Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
— Gospel of St. Matthew 2:13-15 (NRSV)
I might be too late. In our North America of the fickle 24-hour news cycle I may have long missed my chance.
Besides, there’s been Kim Davis, Donald Trump, and, up here in Canada, the Blue Jays are on fire.
Syria is old news, right?
Not for the nearly 12 million Syrians who have had to flee for their lives. For those real people the crisis continues despite our diminishing interest.
Whether we choose to pay attention or not, there is a crisis in Syria.
A crisis that the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling the “worst humanitarian crisis of our time.”
Besides the 12 million Syrians displaced from their homes it would serve us well to remember, likewise, that an estimated 220,000 have already been killed. A “conservative” estimate according to the United Nations.
But ordinary life plods on and our attention is crowded out by so many competing interests.
As is our compassion.
But the crisis remains; the plight of 12 million Syrians is real. And three things, here, demand our attention.
The first is this: we must do something.
To do nothing is to cease to heed to the call of Christ. To do nothing is to commit the grave sin of complacency because Jesus calls us to be his hands and feet, to be His compassion and His justice, and to be the light of the world.
The light of the world does not turn itself out when our neighbours come calling.
And what is a more resounding example of God’s justice than to provide those violently stripped of their livelihoods something as simple as safety.
No, there is no Christian—least of all Catholic—response that says, “Sorry, we’re all full up.”
Our compassion cannot have run its course.
Second is the lesson that Christ Himself taught us in what was, poignantly, last Sunday’s Gospel reading.
After performing extraordinary miracles, Jesus is approached by a Canaanite, a non-Jewish woman, who begs Him to heal her daughter.
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” she cries.
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” Jesus tells her.
He was sent, first, to the Jews, God’s chosen people. It was not yet her time.
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs,” He says.
“Yes it is, Lord,” she replies, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
And with that, Jesus declares her faith to be great, and her daughter to be healed.
The woman, St. Mark tells us, “was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia.”
When has the Gospel been more applicable than this?
Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.
Does our faith—does the Christ we follow—demand more than our complacency? Our inaction? Our lack of compassion?
And what is it to provide for the meager needs of these millions of displaced Syrians?
I see no one queueing at the borders of our countries demanding to be housed in mansions. I see no one struggling across the open ocean on a cruise liner. I see no one piling onto trains demanding the first class carriage.
Instead, those queueing at the border are begging for space in a tent, or a few square feet space on a floor—behind barbed-wire fences. Those crossing the tumultuous sea are doing so in nothing more than a dingy, a so-called life raft, ironically, and many don’t survive. Those clamouring onto trains, in desperation, are being piled in like dogs.
Are we liable, as people of faith, to give, in the least, those meager scraps from our tables?
The third thing is this: Jesus was a refugee.
Out of Egypt, Jesus and His blessed parents fled. Out of Egypt, under threat of persecution, violence, and death, the Holy Family took flight.
Jesus was a refugee.
The crisis in Syria continues and this is no time for our collective shoe gazing. This is no time to try and piece together what precipitated this conflict or to lay blame or to point fingers. This is the time to make a wholehearted response and we, the Christian faithful, have nothing short of a mandate to respond.
St. Pope John Paul II said this,
Justice will never be fully attained unless people see in the poor person, who is asking for help in order to survive, not an annoyance or a burden, but an opportunity for showing kindness and a chance for greater enrichment.
Jesus, the refugee, never one to mince words, was even more emphatic, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”