Friday, December 2, 2016

A Thanksgiving to Remember with People our Society Forgets

By Sr. Tracy Kemme

My Sisters and I spent Thanksgiving with refugees this year.

On Friday, November 18, I traveled to El Paso, Texas, looking forward to a holiday week with Sisters of Charity women in formation and other friends.  We converged at Casa Caridad, our affiliate (postulant) house, run by the three Sisters who introduced me to our congregation and inspired my vocation to religious life. 

The weekend I arrived, we found out that a wave of Central American immigrants would be released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding cells pending deportation proceedings.   They traveled from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and presented themselves as asylum seekers to officials at the U.S.-Mexico border.  Now, they needed shelter.  Our friends, the Columban Fathers, would be hosting more than thirty of these migrants, mostly parent-child pairs, at their Columban Mission Center in downtown El Paso.  Fr. Bill called to let us know and advise us that he probably wouldn’t make it to Thanksgiving at our house as planned.

Over dinner Sunday evening, our community of Sisters and friends discussed moving our Thanksgiving celebration to the Columban Center and cooking for the refugees.  There was no question in our minds that this was God’s invitation to us, and what a privilege it would be to say “Yes!” By Monday morning, it was settled.

Thanksgiving meal prep in community

On Wednesday, the Casa Caridad kitchen filled with delicious aromas and a flurry of peeling potatoes, chopping onions and celery, whisking gravy, and cooking turkey.  On Thanksgiving Day, a Subaru and a Prius carried the feast downtown in countless crockpots and aluminum pans.

We began by sharing Spanish Mass together, thanks to Fr. Bill.  Throughout the celebration, many eyes filled with tears at the gift of being together, the strength of the migrants in our midst, and the sheer injustice and suffering that caused them to migrate in the first place.  When Fr. Bill invited each of us to share a prayer of Thanksgiving, several of our Central American sisters and brothers said they were simply grateful to be alive and to have encountered good people who received them with compassion and care.

Thanksgiving Mass at the Columban House

After Mass, it was “¡A comer!”  Our guests seemed to like the traditional Thanksgiving fare, right down to the pumpkin pie.  I sat across from a twelve year old girl who had spent fifteen days in a detention center with her father.  She scarfed down two whole plates.  Her father confided that he was worried about her stomach with her eating so much, since in the detention center they had three meals a day of only Ramen noodles.  He and others also shared that in detention, they slept crowded on the floor with one thin aluminum blanket for cover, air conditioning blasting at all times, and bright lights glaring twenty-four hours a day.  They were not allowed to shower.

I found it shamefully ironic to hear such stories on Thanksgiving.  In 1621, European migrants and Native Americans shared a meal celebrating the settlers’ successful harvest after their first unforgiving winter in an unknown land.  Only with the help and welcome of the local Native Americans did the migrants learn how to survive and cultivate the crops that comprised that first “Thanksgiving.”  Now, we treat pilgrims as “illegals,” and meanwhile, we continue to oppress the descendants of indigenous peoples like those who welcomed the early migrants.  I prayed as I listened to my migrant friends that our Thanksgiving encounter would add some small amount of goodness to the universe that day.

After the meal, many families packed their meager belongings in one or two plastic grocery bags.  It was time to set out by plane or bus to reunite with families and friends throughout the U.S.  Several had ankle monitoring bracelets, and all have pending court dates and uncertain futures.  One Guatemalan woman was eight months pregnant and undertaking a three-day bus journey.  She, to us, was Mother Mary on her way to Bethlehem. 

Only God knows where each of these beautiful people is now, scattered all over the country.  We pray that they arrived safely and that they find kindness in their new cities.  We promise to continue to support migrants and work for reform in an especially scary time.

The gift of religious life!

I’ll close my reflections in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I’m profoundly grateful for my religious vocation that: 1) puts me in places where I come to know people who are suffering and 2) surrounds me with compassionate women who could think of no better way to spend Thanksgiving than with refugees.

This week-after-Thanksgiving, may our gratitude propel each of us into an Advent of deep prayer and a lifetime of action for a better world.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Jesus: A Man Exemplary to Other Men

By Sr. Laura Coughlin

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  Since experience is the best teacher, I felt challenged in writing on this topic because I have not in my lifetime been victimized by violence against my person.

A great many perspectives are available from the internet that explain the causes of violence against women and propose solutions.  These include evaluations of gender inequalities and the way in which war increases the experience of rape among women and girls.  Such information also frequently addresses the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as of mental illness, on the experience of violence among women and children in the home. 

While eliminating violence against women should not simply be a matter of pointing the finger at men, it is nonetheless true that most domestic violence, as well as many crimes committed in wartime, are initiated by men against women, and often also against children in the care of women. 

Although somewhat knowledgeable about the statistics, I cannot address the sociological perspectives mentioned above because I lack the expertise to do so.  What I can contribute, however, is my perspective on who Jesus Christ is, as a man exemplary to other men.  This perspective is valuable because where a man’s anger intersects with genuine conversion, the potency of inflicted suffering is not only managed and reduced, but nullified.

So what do we find in Jesus that might call out the conversion of men who harm women, and often enough by extension, also harm children?  Here are seven perspectives on that question that are supportable from the Scriptures:

Christ’s authority is founded in the confidence he has in the heavenly Father.  His confidence is expressed in humility, not pride; his goal is not to dominate, but to serve.
Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Ph 2:5-7)

The Lord’s anger is consistently directed at the strong; his compassion consistently toward those who suffer.
Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” Lk 13:15-16

Jesus is firm, discrete, and precise in both judgement and mercy.
“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”…But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (Jn 8:9-11)

Jesus holds up children as exemplary of human trust and dependence on God; he holds up God, known by His beneficence, as the model of human fatherhood.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Mk 10:13-15
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  Mt 7:11

Jesus operates out of a revised family metaphor that obligates believers to loving behavior in all circumstances.
Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd.  Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”  He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”  Lk 8:19-21

The Lord empathizes with women regarding trials unique to their gender, and he understands the effects of those trials on children.
Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!  Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath.  For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.  Mt 24:19-21

Jesus supports the freedom and intelligence of women to make decisions.
…the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’  Lk 10:41-42