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The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 5, 2017

Click here to listen to this homily (.mp4 file)

    Last Sunday, a parishioner expressed to me his disappointment that I hadn’t addressed in my homily the current situation in our nation with regard to immigrants and refugees.  He thought that the gospel of the Beatitudes presented the perfect opportunity to do so and he was probably right.  All I could tell him was that the news about that highly controversial executive order didn’t break until very late in the week and I had no time to prepare a new homily. I suppose I could also have told him that I was wary of speaking from the pulpit about a subject that some would regard as purely partisan politics which, current headlines notwithstanding, have no place in the pulpit. Political controversies come and go – one minute they flourish and the next they fade – but God’s Word endures forever.  And the pulpit is for preaching God’s Word.  Right?

     But what happens when the Word of God clearly clashes with the word of our political leaders?  What happens when the moral imperatives of God’s Word – and our deeply held beliefs as Christians - are at odds with positions espoused by our elected leaders?  What happens when to pretend otherwise or to look the other way would be nothing short of cowardice?  That’s the time, I would say, when a preacher finds his deepest calling, and when a community finds its greatest challenge. It’s also when we realize that the Word of God doesn’t live in isolation from the lives of the people to whom God speaks: on the contrary, it is in those very lives that God’s Word comes to life.  God’s Word gets its fullest meaning when it makes great demands, disturbs consciences, and stirs people into action.  And while that may involve at times what sounds like partisan politics, it’s really advocating for justice.

     If we look to the scriptures, it is precisely this sort of thing that made life dangerous and difficult for the prophets of old. Isaiah is a good example. In today’s first reading we heard him challenging people to share their bread with the hungry, to shelter the oppressed and the homeless, and to clothe the naked.  But why didn’t Isaiah stick to a purely religious message?  Why, for instance, didn’t he stick to preaching strictly ‘spiritual’ things about the Covenant or the Commandments?  For one reason only.  God. God inspired him to speak out against people who thought they were fulfilling their religious obligations by simply saying their prayers, keeping their Sabbaths, doing their fasting, offering their sacrifices, painstakingly and piously performing their religious rituals -- all the while turning their backs on the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and the dispossessed.  In God’s name, Isaiah exposed that hollow religiosity for what it was and he challenged the people to make their religion real by caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked.  Only then, he told them, would they be truly honoring God. Only then would their light break forth like the dawn, their wounds be healed, their prayers be heard on high. Only then would the Lord listen to them when they called for help.

     Fast-forward to today. The way we deal with immigrants and refugees may sound like partisan politics but it’s not. It’s a matter of faith, of justice. To turn away refugees and immigrants, to close our borders to people because of their religion or national origin – people, many of whom are fleeing violence, oppression and persecution - is in direct opposition to our most deeply-held values as believers.  As believers, the words from the Book of Exodus should ring in our ears, “You shall not oppress the alien… you shall befriend the alien, for once you too were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

     All of this is in opposition, too, to some of our most deeply held values as Americans. Our country, as you know, has a long and glorious history of welcoming refugees and immigrants – ‘the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’  Our own parents and grandparents were among those huddled masses, and so are many of you!  And that’s not to say that reasonable precautions shouldn’t be taken for the safety of all. Of course they should and they already are. Our nation has one of the most rigorous screening processes for immigrants and refugees in the world. But when reasonable precautions turn into a paranoia that whips up suspicion toward an entire population or religious group, we believers need to speak up and speak out.

     My friends, this message is not about politics, it’s about principle. It’s about basic Christian morality. Pope Francis says it so well, “It is hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty.  If I say I am a Christian but do these things, I am a hypocrite.”   And Pope Francis is far from alone here.  St. John Paul II, in calling the Church to reach out to refugees said – in the strongest possible terms (and, I would say, in light of recent developments, quite prophetic terms), “It is necessary to guard against the rise of new forms of racism or nationalism which attempt to make any of our brothers and sisters scapegoats.”

     In today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus challenged his disciples to engage with the world around them.  He didn’t want timid followers who would tiptoe around – quiet, cautious, fearful.  No, he wanted his followers to make a difference in the world around them – to add the flavor and zest that salt adds to food. He also wanted them – wanted us – to be light: to bring light to the dark, muddled and confused world around us, the light of his gospel, the light we dare not hide under a bushel basket, the light that reveals, in this present moment, ugly things like nativism and nationalism, calling them what they are; the light that is willing to challenge every injustice where we find it, beginning with threats to life in the womb and including every other threat to human life and livelihood, including the threat of deportation that hangs over millions of mothers, fathers and children; the discrimination and even persecution that our Muslim brothers and sisters are currently experiencing.

     My friends, on the day of our baptism we were each given a lighted candle and told to keep it burning brightly and to walk always as “children of the light.” That is our calling, our sacred calling.  We do it alone and we do it together, but do it we must, for we are the light of the world.  And the world is waiting, my friends. The world is waiting! The world is waiting.

Father Michael G. Ryan 

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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