Saturday, January 28, 2017

Asleep on a Cushion

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1

A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Mark 4:37-38

St. Thomas Aquinas, open our minds to God's truth, our hearts to God's love, our lips to God's praise and our hands to serve God's people. (Maryknoll Missioners)

The whole book of Hebrews is written to establish the hope that is the foundation of a life of radical, risk-taking, sacrificial love.  Hope is not dangling in the universe.  Our faith helps us to realize what we hope for.

To put this in perspective, consider what was happening to the Hebrews who were reading Paul’s letter. In the previous chapter, Paul explains that he knows what they have endured:  At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction; at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated. You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession. (10:33-34)

In that condition, the Hebrews could be excused if they threw their hands up in the air in defeat.  They did not and thus, forever provide an example of faith in the face of adversity.  Imagine Joan of Arc denouncing her faith to escape the flames.  Imagine William Wallace relenting to the authority of the King of England and betraying Scotland.

Centuries before Jesus, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, his only son.  God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. (John 3:16) 

Tests continue in the Gospel.  Jesus is consistently surrounded by physical, emotional and spiritual passion and actions.  He faces challenges from the Pharisees, from his family, from various demons, and now even from Nature.  As the tempest tosses the little boat, the disciple's quake in fear.  Remember, these men were seasoned fishermen who grew up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Yet, they had never experienced any storm this intense (or any preacher this intense who could sleep through this while resting on a boat cushion).  Jesus cares not about the wind, the rains, or the waves.  All he cares about is the faith of his companions on the journey. As in the case of silencing a demon (Mk 1:25), Jesus rebukes the wind and subdues the turbulence of the sea by a mere word (or two).

“He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?"  (Mark 4:39-40)

To this day, people continue to endure tests over their faith.

An Executive Order issued Friday in the United States addressed the refugee admissions program and migration. The executive order virtually shuts down the refugee admissions program for 120 days, reduces the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States by more than half, and indefinitely suspends the resettlement of Syrian refugees – even for people with approved visas who have sold everything and were at the airport. In addition, it prioritizes religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, thereby deprioritizing all other persons fleeing persecution; calls for a temporary bar on admission to the United States from a number of countries of particular concern (all Muslim majority); and imposes a yet-to-be-determined new vetting process for all persons seeking entry to the United States.

Regarding the Executive Order to halt and reduction of admissions, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, stated:
"We strongly disagree with the Executive Order's halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones."

Regarding the Executive Order's ban on Syrian refugees, the prioritization of religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, Bishop Vásquez added:
"The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do."

Moving forward after the announcement, Bishop Vásquez concluded:
"Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the U.S. Catholic Bishops will redouble their support for, and efforts to protect, all who flee persecution and violence, as just one part of the perennial and global work of the Church in this area of concern."

As Archbishop Cordileone wrote in July of 2015 when confronted by tragedy in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, "Over the long-term, and in conjunction with my fellow bishops, I call upon Congress and the Administration to work together to comprehensively repair our nation's flawed immigration system, a system that divides families and undermines human dignity. Such reform, long overdue, should preserve family unity, ensure the due process of law, protect those fleeing persecution, and ensure the integrity of our nation's borders."

Please call your lawmakers and ask them to support a policy consistent with the Gospel call to welcome the stranger and a one that also is consistent with Catholic Social Teaching and American values.  We can not be asleep on a cushion at times like these. 

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