The Long Journey

Can you imagine life becoming so unbearable on the East Coast, so dangerous, so poverty-ridden, and so unsafe for you and your children, that you pack what little you can carry, take your children by the hand, and start walking?

Now imagine that this trek takes you from the East Coast to the West Coast – some three thousand miles. Even if you walked 15-20 miles a day, it would take you 280 days to make the journey. Too far? Just walk to Denver. From my house, that’s still 1,812 miles. Could you do that with your kids in hand, your belongings strapped to your back, depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter?

I couldn’t.

And yet, history is filled with journeys.

We read about the Jews taking flight through the desert of all places, through the sea, up the mountains, and taking so long to make the passage that an entirely new generation arrives at the destination. We call it an Exodus and we celebrate their patience and the laws they received on their way.

We read about Mary and Joseph taking a trek on the back of a donkey and we pause to remember the sacrifice.

We remember the journeys of St. Paul and read nearly every Sunday about the communities of Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, and Thessalonica to whom he wrote and gave instructions we still ask our children to follow.

We read about two men, on their way to Emmaus, joined by the Risen Lord and reminded that, in the breaking of the bread, salvation is found.

And yet today, we read about thousands of people who are marching to a better life and we argue about how fast we can close the border.

These people are hungry and yet manipulated by immigration groups and the media. They are scared and yet willing to take on hard jobs most of us don’t want to do. They are worried about their safety but are willingly walking in the open air because they dream of a better tomorrow.

They are you and they are me. With skin of a different color and language we may not understand, they are us. They are our ancestors who journeyed on boats from foreign lands like Ireland and Italy and Hungary and Spain. Boats, I might add, onto which you and I would never step foot.

They are human and worthy of the same dignity we demand our children show one another.

To say otherwise flies in the face of all the other journeys we celebrate and remember.

This week, let us put down the newspaper, turn off the wifi, close the browser, and pick up a Bible.

The answers are there, I promise.

-pjd

Seventeen Years

This week we commemorate the 17thanniversary of that Tuesday morning when church doors were opened, and people wept openly in the streets. Loved ones were lost and true heroism became the top story on the evening news. Initials like “FDNY” took on new meaning and, for a moment, the world stood still and mourned.

No one who is in grade school or high school can tell you about their experiences of that day. In fact, some of the people teaching those very students were likely in grade school and high school themselves that fateful day. Those old enough to remember can tell you the stories of where they were, what they were doing, and how their lives were interrupted for a few days. They can tell you how quiet the skies were and how filled the churches became. They can tell you about the return of major league sports, prime-time television, and how a president inspired a nation with a bullhorn as he stood atop the rubble.

But as a country, we have forgotten the lessons of that day. We have forgotten how important it is to talk to each other and hold hands once in a while. Patriotism has been replaced by partisanism and no one really has a conversation anymore. Instead, we define people by right or left and we stand on the side we think defines us and we yell at each other. People who dare to cross the proverbial aisle to work with another person are condemned as traitors and are called names by colleagues and friends. Ideologies define us and all that we are sure of is that the other side is wrong.

We are an impatient people, made more impatient but the glut of news and the lack of filters. Where you get your news creates a line of demarcation about where you sit and who you believe and how great you think our country is – or could be.

Seventeen years ago, we stopped fighting for a little while. Politicians stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang, “God Bless America.” Color and race and creed and orientation did not matter – especially if you needed saving or rescuing or defending. We recognized how fragile life had always been when we saw photos of strangers hanging on a fence and commuter lots filled with cars whose owners were not coming back.

This week, maybe we could pause to remember those who died needlessly that day, stolen from their families by a madman. Perhaps we could remember those who ran into the buildings. They ran into the buildings. Perhaps we can remember the thousands who have died since then – and are still dying – combatting the power of evil in the world.

Most of all, we should remember the civility, the calm, and the longing for peace that was so palpable in the days and weeks that followed that awful day. These are the lessons we must teach today’s young people. They did not experience any of those things and if we are not very careful, they never will.

Let there be peace on earth, in our homes, in our classrooms, in our families, in our workplaces, in our country, in our hearts.

And let it begin with me.

