Part of being a good parent or spouse is the willingness to listen with an open heart to the people you love — their hopes, fears, frustrations, joys and also sometimes their anger. The same skill applies to good pastors.
In a typical week, priests may hear that the Mass is too long; the Mass is too short; the music is good; the music is dreadful; the homilies are too deep; the homilies are too thin; the Church is obsessed with abortion; the Church isn't doing enough to stop abortion; the Church should stay out of politics; the Church isn't doing enough to rebuke this or that political party, candidate or leader.
This kind of dialogue is a normal part of any family. It's human nature. But every once in awhile the conversation takes on a bitterness that we need to examine more closely, and learn from.
Last month, shortly after the arrest of hundreds of unauthorized immigrant workers at Swift meatpacking plants across the country, I got the following e-mail:
"Sorry Bishop: No sympathy (from me) for the illegal alien criminals arrested by ICE. In fact, I hope their offspring starve to death. I do not pray for illegal aliens. I pray for their victims. I have no problem with God, and He has no problem with me. I hope their families starve to death, and it's crap like this that drives Catholics away from the Church."
The e-mail is real. So is the person who wrote it. So is the coarseness of spirit that inspired it. Something is deeply wrong with the heart and the head of any person who thinks like this. As we begin a new year, it's worth asking ourselves what kind of a God we believe in — the kind that "has no problem" with a person who refuses to pray for others and hopes that families and children of arrested workers will "starve to death"? How can a person continue to consider himself a Christian with this kind of vindictive brutality on his lips?
How we treat the weak, the infirm, the elderly, the unborn child and the foreigner reflects on our own humanity. We become what we do, for good or for evil. The Catholic Church respects the law, including immigration law. We respect those men and women who have the difficult job of enforcing it. We do not encourage or help anyone to break the law. We believe Americans have a right to solvent public institutions, secure borders and orderly regulation of immigration.
But we won't ignore people in need, and we won't be quiet about laws that don't work — or that, in their "working," create impossible contradictions and suffering. Despite all of the heated public argument over the past year, Americans still find themselves stuck with an immigration system that adequately serves no one. We urgently need the kind of immigration reform that will address our economic and security needs, but also regularize the status of the many decent undocumented immigrants who help our society to grow. A new Congress sits in Washington. Its members have an extraordinary opportunity to act quickly and justly to solve this problem. If they don't, the responsibility for failure will be on them and on all of us who elected them.
The year is young; 2007 is just beginning. The slate is clean. We become what we do, for good or for evil. If we act and speak like bigots, that's what we become. If we act with justice, intelligence, common sense and mercy, then we become something quite different. We become the people and the nation God intended us to be. Our country's immigration crisis is a test of our humanity. Whether we pass it is entirely up to us.