THE BISHOP'S CROZIER: The Catholic ‘Both/And’ of Immigration
Bishop James R. Golka

THE BISHOP'S CROZIER: The Catholic ‘Both/And’ of Immigration

By Bishop James R. Golka

Am I my brothers’ keeper?” – Genesis 4:9

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” There is a temptation to answer this question — asked by Cain after he killed his brother Abel — in the negative. But to answer “no” to that question would be a flawed understanding of this passage in the Book of Genesis.

The parables of Christ, and his very sacrifice on the cross for us, remind us that the answer to this question is “yes.” Our first duty, the “greatest and first commandment,” is to love God. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus affirming Deuteronomy 6:5 in this priority. However, all three Gospels also record Jesus expanding this command to include the requirement that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

In Luke’s Gospel, a scholar of the law attempts to “justify himself” by asking Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” To answer, Jesus shares the parable of the Good Samaritan. This story broke the cultural barrier of the well-known animosity between Jews and Samaritans. We often encounter our brother, our neighbor, in circumstances that can stretch us.

The parables and teachings of Jesus are not stories confined in the past. The words of Jesus are relevant and urgent today.

Immigration has been a thorny topic in the United States for decades, perhaps centuries. This issue often feels like a polarizing intersection of religious faith and civic duty, both of which the Church teaches are necessary.

Jesus is specific and direct in the requirement that we care for our brother and sister. In Matthew 25:31-46, which contains Jesus’ familiar discourse on the judgement of the nations, we find perhaps the most clear and compelling case that we are our brother’s keeper. In that passage, Jesus says that those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and care for the sick and imprisoned are “blessed by my Father,” and will “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” 

This message of hope and joy is balanced by a warning for those who choose to not serve those in need.  Jesus makes this stark proclamation:  “‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

The bookends of this story are also intriguing.  Just prior to this call to serve the less fortunate is the parable of the talents, which conveys the truth that each of us is equipped by God with some ability to serve others. And immediately after Jesus’ preaching in Matthew 25, the chief priests and elders begin conspiring to kill him. The call to serve the less fortunate can be unpopular.

These biblical stories of service are very real for our nation as millions of immigrants — human beings made in the image and likeness of Christ — continue to enter our country illegally. What is a Catholic to do, how are we to think about this challenge?

We start with the basics, perfectly summed up by our own Andy Barton, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado (and likely echoed by the CEOs of every Catholic Charities agency across the country): “If they are cold and hungry, we don’t ask them where they’re from, we just feed them.”

The issue is, of course, more complex. What of safety and sovereignty? What of criminal behavior and the illegal trafficking of drugs and human beings?

Our Church’s position in difficult circumstances is often “both/and.” We are called both to feed the hungry in a manner keeping with our status as one of the most affluent nations in history, and we are called to preserve the sovereignty of our nation in a manner that respects the rule of law and human dignity.

When we see an illegal immigrant, we must see a fellow human being. At the same time, it is acceptable and necessary, for the sake of the common good, to proceed with caution.  Some of those crossing our borders illegally seek to cause harm. The stories of drug smuggling and human trafficking are well-known and heartbreaking.

The challenges are immense, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly articulates the “both/and” of the present circumstance.

“The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (Cathechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2241).  We are our brother’s keeper.

“Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various judicial conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption” (CCC No. 2241).

The Church, through the catechism, articulates this “both/and” of the common good: caring for our brother while respecting the laws of our nation. In the next issue of the Herald, we will learn more about the common good and how the dedicated members of Catholic Charities here in central Colorado and across the country seek to honor this “both/and.”  In the meantime, I invite you to pray for our Church and nation. I also ask you to pray for the political and social situations in the countries of origin of the immigrants who come to the United States seeking a better life. May God bring justice and peace to these countries so that all human beings may be able to find a “better life” in their home countries.

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