~pjd

Who We Obey Makes A Difference

From the archives (circa 2012)

On Sunday we heard, if we were really listening, great advice from the Acts of Apostles.

“We must obey God rather than man.”

Man tells us it’s okay to be mean if people deserve it or if it gets us ahead. God says, “ Love your neighbor.”

Man tells us it’s okay to execute in the name of government. God says, “Do not kill.”

Man tells us life begins whenever we say it begins and until then we can pretty much do what we want with that blob of cells. God says, “Before you were born, I called you by name.”

Man tells us that might makes right, power is everything, and the poor can take of themselves. God says, “The first shall be last,” and “As I have done, so you must do.”

Man tells us it’s okay to lie if it means we win the day, that the truth is flexible and its definition can change. God says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Man hates. God loves.

Man is intolerant. God welcomes everyone.

Man breaks down others. God builds us up.

Man gets lost. God gives Light.

Man despairs. God sends Hope.

Man crucifies. God resurrects.

Who we obey is a very big deal.

~pjd

God’s First

This Friday, we celebrate two great saints: St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.

John Fisher was a bishop who refused to recognize the king of England, Henry VIII, as the supreme head of the church in England. He was executed on orders of the king, who could not stand being embarrassed by those whose reputations as a theologian and scholar were greater than his own reputation as ruler.

We celebrate Bishop Fisher that same day we celebrate my favorite saint, Thomas More. Also executed for his refusal to recognize the king over the pope as head of the church, More was the Lord Chancellor of England, whose final days are recounted in Robert Bolt’s play, A Man For All Seasons. I read that play every summer and taught it when I was a junior high teacher and, again, more recently, in a class I taught at a local university. At the end of the play, More stands on the dais, about to lose his head for following his conscience and says, (at least this is how it is in the play), “I have been commanded by the king to be brief, so brief I will be. I die here the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

More and Fisher served the king well. When the king didn’t get what he wanted, he simply made himself the head of the church, granted himself the divorce, and thus was free to marry the woman who would become one of many in a succession of wives. It was a declaration that he wrote with his advisors that made him able to do these things and it turns out it was a declaration that went against his own coronation oath.

When the leader of this country takes the oath of office he or she promises to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But now, we are faced with a situation at our southern border that is an adaptation of a law that violates the very constitution the president swore to protect.

The Supreme Court held in 2000’s Zadvydas v. Davis that due process rights apply to undocumented immigrants. The government may not separate asylum-seekers from their children indefinitely and without cause. Still, to date, more than 2,000 parents and children have been separated, often with no follow-up, no way of tracking kids or parents, and no path to reunification. It’s a policy rooted in fear and guided (or misguided) by those who believe that might makes right and people who are in danger of starving to death or getting shot on their neighborhood streets will somehow stop coming if the gate is locked.

Our current policy defies logic and basic human decency. In some cases, the parents are arrested at the border, not once they have crossed it. Whether the parents are fleeing persecution at home, violence in their streets, or are simply hoping to gain entry to a better life does not seem to matter. No amount of Bible quotes will get the president and his advisors out of this one.

We need an immigration policy in this country that both keeps us safe and treats others fairly. We need people who are willing to stand firm in the face of tyranny and demand change – even at the risk of losing their proverbial heads.

In short, we need people who are willing to be “God’s first” – not Republicans first, not Democrats first, not liberals or conservatives, or ultra-anything (except, perhaps, Christian), not watchers of news from one side or the other, but true, honest to goodness Americans who are willing to stand up and say, “Enough.”

Simple steps, like writing your representatives, is a beginning. I was challenged to do that last week by a late-night talk show host of all people. His argument was compelling, and I wrote my letters immediately. Signing petitions is another step. Posting on social media is another. Talking to your friends. Reading the paper. Inform yourself.

Because if we are judged on how we treat the most vulnerable, I cannot imagine the one will judge us all is happy about any of this.

This week, how will you be “God’s first”?

~pjd

Lessons

I remember the day that a little girl fell down a well and the world watched while she was rescued.

And the well got covered and the little girl grew up.

I remember when the Space Shuttle fell from the sky shortly after takeoff killing all the astronauts on board, including a school teacher who won a contest.

