On Sunday, Feb. 5, I celebrated a special Mass in Solidarity with Refugees and Exiles at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The prepared text of the homily I preached on that occasion is printed below.
Let me begin with a warm welcome to those from other lands who join us today. You, and so many others who live in our area and throughout our country, enrich all of us. Thank you for being with us today.
We are salt and light. Our words and deeds should flavor our culture with the message of Jesus. Our words and deeds should reflect the light of Christ who came to dispel the darkness.
In our first reading, Isaiah offers the chosen people words of encouragement. If they hasten to take his advice to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the oppressed their light will break forth like the dawn and their wounds will be healed. Isaiah connects the people’s actions on behalf of the oppressed and afflicted with Israel’s future well-being. Their glorious time begins when they care for those in need. “Light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday” (Is 58:10).
Jesus enhances the connection between our actions and our eternal future in the last judgment scene in Matthew’s Gospel. Surely, you remember the scene. Jesus invites some to take their place in the kingdom because they fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and visited the imprisoned. Somewhat surprised at their reward Jesus tells them that when they cared for their brothers and sisters they were in fact caring for Him. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine you did it for me” (Mt 25:35-40). Seeing the face of Christ in others and acting on their behalf is the pathway to eternal life.
In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis noted, “Migration today is not a phenomenon limited to some areas of the planet. It affects all continents and is growing into a tragic situation of global proportions. Not only does this concern those looking for dignified work or better living conditions, but also men and women, the elderly and children, who are forced to leave their homes in the hope of finding safety, peace and security” (January 15, 2017).
The events of the last week drew our attention to our brothers and sisters who have left their homeland and family members, traveled over dangerous and unsecured routes under the threat of physical harm and even death to reach a better life. The tragic situation of migration struck very close to home this week. Our own Catholic Charities reports that 220 refugees who have been vetted and approved to come to Syracuse have been put on hold. This situation has been replicated across our country. As people of faith we cannot remain silent.
Our elected leaders have a responsibility to protect our borders and to put procedures in place which will carefully scrutinize those who wish to enter our country. However, blanket refusals to allow immigrants from a given nation, ethnic or religious group to enter our country is un-American and un-Christian.
Pope Francis hit the nail on the head when he addressed Congress during his pastoral visit to our country. We must, he said, “. . . view refugees as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12).”
We are salt and light. This is the message of today’s Gospel. Salt preserves and flavors. Disciples are seasoning agents who preserve the distinctive flavor of God’s word and bring it to life in their words and deeds. As people of faith, we cannot tolerate racial and religious injustice. We cannot hide our faith under a bushel basket. Our words and deeds must bring the light of our faith to the current situation of refugees and exiles. We need to support them with our prayers and raise our voices against unjust practices directed at them.
In these challenging days, when the life of many deserving and needy refugees are being denied entrance to our country we must be clear that the stranger knocking at our door is none other than Christ Himself. Our faith does not “rest in human wisdom.” It rests in the divine wisdom that recognizes the face of Christ in every person. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, every person “is Jesus in disguise.”
Please join me in prayer that refugees who have been properly vetted will soon be able to enter our country. At the end of our days when we meet the Lord may we be among those to whom He says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world . . . for I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:34).
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.