, and as part of the service, we will recite the Baptismal Covenant. That baptismal covenant sets out what God sent us to do. Among other things, we are called us to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to respect the dignity of all humanity. At baptism, we are made prophet, priest and king. We were sent to identify and publicize injustice, to mediate God to others, and to show leadership in effectuating God’s Kingdom. That is how we take care of God’s business. We were born and consecrated to do that, just like the child Samuel in today’s first reading.
All of humanity, when we were children, were meant to be consecrated as children of God and placed in the care of a family whose job it was to care for and nurture our hearts, minds and souls. To be seen is what effect the family separation policy will have on these children when they become adults. How respectful will they be towards the United States? Could they possibly foment social unrest or revolution? I doubt that today’s policymakers have considered those questions.
To conservative public officials, I have a message.
Empathize with the parents and children seeking asylum rather than prioritize keeping yourselves in power by empathizing with the baseless fears of those who voted for you.
Put yourselves in the shoes of those immigrant parents separated from their children. Feel the anxiety of Mary and Joseph as they searched for Jesus.
Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus, the fully human, vulnerable child, who even though quite happy in the Temple with the doctors of the law, on some level, missed his family. The immigrant families that are so much despised are just like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. A family seeking to escape violence, oppression and poverty is just as holy as all families, and should be treated accordingly.
We must pray for wisdom and courage to confront the inhumanity of the United States Government policies towards immigrants.
Love is the measure by which we are judged. No one is exempt from this law of God. The United States will be judged by how it treats the weakest and most vulnerable among us, in particular its children, who are its future, no matter where they were born, or who their parents are. AMEN.