Servant of God, Bishop Fulton Sheen, once said, “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.” Sadly, Bishop Sheen’s statement applies not only to those outside the Church, but to millions who are baptized Catholics. A case in point is the response to an initiative by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calling for a “humane and comprehensive solution to the problems which beset our immigration system.”
Go to any website and read the comments which follow postings of stories like the above. The misunderstanding of the Church’s motives has spewed such hatred, that some sane folks seem to have lost their powers of reasoning. Consider this from fallen-away Catholic, Tom Tancredo: “I suspect the pope’s immigration comments may have less to do with spreading the gospel than they do about recruiting new members of the church,” Tancredo said. “This isn’t preaching; it is faith-based marketing.”
The notion that the only reason the Church is in favor of immigration reform is to enrich her own coffers would be laughable were it not so sad. If you are, as am I, a member of a parish where there are lots of poor immigrants, you know that it is the Church that aids them, and not the other way around. However, it matters not to faithful Catholics whether or not these folks can contribute financially; they know that the whole Body of Christ is enriched by their worship.
Those who are Catholics should remember the Lord’s command to St. Peter to feed his sheep and tend his lambs. Do you really think the race or nationality of the sheep matters to the Church? If you do, then you’d better do some research into the millions of poor and sick around the world who are tended by her. Indeed, go to the Mother House of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and you will everywhere see the words, “As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.”
Is the Church’s record in worldly affairs perfect? Hardly. Throughout her history, many representatives of the Church have erred gravely; a common saying purports that the road to Hell is paved with bishops’ skulls. And although the Church’s main concern is for the immigrants that are already here, they agree that it’s a good idea to tighten laws that will prevent further illegal immigration and protect our sovereignty.
Yet it’s also true that too many people merely look at this question in terms of legality and ignore the dictates of Christianity as it pertains to heavenly affairs. They cite our Savior’s injunction to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Yet many Christians agree that if a law or practice is immoral — such as forcing doctors to perform abortions — they will defy that law. But when it comes to immigration, this moral imperative doesn’t seem to apply.
Consider that under the 2006 Republican bill that failed to pass, priests and religious would have faced mandatory five-year prison sentences simply for giving aid and comfort to members of their flocks who were here illegally. If you can find a priest who would ask for a green card before giving food or shelter to someone in need, then he’s in the wrong line of work. Again, at the basis of her desire for immigration reform, the Church seeks humane treatment for all peoples, regardless of their national origin. Don’t forget that the parable of the Good Samaritan was given in answer to the question: who is my neighbor?
And make no mistake about it; a great many illegal immigrants are suffering exploitation by various groups, when their greatest sin is an overwhelming desire for a better way of life for themselves and their families. We should take care lest we, like the Pharisees, be lectured by our Savior for blindly following the letter of the law: “If you only knew the meaning of the words; ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7)
All of this is not to say that the USCCB or their stance on immigration is perfect. Sadly, some of the more liberal bishops have spent more time catering to the whims of this world than on the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium. But if Catholics wish to vent their frustration at the Church in America, let them do so by praying that those bishops look into their hearts and return to more Christ-centered forms of worship in their dioceses, but let them also look into their own…for charity.