For Catholics of well- formed conscience, the drama unfolding at the Texas Capitol has been disconcerting at best. Gov. Abbot has ordered an emergency session to draft and ratify Senate Bill SB-4. The bill aims to penalize counties and cities whose law enforcement officials will not turn over their residents to federal immigration officers. Keeping a promise she made to Austin Interfaith, our own Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez vowed that she would be one such official. Early this month our own Most Reverend Joe Vasquez, alongside Austin Interfaith and a coalition of Austin faith leaders, stepped into center stage to testify against SB-4.
I was proud to stand on the dais that day. I literally stood behind my bishop as he gave an eloquent testimony on behalf of the immigrants in our community. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to read his testimony …here…
But the words from that day that continue to resonate in my mind did not come from Bishop Joe or any of the other faith leaders. What brought the whole day into focus for me was the second question the faith leaders received from the press. I couldn’t locate the exact transcript, but this is the question as I remember it:
In this time with so much political division in our country, what gives you, as faith leaders, the courage to speak out on a question many people believe is political?
It was that C word that really struck me. The reporter wasn’t asking the Bishop how he formed his opinion on this particular issue. She wasn’t asking what in the example of Christ or in catholic social teaching instructed the Bishop to welcome the stranger in our midst. She wasn’t even asking why it was important or why the Bishop cared. Her question was far more direct and genuine than that. She wanted to know where Bishop Vasquez got the guts!
She was asking the faith leaders what made them risk angering their own congregations. She was asking the faith leaders why they would risk losing money in their collection plates. I don’t think there was anyone in that room that day that would dispute the fact that the risks are real.
Our parishes today are more divided than ever in recent history. While parishioners bicker between the right and the left, full catholic teaching or a consistent life ethic is the path least taken. It’s unpopular. It’s hard. It will anger and distance people in the church.
Many people are quick to say that it’s time for the church to get out of “politics.” For them, our leaders are fighting a lost cause; any way we and our spirituality should be a very inward- facing path. While I have no dispute with taking a deep look inward, it seems to me that turning away from a fallen world would not be keeping with Christ’s example and therefore would be failing our central mission to be His body in our world. It’s easy to be jaded about how “divisive” and “sinful” our politicians and culture are, but let us not think that by any means, it is a new phenomenon. The world that Christ came into was in many ways more divided, and so great was the leaders’ sin that they could only see Love incarnate as a threat to their own agendas. Christ did not fail to challenge the leaders of His day. He did not only heal the sick, he spoke out against injustice. He created waves.
One of the faith leaders wisely pointed out that these “political issues” are human issues. If we turn away from injustice, we turn away from brothers and sisters in need. And whenever the church turns away from the least of these, we fail in our mission to be Christ’s body here on earth.
Many Catholics have frankly allowed themselves to be swept into one side or the other. If they have not completely diverted from the fullness of catholic social teaching, they have at least chosen to only emphasize a portion of the church’s teaching. Like so much fake news, anyone willing to preach half the truth will attract people eager to hear what they already believe. This is another way to be “safe” in our political climate.
The safe way is not the way of the cross. The journey of the disciples was one of peril. Christ challenged the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the tax collectors, the judges, and the Greeks. Christ challenges every religious, economic, and political power group, and sometimes they will only be united to call for His crucifixion. Why?
Because the Father knows what should be painfully obvious in our current political climate. When you choose to follow the lesser evil, you cannot also serve the good. Each side may be correct about some of the truth, but if we fail to challenge others with the full truth, then we are speaking their message and not Christ’s message. Eventually, we will find ourselves speaking against Christ.
Christ is leading His disciples to Golgotha. We have no expectation of safety! So the question still rings in my mind: What will give us the courage to be true?
Will we get our courage from the cry of the oppressed?
The body of Christ stretches from the greatest to the weakest among us. If a member feels pain, the whole body feels it. Do you hear the cries of the immigrant? Do you feel the pain of the refugee, of the unborn, of the Muslim, of the black man? Do you feel the suffering of sister earth? They are your connection to the body of Christ, so build those tendons strong. Perhaps their suffering will make you angry. Perhaps from anger will come your strength.
Will we get our courage from the example of our leaders?
I am not always proud of the leaders of my church, but I was that day. My father, my bishop, and my pope have shown great courage in these days, and my friends, the leaders at Austin Interfaith, have given me courage. This coalition of amazing people has empowered the people of Austin to speak out for justice. This group has trained courageous people in Austin for 30 years. Perhaps we can steal some courage from our leaders to take part in this important work.
Will our courage be grace from the Spirit above?
This world never seems to have enough hope. That’s why our hope rests in the kingdom above. Didn’t our Father tell us that if we had the faith of the mustard seed, we could move mountains? Didn’t our Father promise we could do all things through Christ? Can we, dare we, believe this to be true? Faith like that can only be a gift of the Spirit. Let the Spirit bestow on us the courage we need.
It was a blessing to see the bishop display courage that day, but his courage alone will not win this fight. There will be instructions below on how you can advocate against SB-4 and how you can get in touch with leaders of Austin Interfaith to join them in their important work. My challenge to you this post is to find your courage. Where will your courage come from?