Friday, February 24, 2006

Be kind to illegal aliens week

I am going to allow myself to present another side to the story that appears in today's Parish World about the people who come across the southern border of the United States from Mexico.

I would like to comment on the statement of Bishop Sheehan stating that these people are "branded" as criminals. True enough, and, I say it is a brand that they take upon themselves. To use some church language, they are "ipso facto" criminals because they have crossed an international border without permission. Any Guatemalan who has been caught crossing the Mexican border at or around Chiapas can tell you what happens once he/she is discovered to be on Mexican soil. I guarantee that it won't be pretty.

I have colleagues (more than two) who were caught (more than once) visiting a maquiladora plant in Tijuana without the proper documentation. They spent a week in jail and the company had to pay a $5,000 fine for each of them. And, I might add, these individuals were not performing any work that a Mexican national would do. I was in charge of the human resources department of the company in those days and I readily admitted that these people were "ipso facto" criminals for the acts that they had committed. They spent their time in jail, the company paid the fine and that was the end of the story.

My point here is that Mexico whines about the "maltreatment" that undocumented Mexican nationals receive in the United States, but there is no willingness on the part of Mexican authorities to be kind and gentle to illegal aliens on their side of the border.

As Bishop Sheehan points out, officially we try to care for the people who come here illegally even though by law we have the right to send them back to their home country. In fact, our government does not enforce the immigration laws that are already on the books with regards to illegal aliens. The results of this spineless attitude are disastrous for our economy, both local and national. Is it any wonder then that there is also a "mean spiritedness" that exists in the hearts of the local populations? The frustration is not only aimed at the "ipso facto criminal immigrant" but at the similarly "ipso facto criminal government" that aids and abets the flood of illegal immigration by giving the problem the "blind-eye" treatment.

OK, enough of politics. Bishop Sheehan now turns his and our attention to the fact that the majority of Mexican nationals who come across the border are Catholic. Wow! That's a stretch. Yes, bishop, they are indeed "ipso facto" Catholic because they are baptized. They are baptized because their parents were afraid that if they died as infants they would not go to heaven. Since that wonderful day when the fatted calf was spitted and the village danced all night neither they nor their parents have stepped foot into the church. Oh, I take it back. Maybe they did on December 12. Bishop, we don't owe these cultural, "ipso facto" Catholics any more protection and sanctuary than we owe them safe harbor in our country.

For two years now I have been living in a parish of six thousand (6,000) families that is at least eighty percent Latin. I can safely say that about fifteen percent of the economic support for the operation of the parish comes from that eighty percent. Yes, bishop, that's what you get from cultural Catholics who think that everything is owed to them just because they are baptized and that they are having fun in your patio, getting all kinds of exceptions to the pastoral rules, celebrating their $5,000 quinceañera fiestas, driving their $40,000 pick-ups and SUV's and complaining when they are not afforded mirror events sponsored by the parish in the Spanish language.

Finally, the good bishop says that this is a land of immigrants. He is absolutely correct. I myself am the son of immigrants. French is my mother tongue. My forebears came to this country legally. They learned the language. They practiced their Catholic religion every day of their lives. When it came time to vote, they passed the English speaking, reading and writing test before they could get a voter's I.D. They contributed to the church and they volunteered for civil and church affairs. They didn't ask for anything, they worked for it within the legal and customary parameters.

I want you all to know that what I have written here is per force an oversimplification of the illegal immigration problem, not only in the United States by all across the world. I also want you to know that if you think of this problem long enough you will start to see the humorous side of it all. The punch line is perhaps the same that can be found in the Old Testament belief that no human activity can ever be totally eradicated from the face of the earth nor from before the face of God. There will always be a faithful and dauntless remnant.

So hey, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I'm going to die smiling, so don't you dare cry at my funeral.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lent in the 21st Century

Hey, how about a drink? No, thanks, I gave it up for Lent.

Retreat time, Father Pat is coming. Gosh, I'm the fourth for our bridge club tonight.

Could you pick up a couple of old people on Sunday morning for the ten o'clock Mass? I have to pass on that, I'm afraid that something will happen and I'll be responsible.

Hey, looks like you got smudged by Father Romy today. He really pours on the ashes, doesn't he?

Yeah, it's Ash Wednesday. I can't miss that, it's too important. After all, it's Lent.

Oh yeah, it's Lent. Don't forget Ash Wednesday, the church will be full, so don't be late. Then, here comes Father Pat and the Lenten retreat and there are about sixty old people peppered around the church wondering why we had to spend so much for all those ashes that decorated all those foreheads last Wednesday. There might be more old people there had there been more young people to drive the oldies who don't see very well any more and can't drive at night.