And the fleet was grounded for years while protocols were amended.

I remember when a group of miners was trapped underground and people all over the world held their collective breath until the very last one came to the surface.

And mining regulations changed.

I remember when evil hijacked the planes and the towers fell.

And we changed the way we check in and get screened at the airport, we went to war, and we hunted down the guilty party and made movies about the whole experience.

I remember when oil gushed beneath the Gulf of Mexico and people dove into the sea to escape the flames.

And the number of inspectors tripled, and audits of offshore oil rigs became more complicated.

I remember being in a classroom with junior high students watching on television as children in Littleton, CO ran from the building.

I remember Paducah, Tacoma, Knoxville, and the Amish children in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

I remember the night and weeks following Newtown and how we held each other and our children so much closer.

I remember people arguing about politics and guns and parenting and I remember politicians crying and celebrities offering thoughts and prayers.

But nothing changed.

So, now, seventeen more children and adults are dead, and the arguing has started all over again.

And parents everywhere wonder…

Will things be different this time?

~pjd

Loving Others

Throughout the Bible, we are told the God loves everyone. I could quote you chapter and verse, but I know you believe me.

So if God loves everyone, then everyone is lovable. Right?

Think about that for a bit. Everyone?

Everyone.

The racist, the bigot, the idiot, the moron, the Democrat, the Republican, the guy on Fox and the guy on CNN, the criminal, the person who cuts you off in traffic, the guy – or girl – who dented your car and did not leave a note, the mean lady at the grocery store, and the person down the hall at work that everyone struggles to like.

Everyone is lovable.

God will sort out the forgiveness and God will judge the remorse.

It is our job to love others. Period.

That includes everyone.

This week, maybe I will just pick one or two from my list and start there.

~pjd

Except Through Me

When we think of Charlottesville or Orlando or Charleston, may we pay attention to the command to love one another.

When we think of Syria or the Gaza Strip or South Sudan, may we gain some perspective and complain less.

When we hear of immigrants dying in tractor trailers or deportations that defy understanding, may we welcome the strangers in our midst.

When we think of Sandy Hook or Columbine or Paducah or any number of the places where people with guns shoot children, may we hold our little ones close and remind them that we are called to be people of peace.

And when we gather this week for Mass on the Feast of the Assumption, may we be reminded of the words of the late Ruth Mary Fox and the great challenge her words offer to each of us.

Into the hillside country Mary went
Carrying Christ.

And all along the road the Christ she carried
Generously bestowed his grace on those she met.
But she had not meant to tell she carried Christ.
She was content to hide his love for her.
But about her glowed such joy that into stony hearts
Love flowed
And even to the unborn John, Christ’s love was sent.

Christ, in the sacrament of love each day, dwells in my soul
A little space.
And then as I walk life’s crowded highways
Jostling men who seldom think of God
To these, I pray, that I may carry Christ
For it may be
Some may not know of him

Except through me.

As we watch the news and see the violence, bigotry, and unbridled enthusiasm for ignorance and hatred, we are challenged to ask ourselves this important question:

“How will I carry Christ this week?”

~pjd

Risking Weakness

If society is judged on how we treat our most vulnerable, then surely our brothers and sisters in Washington have work to do. The latest movement of the House of Representatives aside, our elected officials at the local, state, and federal level should be encouraged to give some serious thought to how we care for those most in need – even if they have been sick or depressed, lonely or in crisis, in control of their faculties or struggling to remember – for some time. What some would call pre-existing conditions, others call a way of life.

So this morning, I turned, as I often do, to a book my parents gave me when I left home. Today’s reading was from Matthew 25. The sheep and the goats. How appropriate. For so many years, I thought about this as only a call to care for “the least of my brothers (and sisters).” Sure, it’s a call to help others. But maybe it’s more.

If you read the whole passage you begin to understand its context. Matthew is not just writing about the end time, when those who have helped others will go to heaven and those who ignored those in need will go to hell. It is, instead, a call to live as brothers and sisters of Jesus. Look at Matthew 12: the family of Jesus (his brothers and sisters) are those disciples gathered around him – men, women, children.

