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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Bring the children without might" - Mya, the border, and the loaves

Last week was a strange one at the parish, with a couple of very unusual funerals, one of which was celebrated yesterday (Sunday) afternoon in the chapel. There's not much to say about all that except that maybe from the business and emotion of the day I might have been more attuned to words than I am at other times, and I was struck by the words of the preface last night,
"...he always showed compassion for children and for the poor, for the sick and for sinners, and he became a neighbor to the oppressed and the afflicted."
as well as by the words of John Foley's song that we sang at a couple of the masses in the morning, "Come to the Water," with the long arc of its melody leading upward to the proclamation,
"And let all the poor,
Let them come to the water.
Bring the ones who are laden
Bring them all to the Lord.
Bring the children without might:
Easy the load, and light.
Come to the Lord."
John's song isn't strictly scriptural, but it echoes with scriptural themes, and the equation that it makes between Isaiah 55:1-2ff and Matthew 11:28ff, between the universal invitation to the messianic banquet in Isaiah and the Christ's invitation to the weary to come to him, the invitation to "come" and to "bring," really struck me as we listened to missionary preachers and celebrated the eucharist. And it made me think about Mya, the infant we buried this week, and the children who have become the target of political outrage and the target of the animosity of America's privileged class as they arrive at the borders of this country looking for help and a future.

See, Mya was an infant, a twin, who starved to death in her parents' house in Barrington this past winter. Her twin sister survived the neglect, and was placed in foster care. I do not know, in fact, cannot imagine, the circumstances that would have allowed this to happen in this town, but knowing that starvation happened just a couple of miles from places where sumptuous meals and banquets are commonplace gave me pause as I sang the words, "Bring the children without might," and heard the words of the gospel say, "Give them some food yourselves." None of us even knew.

And then there were the disturbing images of clearly well-to-do citizens of this country screaming hatred at busloads of bewildered children from Mexico and Central America being taken to holding centers in various communities. I wondered how many of those men and women with their hatred, their signs and screams, their fear and anger, felt no dissonance as they sat in their churches yesterday, heard the same scriptures, maybe sang the same songs. I was encouraged by intervention by Pope Francis and some US bishops, and more so by specific outreach from church and diocesan groups, on behalf of the refugee children.

But I realize, the more I read and reflect about what we "know" about Jesus and the development of the various "Christianities" from the first centuries through the most recent, that it is really hard to make any claim about "what Jesus would do" or, in fact, what Jesus did. We only know what a few people, out of many, wrote about him, generally decades after the fact. Paul's thoughts about Jesus the messiah were quite different from those of James and Peter and others who actually had known him. Ultimately, for us as for Peter, Paul, and James, it comes down not to what we say or think, but what we do. On that they seem to agree, as even Paul, who seemed sold on the idea that faith in Christ alone could save, wrote unforgettably that faith would come to an end, but the love would endure. And this love is not a feeling but an action, agape that is kenosis, self-emptying that is creative and life-giving. Finally, it's not even our actions that make union with God possible. It's only God's love that makes that possible. Good or evil, grace is a gift. There's no achieving it.

So I don't want to say that the people who go to church and scream at refugee children coming into this country without parents or any visible support system aren't Christian. That's not for me to say; there are a thousand ways not to be Christian, and I've probably tried nine hundred of them or so. I may find the behavior of some Christians dissonant with my view of Christianity, but there are systems of Christianity that made their behavior possible for them. It's no wonder atheists are having a field day. If Jesus's last prayer was, "that they may be one," it's a prayer that not only hasn't been answered for two millennia—it's a prayer that seems to have accelerated ecclesial entropy.

America is not the reign of God. In fact, the church isn't the reign of God. But the best we can do, as a people whom God has made, bound together by baptism and the Holy Spirit given to each of us, is to act like we are the reign of God. We need to act like we have understood the parables, the beatitudes, and the death and resurrection of Jesus. There is no one else but us. Caesar is out there saying, "This is my dominion. Money is power. Power is for the strong. Borders are there for a reason. Some are in, some are out. Some have, some don't have, and that's their problem." We can't live in that world and say to the Myas and the children at the borders, "Go to Jesus, he'll take care of you." We have to learn to say, "Come to us, we're in this together," and work out strategies of compassion and mutuality. We've got to take the gifts we have as a community, the loaves and fishes we can assemble, and bless them and share them out, risking their loss with faith that they will not be lost but multiplied for the good of all.

Click here to donate to Catholic Charities relief efforts on behalf of children at the US border. It may help you sing "Come to the Water" with a greater sense of solidarity and integrity than before. And you can donate here to the National Safe Haven Alliance, an organization that seeks to spread awareness of Safe Haven laws in your state that allow parents to drop off unwanted babies without interference at public safety places like police and fire stations. It's too late to help Mya, but not too late to be among the group of disciples who want to make the hungry multitudes go away, but hear Jesus's voice rolling down the hill, across the water, and through the ages, to "give them some food yourselves."