This is an excerpt from Bishop Gerald Barnes’ homily at a Diocesan Mass for Immigration Reform, held at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini on Aug. 31.
This past week as a nation we have remembered, commemorated and celebrated one of our nation’s greatest moral leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his awakening call to us all in his “I Have a Dream” address. Dr. King shared his dream and we must share our dream and we must listen to one another’s dreams. We must look at those dreams in the light of the teachings of the Lord; in the light of the Gospel. And so this great orator, Dr. King, in his “I Have a Dream” speech gave all of us an opportunity to reflect on our own lives and the life of this country.
That march on Washington calls us as a community and as a nation to reconnect with our roots and with our responsibility for each other. In the light of the Gospel we are reminded that we are God’s messengers, God’s co-creators, God’s hands on earth. We are the ones that embrace one another in the name of the Lord and we do so with gratitude and as humble servants of the Lord.
At this Mass we are celebrating our heritage as immigrants. We are called to be grateful for all immigrants and to pledge to work for the rights of today’s immigrants; those that are among today’s laborers in our fields, our warehouses, in our meat packing industries and in construction; those that are serving our sick, our elderly, and our children, those that are cleaning our homes, our offices, our institutions, even our cars; those working in all industries. These immigrants and fellow laborers are our brothers and sisters, but unfortunately today many are despised, many are blamed for society’s failures, many are seen as felons, as criminals, many are not seen to sit at the same table with you and me. They live in fear; fear that they will lose their jobs; fear that their families will be separated, and fear that they will be physically hurt. They are among those that the scriptures call us to care for, to be generous with, to protect and to treat with respect and love.
Because of Dr. King’s efforts and the many that collaborated with him, our political leaders enacted a Civil Rights Act and a Voter’s Rights Act. Our political leaders acted with courage with determination and with humility and they changed history. And so as the leaders who heard Dr. King and felt the unity and call of the people and the power of the people have, the courage and determination and humility to change the laws for the betterment of the nation and the people. We ask and we pray for that same kind of courage, that same kind of determination and humility from our political leaders today. May they be courageous enough to stand up for what is right and not be afraid to do what must be done. May they be determined and may they be humble so that the people, the laborers, the families, the immigrants who like generations past come to work and to serve and to be part of this country might receive the protection of the law. Let us pray not only that Congress does its part but that you and I do our part. Each of us has to look and see what we can do to bring about change. What can we do when we study the scriptures and we know that God is calling us to act, and to act with humility.
So the first thing we do is that we pray, we get on our knees and we pray. This means we listen to God, we think about the scriptures and we struggle with them when we don’t understand or when we cannot appropriate, when we cannot agree we pray that God gives us the humility to listen to his Word and to convert our hearts. We reach out to our legislators praying for them and asking them to do what is right, to be courageous, and to be humbled and to work for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. We carry the message to our families and to our coworkers and to our neighbors. We share the love of this nation; we work for the betterment of this country and for our home. That we live up to the values and the goodness to build a community of love, love of God and love for one another.
Dr. King said we have to continue the dream; that we cannot wallow in the valley of despair; that we have to live in hope. Let us dream with Dr. King that our children one day will live in a nation where they will not be judged by whether their parents or they are documented or not documented but by the content of their character. Let us with Dr. King dream that we would be able to speed up that day when all God’s children black and white, Jews and Muslims, Protestant and Catholics, citizens and residents and undocumented will be able to join hands and see one another as children of God, brothers and sisters, gifts from God. We are the flock of the Lord. And so my brothers and sisters we are called to listen once again to what God is asking of each one of us as we are grateful for this country and for the immigrants that have continued to come and help build this country to where it is today. Our church is involved in the immigration reform movement as it was involved with immigrants that came from Ireland, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Asia and now from Latin America and Africa. We are involved and must always be involved because we are Catholic and we see the dignity of every human person. And we see the dignity of the human family and we will always be there. As your Bishop I invite you to join us in that same movement to be there with your church and if at this time you just can’t agree, you just can’t understand, that you pray for us as we pray for you. We are all looking for what is best out of the teachings of our Lord Jesus and our Church.