Ted Miles, Executive Director of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, reflects on the challenging times our world is facing in light of this week's readings and the Church's celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
It has been a strange and often disheartening year. A pandemic upends our lives and threatens global stability. Political and social movements spark more division than unifying change. Environmental challenges – devastating fires, a hyperactive hurricane season in the Atlantic, melting ice, to name a few – give evidence to increasing vulnerability and risks resulting from climate change. On this World Day of Migrants and Refugees (September 27, 2020), we face the grave situation of more people migrating than at any point in human history, often tragically as a result of war, climate change, economic insecurity, and oppression.
Numerous aspects of our lives seem to be in upheaval. The resulting emotional and psychological stress is very real. Compassion – that is, having in us the same attitude that Christ had – can be increasingly difficult to muster. To echo the sentiments of those listening to the prophet Ezekiel, we might genuinely be crying out that all of this is somewhat unfair.
While many aspects are out of our control, it seems the gravity of these challenges and the elusive creativity and ability to meet them head on is partially due to our closing inward. We seem to be narrowing our world - whether through singular news sources, limited interaction with like-thinking people, or sheer closed-mindedness – which leads to a rigidity and judgmentalism akin to the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
Imagine if we were the audience in each of today’s readings. Imagine Ezekiel calling us to a virtue that preserves all life or supports the common good by wearing a mask for however long we need. What would be our response? If St. Paul were to speak with us as he did to the Philippians, how might being of the same mind and the same love of Christ change how we approach our current divisions? Might U.S. citizens genuinely see that the lives of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters matter, that right now their lives are most important given the racist disregard we allow to persist? Could our global community be united in heart in the way Pope Francis envisions in his World Day of Migrants and Refugees message, “ensuring international cooperation, global solidarity and local commitment, leaving no [migrant, refugee or displaced person] excluded”?
If Jesus were to share the parable of the two sons with us today, with which son would we identify? Perhaps many of us truly feel like saying, “I will not!” I can imagine numerous other excuses: “Why bother?” “These divisions are insurmountable!” “I don’t have it in me!” And yet, God’s vineyard needs our tender pruning and care. God’s people need our “Yes,” not our disregard or narrow-mindedness. In this Season of Creation, Earth needs our wholehearted metanoia, that we might finally see a kinship with all God’s creation. For our collective joy to be complete, we must remember God’s mercies and embrace God’s encouragement to work for a more just and compassionate world. Reluctant, despondent, tired, and overwhelmed as we may be, like the first son, may we find it in us to go to the vineyard and serve as God calls.
“Merciful God and Creator of all, wake us from the slumber of indifference, open our eyes to suffering, and free us from our insensitivities and self-centeredness.
Inspire us, as nations, communities and individuals, to see all as our brothers and sisters, to see our kinship with all Creation.
May we share with them the blessings we have received from your hand, and recognize that together, as one human family, we are all migrants, journeying in hope to you, our true home, where every tear will be wiped away, where we will be at peace and safe in your embrace.”
- Adapted from Pope Francis’ prayer for immigrants and refugees, April 14, 2016.
Photo: Woman and child in El Salvador, courtesy of Ted Miles.