This past Saturday, I was fortunate to spend time with some of the best people in the Washington area, the social justice ministers from parishes and agencies in the Archdiocese. What a great group! I am going to criticize a detail, but you can’t understand the point if you don’t believe that these are great people.
The day ended with Mass, celebrated by Bishop Francisco Gonzalez. He issued a moving and pointed call to action, including two references to the corporal works of mercy, the list of specific tasks that Jesus mentions in his description of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25). Jesus mentions six specific opportunities to serve: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome immigrants and other strangers, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and visit the imprisoned. The people in that room had done all these things with great generosity, and the bishop acknowledged that. But twice, the bishop ran through Jesus’ list, omitting one of the six. Twice, he skipped “welcoming immigrants.” Bishop Gonzalez serves the immigrants of the area, with great love; he walks the walk far better than I. But somehow, the teaching gets overlooked, repeatedly.
The day’s sponsor, the Department for Charity and Justice, had their banner at the podium in the space we used for general sessions; it, too, listed the corporal works of mercy. The third one was not omitted, but it was translated from the Greek as “shelter the homeless.” Emphatically, I support sheltering the homeless! But that’s not a very good translation of the text. Jesus said we should welcome the XENOS, and there’s no perfect translation for that in English. It means someone from another land who comes into your land – an immigrant, a foreigner, a visitor, or some other stranger. That would include the homeless, I guess; but the word refers most clearly to immigrants. It’s not as if we there aren’t any immigrants in need. I mean, Jesus asked that we clothe the naked; but in Washington, that’s pretty well done. The idea of naked-ness can legitimately be extended to include people who are homeless and need more clothing or blankets in the winter, and that’s a real need. But most of the time, we’ve got the naked covered pretty well, except for nudists who have made their own decisions freely. Immigrants aren’t like that: the whole country is gnawing on the challenges posed by ten or twelve million undocumented immigrants. If we are going to tinker with Jesus’ list, because English and Greek don’t fit together neatly, and we want to get the homeless into the list, let’s swap them for the nudists, and keep the immigrants on the list.
The third item is not from Saturday’s conference; it’s from Catholicism, which George Weigel calls “the most important media project in the history of the Catholic Church in America.” It is a stupendous series, created and hosted by Rev. Robert E. Barron. I have to check this, and check it again and again because it’s painful and weird, but I’m pretty sure that Fr. Barron, like Bishop Gonzalez, talked about the corporal works of mercy – and skipped one. Guess which.
My point is not that these good people messed up. I am talking about the best of the best. Somehow, for some reason, systematically, church-wide, we are all skipping over a line in Scripture. It is a line that cries out for care in today’s confrontations.
Jesus asked us to welcome immigrants. If you do this, he says, you will meet his Father. If you don’t, well, that’s a different story. It’s about immigrants. Other people too – but it’s about immigrants.
We can’t overlook this critical verse!
It’s about IMMIGRANTS.