The Lord is clear in the Gospel: all the commandments,
all the rules, boil down to two:
Love God first and more than anything else;
and, love your neighbor as yourself.
Then the first reading adds this:
God measures our devotion, our religion, our love of him,
by how treat the least, the last and the lost.
In Bible times, they spoke about the widow, the orphan,
the poor and the alien – that is, the foreigner.
But in our times, who are these people –
these last, these least, these lost?
I think we can figure it out, if we really want to.
We know that our laws don’t protect the unborn child.
And our society increasingly pushes the notion
that if you are too sick or too old, you should just die.
In six states, it’s now legal to kill people who are sick, if they ask.
God also says, “you shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”
We all know there are challenges associated with immigration,
and with accepting refugees into our country.
The laws ought to be obeyed, let us agree.
And let us also agree that all countries
have the right to regulate migration into their countries.
And, third, we know that our country has been generous.
Having said that, can we find ways to continue to be generous?
President Trump had some pretty harsh things to say last year
in the campaign; it was not his finest hour.
As Catholics and as citizens, we have the right, and the duty,
to be a voice for policies that are fair and generous.
And then God has something to say about how the poor are treated.
Speaking for myself, I find it frustrating and discouraging
to contemplate the poverty situation in our country.
I imagine a lot of us feel the same way.
We devote sums of money to combat poverty.
We spend mountains of money on education;
yet precisely where it is needed the most, in the poorest communities,
the situation is the worst.
I’m the first one to say, “It’s complicated”; because it is.
Yet the fact remains that we have a paradox in our country.
We are a land of opportunity: people come here with no English,
no money and no connections, and they build a great life.
Meanwhile, we have people who are born here,
and they are going nowhere, and they know it.
They end up on drugs, in prison, and in a grave.
Just because it is a really hard problem doesn’t mean we give up.
There is a saying: “better to light one candle,
than to curse the darkness.”
So we light a candle. We do what we can.
For one, you and I can pray: pray for our hearts to open wider,
and that we seek out ways to make a difference.
You want to light a candle? Here are a couple of ways.
When you go to a restaurant, tip well. Really well.
The servers aren’t all poor, but many are, or they are just climbing out.
They don’t get paid much. Tip them well.
And if you ever go to a Mexican restaurant,
there’s a very good chance the people fixing your meal
and bringing it to you and cleaning up after you are not only poor,
but they are our fellow Catholics.
Do you realize that they often don’t come to Holy Mass?
Why don’t they come?
For one, they don’t speak English; for another,
they may feel out of place.
And, third, many of them are working all day on Sundays.
There is a priest in our Archdiocese who goes and offers Mass
in the restaurants, in Spanish.
That’s good; but still, it would be a more generous helping of justice
if these our brothers and sisters were able to come to church,
and we made them welcome?
Maybe write a note on the check -- along with a good tip! –
that says, “You are welcome at St. Remy Church in Russia.”
Let me say something more about being an “alien” – that is, an outsider.
Here in Russia, we have such a strong Catholic community,
and so many blessings go with that. But there is another side to this.
If you’re not Catholic, and you’re not married to a Catholic,
and you live in Russia,
I’m betting you feel like an outsider.
And then there are people who, even if they are Catholic,
they don’t fit the mold. Maybe their lives are a little chaotic.
Maybe they’ve made some mistakes in life
and they feel like they don’t fit in.
So if you’re wondering what this reading says to us,
here in Russia, Ohio,
maybe it is that you and I push ourselves to look around
for folks to include.
If you’re in school, and it’s a small school like ours,
not fitting in can be really harsh. So Russia students,
God is telling you: don’t oppress the outsider;
Make those other kids feel welcome. Do right by them!
We have a Parish Mission in a week,
and obviously we want to invite others to take part.
But if you really want to welcome someone,
to make a neighbor or coworker or classmate feel welcome,
don’t just invite them to church. Sit with that boy or girl over lunch.
Invite those folks into your home. Share a part of your life with them.
That’s how “aliens” become friends.
That’s what loving your neighbor as yourself looks like.