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February 1, 2014

Dear Friends:

The issue of Immigration refuses to go away from the national political landscape, and from the attention of Congress people – praise God that this is so! Oblivion or indifference would amount to banishing the migrants to the margins of our consciousness, and thereby to continue to push them to the periphery of society, if not to evict them from society altogether. It would be a tragic echo of Pope Francis’ first homily at Lampedusa: “The globalization of indifference has robbed us of our capacity to weep,” a lament that he reiterates, in so many different words, in his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), 53-56.

And, if may I add, as I reflect on the pope’s words, this is the worst kind of theft we can suffer: being robbed of our capacity to weep . . . the whole of what we call, in theological and catechetical terms, “salvation,” hangs in the balance. Peter wept his denials, and his tears washed away his guilt. Judas, faced with the same option, despaired, ran away and at the end of his run there was a tree with a rope hanging from it, waiting for him. We, as individuals or a society, have the same option – to weep, turn towards the outcast and despised and release ourselves from hatred into love, or to look the other way, run from the outcast and the despised. be overtaken by despair, and hang ourselves.

This leads me into the issue of political expediency and Catholic Social Doctrine. One of the most painful aspects of the current political debate on immigration to watch, for anyone who has chosen not to relinquish the last shreds of compassion and love from his or her soul, is the appeal to certain criteria to decide on support or rejection of immigration reform. Put plain and simple, is this: how many votes will our decision to support or reject will gain (or cost) us? How will it affect forthcoming Congressional and/or national elections, future presidential nominees, etc.?

Political strategy, practiced within a moral context that places human dignity and human rights foremost, and geared towards a noble goal, can be a good thing. But when political strategy pushes human dignity and human rights into the twilight of indifference, and partisan political gains become the guiding forces for support or rejection of political proposals that can decide between the life and death, dignity or humiliation, of men, women and children, it becomes horribly sinful. When poll results indicating that this or that percentage of the population would approve or disapprove of a party’s vote on legitimate, compassionate, radical, and just immigration reform, become the main criterion of your reason, quite dismissive of whether a 6-year-old crossing the Arizona desert may live or die, depending on how you vote, it becomes a dreadful form of mortal sin, pure and simple.

There is a need for conversion, but the appeal to conversion can show us a rather formidable spiritual challenge. People and structure in politics can only be converted if there is a conversion of the political and social systems, and these in turn can be converted only if society goes through conversion, and society will be converted only if the human person, each and everyone of us, is converted., The key word here is “person.” Not the individual, but the person. The very notion of “person” already conveys the reality of community. This is where the whole discussion on Human Rights should begin: not on programs or systems, but on a proper understanding of what it means to be a person. “Person” implies my “I” opening itself to a “Thou,” passing through this “Thou,” and forming a “We.” I am never just simply “I.” My deepest identity as a person is always defined as a community of human beings, I and the others. This is not a devotional sentiment, or an ethical convention. It is fundamental anthropology, it is Christology. The Son of God embraced our humanity and history, became human, became world, lived, preached, within concrete political and social situations.

This where the human polis begins, and ultimately, returns to, This is where the conversation on Human Rights, the Common Good and all the political issues debated by congressional bodies should begin and end. This is in fact, the point at which Catholic Social Doctrine begins, and ever returns to: the only guiding light, the central theme: the human person (cf. Paul VI, “Populorum Progressio,” 14).

St. John of the Cross
“Sayings of Light and Love,” 59
Bl. Charles de Foucauld
Letter to Marie de Bondy,
December 1, 1916,
The day of his Martyrdom

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