I'm not a saint and I guess I will go to hell because I have missed a lot of Ash Wednesdays. I am not a saint, I have not fasted as well as I should on more than one occasion. I am not a saint because I have decided that the ten dollars I had was destined for the "Charity begins at home" plan. So actually, we are all in the same boat.

We all need to remind ourselves what Lent is all about. So here's a reminder about three things that we know about since forever and one thing that we don't hear about too often because it is rather new on the horizon.

Lent is a time of fasting, not just from food but from other things that take our attention away from God. We don't really need that seventy-two inch HDTV just because Mr. Sony says that we do.

Lent is a time of praying. Praying by Bible reading (psalms, anybody); rosary recitation; Stations of the Cross; morning meditation (get up fifteen minutes early, for God's sake!); attend the parish retreat; participate in the weekday morning Holy Mass, etc.

Lent is a time of almsgiving. Clean your closets out and clothe the poor; visit the sick; volunteer somewhere (school, church, hospital, city hall, etc.) give blood, drive an old person to the grocery store, donate to the food bank, cook for some family who just lost a loved one, etc.

Remember, Lent is not just for me and you as individuals, Lent is for the community. Which brings me to the fourth element of Lent,

Giving a good example to the people who are going to be baptized at the end of Lent. The community welcomes the new Catholics during the Easter Season, after the forty day retreat that is Lent. Lent therefore is a six weeks long retreat when all Catholics prepare themselves to be good examples of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. That is a tall order, is it not?

These new Catholics have been preparing themselves for baptism for almost two years. They have been watching us carefully. They have been seeing behavior that makes them ask their teacher about why we do what we do, as Catholics. Sometimes, just sometimes, the answer makes them smile. Some smiled at Ashes on Wednesday, but all were dead serious when they learned about the true meaning of Lent, pray, fast, share and give the community the good example of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

Now you all, remember that, and don't you cry at my funeral.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Leaky Roof in Marc's Gospel

Marc's Gospel story of Sunday, February 19 was indeed a very interesting one. Since I was a little boy I wondered how people were able to come through a roof and into the middle of a living room full of people. Over the course of my life I have been in some houses where an action of this type could have taken place. I have to admit that every time I read this story it makes me smile, and it makes me wonder.

Imagine the scene. A house full of people, so full that they are spilling out into the yard. Imagine Jesus in the place, trying to make His point to a crowd of people who are there because this is the best entertainment that they have had in the village in a long time. The rabbis perhaps do not come because they only worship in the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. But this new man of God, this ambulent Prophet who has a reputation for healing people is here today.

The well people are there, wall-to-wall. The paralytic wants to go too. How often does he get to see these famous people? How often does he have a good reason to get out of the house? who will take him?

Somehow on this day, four brawny youths happen to be around and they are seeking Jesus, so they decide to give this poor chap a break. But when they get to the site, they have to get creative. They do not want to miss Jesus. The paralytic does not want to miss Jesus. So, they figure, "let's drop in on them."

So, they put a hole in the roof and they lower the paralytic to the floor in front of Jesus. Jesus stays unperturbed, looks at the young man and says, "Young man, your sins are forgiven." Now, I ask you, doesn't that greeting sound a little strange to you? Is the paralytic a sinner? How about the four men who ruined the roof? Aren't they sinners? How about them?

But then Jesus says, "Pick up your mat and walk."

Notice that something is missing here. Jesus does not say, "your faith has saved you" or something to that effect. He just cures the man. Was the man's sin that his motives for wanting to see Jesus were not right? Was it that when he heard that his sins were forgiven that he couldn't help but to be cured? After all, when you are sinless, your being is perfect, is it not? I can't help but think that the four people who presented him to Jesus were the "faith pool" that provided the spiritual environment that Jesus looked for when He blessed someone with such extraordinary graces. They were the missionaries who brought the paralytic before God and their offering of time and effort had something to do with the result.

I am all the more convinced of this when I see the juxtaposition between them and the religious leaders who were questioning the authority of Jesus. The comparison between the two groups is stunning. On the one side, a group of holier-than-thou Scribes and Pharisees and on the other, four people who believed enough to perform a daring act to bring about the salvation, spiritual and physical of a sick person. We all know the outcome.

This is what I like about the Gospel. Those who dare, win.

It's the Gospel challenge. God help us, we will be up to it.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)