Vox Nova is pleased to present a guest post by Fr. Michael Najim, Pastor of St. Pius X parish in Westerly, Rhode Island. This is the text of the homily he gave at mass on Sunday, June 24, the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.
The role of the Biblical prophets was not simply to predict what God would do in the future; the role of the Biblical prophets was also to disturb people by calling out sin and injustice. The prophets were to rouse the consciences and awaken the hearts of their hearers so that they would align themselves with God’s purpose and vision for creation. This meant that the prophets challenged people to change their ways and to correct injustices that had been committed.
The role of the prophet is encapsulated in a particular way in this passage about true fasting from the Prophet Isaiah: “Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
We celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist, the great prophet who is the bridge between the Old and New Testament. John burst onto the scene proclaiming a message of repentance. His message was clear: repent and prepare the way of the Lord. John, too, tried to rouse the consciences and awaken the hearts of his hearers, calling them to repentance, and preparing them for the Kingdom of God inaugurated in and through Jesus Christ.
We are all called to be prophets because we have been baptized into Christ who is Priest, Prophet, and King. We are called to point people to follow the way of the Lord, challenging them to change their ways and to correct injustice. This is what I feel called to do today; it’s what I’ve felt called to do all week. While I don’t consider myself a great prophet, I do know that by my baptism I have been called to exercise my prophetic role in Christ.
Some of you may be disturbed by what I say. Some of you may be angry and disagree. But it must be proclaimed. It is concerning what has been happening on our southern border. Our Church teaches that as a country we have an obligation to defend and protect our borders. I am not an advocate for lawlessness or open borders. However, I am an advocate for asylum seekers, refugees, the poor, and for those fleeing violence and oppression. As Catholics, we all should be, because it is what Christ calls us to be.
I understand that immigration is a complex issue, and politicians need to work together for common sense reform. My point is not to get into immigration law or policy or even to point blame at who is at fault. My point is simple: to rouse our consciences and to awaken our hearts to the plight and dignity of asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees; to help us have deeper compassion and empathy for their suffering.Our bishops, along with our Holy Father, have spoken in a unified voice: the separation of children from their parents on the border must cease. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Human law is law only by virtue of its accordance with right reason; and thus it is manifest that it flows from the eternal law. And in so far as it deviates from right reason it is called an unjust law; in such case it is no law at all, but rather a species of violence.” We must oppose unjust laws and policies. Thankfully, President Trump signed an executive order to stop this unjust practice, and I pray that it is put into effect.
What should equally disturb us, besides the separation of children from their parents, is the response of many Christians. “They should be separated,” many say. “These people are criminals.” Here’s an actual tweet that I read this past week: “Put the onus of responsibility where it belongs–on the illegal parents putting their kids in this predicament! Tell them turn around and come in legally. What kind of parent willingly does this?”
Do you want to know what kind of parent does this? The kind of parent who is surrounded by violence and abject poverty and sees no other way out. The kind of parent who lives in fear every day that their daughter will be taken as a sex slave or their son into gangs that run their neighborhoods or towns; the kind of parent who has already had family members killed by gangs or cartels. The kind of parent who wants desperately to get their children to safety. These people are not traveling hundreds (and some cases thousands) of miles to burn calories!
It’s easy for us to sit back and criticize these people. We have so many comforts here. We walk our streets freely without fear. We sit in our air-conditioned churches and then go back to our air-conditioned homes. Most of us cannot comprehend the suffering of those who are risking so much to gain safety and a better life for their families.
I’m inviting us to examine our consciences today. Are we thinking with Christ and the Church on this issue, or are we worshipping at the altar of our political ideology? My friends, we must work to correct injustice. We must do better to try to enter into the plight of these asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees. My friend is fond of a saying, “Once you learn someone’s story, it’s hard not to love them.” Instead of condemning these parents, instead of labeling them all as criminals, we must learn their stories, enter into their plight, and align ourselves with the mind of Christ who said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”