During the week I came across the following quotation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a poet and writer. He was a professor at Harvard and he died in 1882:
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
If we understood people’s background, we would probably see them very differently.
One of the issues that we are being faced with at the moment and which I think all of us find disturbing, is immigrants. We don’t like the word and we don’t like the idea. We want ‘them’ pushed away from us, so that we don’t have to deal with them. We feel threatened and we don’t want anyone infringing on our lifestyle.
Over the last several years, because of the wars in the Middle East and Africa, there has been the biggest migration of people to Europe since the Second World War. Millions of people have walked for hundreds of miles and crossed the Mediterranean, many of them drowning, in order to have some kind of hope for themselves and their families of a new beginning. We saw the terrible image of a two year old’s body washed up on the beach having drowned, as his family attempted to make their way to Italy. For the countries where they end up, it is a problem, as they don’t know how to cope with so many people. Here we have the continual stream of people making their way from South America hoping to find a better life. We don’t like it and we see them as a problem. They seem to threaten us.
I watched a program about this recently where a journalist was travelling with the border patrol, who were trying to catch people coming in illegally. One woman who had been caught was crying. When the journalist asked her about her story, she said that she had given all of her money, $3,000, to a gang who would smuggle her across the border. Now she had been caught, would be deported and she had lost everything. She was desperate to begin with and now she was far worse off than when she started.
Many times in my life I have met people who have come through extraordinary suffering and hardship, but who have come out the far side and managed to rebuild a life for themselves and their families. If I hadn’t spoken to them individually, they would just be immigrants, sometimes illegal, sometimes not. But having spoken to them individually they become people, human beings and you see them in a different way. They are people whom you now realize are desperate and in need of help. It would be much easier if they weren’t there and we didn’t have to see them, or deal with them, but they are there and the Lord tells us we have an obligation to help those in need.
Today’s first reading addresses this issue. The Lord says to us:
You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt…You shall not wrong any widow or orphan (Ex 22:20-21).
At that time a widow was completely open to being exploited and abused, as she had no rights and a child even more so. But the Lord warns us to look after them, as He will hear their cry when they are suffering.
From a political point of view the government has to figure out the best way to deal with this issue. I hope and pray that our politicians will be able to do what is right and what is just and not just push people away. As people who try to live the teachings of Jesus, we have to ask what is God asking of us. Where do we get the strength to face difficult issues like this? The Gospel answers that question. Jesus tells us we are to love God above everything else and our neighbor as ourselves. The key to being able to love the people around us, is that we grow in our relationship with God. The deeper that relationship grows, the more we see the world around us in a different light. We no longer see Jews, Muslims and atheists. We see people. Immigrants from other countries are no longer just Mexicans, Irish and Iraqis, but people just like us. Growing in our relationship with God is what gives us the strength to deal with issues we would rather not have to face, but we do have to face them, because God asks us to. That is also why we keep coming back each week to listen to God’s word and what He asks of us and also to receive him in the Eucharist, so that we continually grow closer to him. Our relationship to God is the key to it. Loving God first is the greatest commandment and loving the people around us is the second greatest commandment. To ‘love’ someone in that sense, does not mean we have to like them, but it does mean that we try to treat them as we would hope to be treated if we were in the same situation. Imagine if it was one of your own family in that situation? What would you not do for them?
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind
and your neighbor as yourself.’