The Catholic Church does not fit into anyone’s little political box. We are too big and ancient for that. And we serve a higher master. Our teachings predate current political categories and will surely postdate them as political lines continue to shift back and forth. The world, its nations, and political realities come and go, and still, here we are.
We have been called both the “Republican Party at prayer” and the “Democratic Party at prayer,” but we are neither. We are the Body of Christ at prayer. As such, we share his fate. The four political factions among the Jews of Jesus’ day (Herodians, Sadducees, Pharisees, and Zealots), who disagreed about essentially everything, all agreed that Jesus must go. Even the Romans concurred! Emblematically, Jesus was crucified outside the city gates; the polis (the city) could not contain him either. The Letter to the Hebrews advises, Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Heb 13:12-13).
So here we are, outsiders in a land we too easily call home. We are American citizens to be sure, but our true citizenship is in Heaven (Phil 3:20). As a Church we cannot simply conform to an “R” or “D” vision of the world. We certainly stand conscientiously opposed to abortion, the redefinition of marriage, the forced funding of contraceptives, euthanasia, and any erosion of religious liberty. But we oppose these and other related life- and family-related issues as Catholics.
Another critical moral issue that tests our soul as a nation is that of immigration. Here, too, the challenge for every Catholic is to approach the issue as a believer.
My own views on this matter have been shaped by over thirty years of daily Scripture reading in the Divine Office and Holy Mass. There are numerous texts (frankly, an avalanche of them) that command us to care for the sojourners, foreigners, and aliens among us. Over and over again the theme comes up. It is a steady drumbeat: hospitality and care are to be shown the foreigners among us. Here are just a few of the more than one hundred texts that command this:
- When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Lev 19:33-34).
- You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Ex 22:21).
- Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts (Mal 3:5).
- I was a stranger and you welcomed me … (Mat 25:35)
- He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Dt 10:18-19).
- Give counsel; grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; shelter the outcasts; do not reveal the fugitive; let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer (Is 16:3).
There are many other texts commanding us in this manner or reminding us of our own needs in the past and exhorting us to deal with strangers among us respectfully and with care.
You can read a list of many other passages here: 100 Quotes from Scripture on Immigration.
The amount of ink expended on this topic in the Scriptures is overwhelming. It is just not possible for me as a Catholic Christian who insists that we take Scripture seriously in other matters to simply say, “Well, this is just a bunch of old-fashioned thinking that we can ignore.”
However we work to secure our borders and craft reasonable immigration laws, we cannot simply suppress the overwhelming voice of God, who commands of us a stance of welcome, openness, and care for those who are among us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church seeks to strike a balance between the need of a nation to protect its borders and reasonably manage immigration with the command to welcome and care for others:
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. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
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 juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws, and to assist in carrying civic burdens (Catechism 2241).
By any assessment, the current system in this country is broken. Our laws are chaotic, selectively enforced, and have created a dangerous situation for immigrant and countryman alike. Fear and suspicion dominate; there has been a sad increase in nativist anger that is unbecoming a nation of immigrants with a Judeo-Christian heritage. Laws surely existed in previous decades, but there were fewer of them and they were far less confusing.
I am not a political genius or a policy wonk who has the perfect solution. But Catholics ought to approach this issue as Catholics, deeply rooted in Scripture and in our established teachings that summon us to welcome and assist others to contribute to our great land. We have suffered much from nativist sentiments in the past. We are and always have been an immigrant Church in America. We have a proud history of coming here, making a positive difference, and helping others to do so. Our parishes have always been centers of both familiar culture and of acclimation to our country.
In our charity we ought to be very hesitant to demonize the majority of immigrants as scofflaws and criminals. Even those who are currently without legal papers have most often come here to escape from desperate conditions of poverty and/or injustice. Some originally arrived legally but have since had their status expire and now cannot reasonably return.
As a priest, I know the personal stories of many immigrants; they are typically complex and often tragic. Almost no one leaves his country and his relatives behind on a whim, just to go and live in a foreign land. They often risk their lives and endure substantial hardship in order to come here because they are so desperate and see so few alternatives.
Are there criminals and opportunists among them? Yes. The same can be said about my own Irish and German immigrant ancestors. But most of my relatives were decent, hard-working people who wanted to survive—and to contribute as well. I have found nothing different about the vast majority of today’s immigrants. And these days, their children often speak English, even if some of the first generation struggle to master it.
We are Catholics and as such we need to think about this issue as Catholics. Our Scriptures and our teachings are unambiguous. The human rights of the immigrants, sojourners, and strangers among us are to be respected. We also need to help them to respect our laws and traditions. We can and should enrich one another.
I fully expect a lot of pushback on a post like this. You are free to comment, but I ask a couple of things: First, don’t address me, address your fellow readers. Second, don’t just say why I am wrong or naïve, etc.; say what you think and why.
Before you press “Submit Reply” (and take your math test J) please take a moment and at least glance at the long list of Scriptures in the link above. Consider whether or not your remarks take sufficient note of what God teaches us. In the end, it matters little what you or I think; or whether the Church teaches this as dogma, doctrine, or discipline; or whether it is taught fallibly or infallibly. The question is this: What does God think and how would He have me speak of and respond to this profoundly significant human issue?
Catholics don’t fit into anyone’s neat little box. We’re too big, too old, too diverse, and I pray too much like Jesus (who didn’t fit in anyone’s box either).