Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Kingdom of God is Within Us

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JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Today on this 4th Sunday of Ordinary time, the Gospel reading was from St. Matthew, with the focus on the beautiful eight Beatitudes that Our Lord Jesus gave to us during his Sermon on the Mount.  These are the pivotal guide posts of Christian life, and a how-to on putting the 10 Commandments into practice, and integrating the spiritual and corporal works of mercy into our daily lives.  It is certainly timely in America, as we begin a new presidency and chapter in our nation's history.  This week saw many vast improvements in legal protection for the unborn, those arguably most vulnerable in our world with absolutely no voice. It was indeed encouraging to witness the repeal of federal funding of Planned Parenthood on an international scale known as the Mexico City policy, as well as the House affirming its support to reinstate the Hyde Amendment permanently which precludes using federal funds for abortions on the domestic front. Vice President Pence spoke at the March for Life Rally on Friday in front of tens of thousands of supporters to proclaim the dignity of every human being, and to stress the importance of mercy and love for all those who have been involved in abortion, or support its practice. All of these actions were consistent with Jesus' call for living with merciful hearts.  

Skip to the last 48 hours, and focus on the executive orders signed by President Trump pertaining to immigration which issued a 90-day ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen and a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program. Emotions have run high, as some families, students, refugees, and green card holders have been detained upon arrival in the US, or turned back at international airports worldwide.  This order does not seemingly carry the thread of mercy found in the Beatitudes into this new policy at first glance. As someone who worked extensively with immigrants and political asylum seekers upon graduating from college, I have interacted extensively with those who arrive here very often filled with hope and excitement juxtaposed with feelings of fear, isolation, and sometimes, trauma.  An immigrant often experiences such conflicting emotions following years of political persecution, extreme poverty, and separation from family and support systems.  The United States has always been that 'city set upon a hill' that beckons for the downtrodden and those who dream of a new life to come to our shores.  

Having said that, the underbelly of the federal immigration system is one of corruption, inefficiencies and deceit. There are many levels of fraud that have infested even the most well-meaning legal systems, and as a result, newcomers  have felt forced to make decisions in the interest of getting a green card or a work permit, to the detriment of themselves or their families due to its arcane policies and unworkable administrative system. From information systems that do not communicate or share with one another, to false marriages often forged between a permanent resident seeker and a US born citizen who is often a drug addict and blackmails the individual for increasing amounts of money in exchange for posing as the immigrant's spouse and attending the interview, the system is broken and has been for some time.  Others, [certainly not all], fleeing desperate economic circumstances, will feign political persecution as a means of getting the paperwork.  

I saw this firsthand with one asylum seeker fleeing from Haiti. There were plenty who were terrorized by the tyrannical and violent Tonton Macoute security forces under Duvalier and had bonafide cases, but others who had never encountered them but sought refuge in the US on those feigned grounds.  I met a cold-blooded killer first hand who hired the attorney I worked for to file the paperwork for his younger brother. Every time this older brother walked into the room, it became ice cold and a spirit of hatred and evil followed him wherever he went.  Despite this strange occurrence, his sibling insisted that he had been harassed by these thugs and his life would be in danger if he returned to Haiti. After his fingerprints were processed via Interpol, and the asylum claim studied by experts at the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince, it was found instead that the younger brother assisted his older brother in perpetrating the exact heinous acts that he purportedly suffered from himself and that he himself was well-known and feared in his home country.  His asylum case was denied, and he began deportation hearings, which would then take an additional 18-24 months to go through.

As someone who loved my job with immigrants, learning their rich cultures, and seeking to keep my heart pure and open, I want all peoples of the world to have a better life.  I fondly remember attending African marriages, baptisms and funerals, and learning more about the beauty of the art, music, food, and culture that these new arrivals brought with them. It enriched my life greatly, and I continue to see the dignity of each person and want those crushed by such desperate circumstances to have shelter and a permanent home.  On the other hand, I have seen the outdated system and the abuses within the system that are very real.  At some point, they do need to be addressed. I feel torn by this new executive order. On the one hand, I know that it is necessary to clean house and assess where our system is at and who is in our country. On the other hand, I believe that America is 'the land of the free and the home of the brave.'  

So how do I square these two sides? I was praying about this today, and the Holy Spirit kept bringing the notion of 'the Kingdom of God is within you' and the call for one's soul to become the City of God, His Indwelling and place of repose is real.  I must focus on the areas within myself that need purifying and cleaning out, and pray for the purity of heart the Beatitudes call us to incorporate.  If I look closely, I see many cobwebs needing to be swept and see where mercy is missing in me towards certain groups of people. That is ugly, but reality. I am asking for grace that Our Lord will help me to pull these splinters out of my own eye, and open up my heart more readily to those who might in some way challenge me or cause me anxiety and fear. My hope is that by working on myself and my own inner light and practice of the Beatitudes, that it might have the slightest ripple effect within my family and small daily community that can thereby improve our world and the lives of others in small but distinct ways.  I must start with myself. I must pray for Divine Wisdom for our leaders, for my family, and myself and seek to be an instrument of peace not division. Sometimes we must take a time-out to assess where we are and what can be improved before moving forward. This is never easy or fun.

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My prayer is that these next 90 days will be very quick and efficacious in accomplishing that.  Do I think parts of it are unfair? Yes. Do I think it is necessary? Yes.  I will continue to look within and learn to love each and every person with the love of Christ, with His grace and help. 

In addition, I will ask Our Lady of Fatima, whose 100th year anniversary we celebrate this year, to help all of us build the bridges that need to be forged between different peoples and lands to intercede for us. She is the Mother of All Nations, and can help in this regard. Our Lady of Fatima...Pray for us. Amen. 

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