So to live like Jesus means to risk being homeless (“the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” cf Mt 8 and Luke 9). To live like Jesus is to be like Jesus, with less concern for the material things of this world and more concern for the welfare of others (cf Mt 19). We have to risk being hungry. We have to risk being ostracized. We have to risk being poor (all this is in Matthew too).

It’s not just that the rich must help the poor or those with much must offer what they have to those who have not, it’s more than that. To live like Jesus means to risk being weak so that we might receive from those whom we are called to serve. It is easy to think of Jesus as the only teacher in the crowd, but every good teacher learns from the student.

If society is judged – if any of us are judged – by how we treat those who are most in need, perhaps the judgement begins when we decide what we are willing to risk in service to others.

Whatsoever You Do

“Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

These lines, taken by Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” have been in the news of late as politicians and pundits quote the lines in response to the president’s latest executive order.

But if you know your history, you know that The Statue of Liberty, which arrived in New York in 1885 and was officially unveiled in 1886, was not very popular at first. No one likes it when a gift ends up costing money. Lazarus is credited as being among the first to really understand the significance of Lady Liberty. Still, her poem did not become famous until years later. In 1901 a friend rediscovered her words and in 1903 the last lines of the poem were engraved on a plaque and placed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty does not hold those words in her hand, as some on Twitter would have you believe. Someone who was paying attention had to place them where they live today.

If you want to quote something that underscores the fecklessness of the executive order, go back to another text, written hundreds of years before.

“Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45).

I imagine that passage was not met with overwhelming popularity when it was first announced. Be nice to my enemy? Are you kidding? Open my door to the hungry, the homeless, the refugee? The ones who smell? Are you serious? They are so different than me. Welcome the stranger? But what if they hurt me? Shouldn’t I first test them to see what their intentions are, have them fill out paperwork, wait in line for years, and then help them? Wouldn’t that be safer?

I would imagine the best way to turn someone against you, to foster their supposed hate for you is to slam in the door in their face and tell them they are not welcome.

We have been preaching the Gospel of Matthew for a few thousand years.

The time has come to show our brothers and sisters in need whether we really believe what we preach. As the great Fulton Sheen reminded his pupils, “If you do not live what you believe, you will end up believing what you live.”

God is love. That is not an alternate fact. It is Truth. Those of us who say we believe in God should remember that.

The Things We Care About

When I was a teenager, I told my mother I went to see “The Color Purple” at the movies when I really went to see “The Breakfast Club.”

I do not really know why I wasn’t supposed to see “The Breakfast Club” and now, having seen both, it was really the tamer of the two, but those issues notwithstanding, I lied. I got caught, and I got punished.

I thought about that this weekend as the networks raged on about the size of the crowds at the Inauguration last Friday. Like a little boy who embellished the number of attendees at a party, the newly-minted leader of the free world seems to be bothered by very accurate reports that the crowds who attended his party were not as big as the crowds that attended parties in the past.

We even have new language, thanks to our new leader’s friends and advisors: “alternate facts.”

Yes, the press secretary lied. Yes, he presented “alternate facts.” But herein lies the problem. Alternate facts are not facts, they are just noise that gets in the way of a truth that, in this case, no one really cares about. In his must-read book, This Is How, Augusten Burroughs writes that “the truth is humbling, terrifying, and often exhilarating. It blows the doors off the hinges and fills the world with fresh air.”

He continues:

Truth is an unassailable fact. Not your opinion of the fact. Nor is the truth you report of the events from your own, uniquely distorted and biased view, where there could be a disco ball hanging in the way blocking the most important element.

One in five children in the U.S. live in poverty. One in five.

Four children are killed by abuse or neglect in the U.S. each day.

Seven children or teens are killed by guns each day in our great country.

The United Nations reports that a record 65 million people were forced to flee homes 2015. That’s one out of every 113 people in the world.

These are facts. Unassailable facts. True statements. I could go on.

The reality is this: the country is divided. People on the left do not trust the people on the right. People are the right are afraid of the people on the far right. To move forward, we have to find common ground, mutual trust, and at least pretend we are interested in conversations about what the other side wants.

Because while some are busy introducing “alternate facts” into the conversation, the homeless, the hungry, and the marginalized still stand on the periphery struggling to be heard.

These are the things worth talking about.