Tag Archives: immigrants

Immigration, Now and Then

Immigration is a hot political topic today. It’s not just an issue here in America; it’s a world issue. Millions of people all over the world are on the move today because of wars, violence and because they can’t make a living on lands affected by climate change.

Our first reading today at Mass is about Abraham, the “wandering Aramean” whom God blessed as he went from place to place. May God bless those wandering from place to place today.

Today also is St. Patrick’s day. This was a big day in the place where I was born and raised, Bayonne, NJ, a city of immigrants, many from Ireland. The Irish went to church today to thank God for the faith brought to them by St. Patrick and for being able to live in a country where they could make a living and bring up their families, hoping for a better life.

Years ago, I visited the place where some of my relatives came from in Donegal, in northern Ireland. I saw the little abandoned farm house, with no roof, where some of them lived. An old man in the neighborhood remembered the day they left for America, three young people carrying away their simple belongings. It was all they had. There was no work for them there anymore.

When they came to America they took whatever jobs they could get. It had to be hard for them making their way in a new land and another way of living. But they helped one another, and that’s one of the things I remember about that immigrant generation. They helped one another.

I took a picture of that abandoned house in Donegal and gave it to my relatives. I see it’s still hung proudly in their house when I visit. We have to remember where we come from. We’re children of Abraham, on our way to a place that’s still before us. We have to stick together.

Providence Clinic

The other night I was at a dinner and a stranger asked me what community I belonged to. When I told him I was a Passionist, he said “Barnabas Ahern was a member of your community. A great voice at the Vatican Council. Those were the days, but they’re gone now.”

Yes, those heady days are gone. Now we live in hard days.

But even in hard days, as the mystery of the Passion seems to overshadow all else, there are signs of Resurrection. The dinner we were attending Sunday evening was a fund-raiser for Providence Clinic, where poor people without insurance or funds in Monmouth County, NJ,  get treated by dedicated doctors and nurses. About 4,000 patients are taken care of yearly in this little clinic that started 14 years ago in a trailer in a church parking lot.

As the Director of the Clinic, Doctor Anna Sweany, remarked: “People came along and gave their help and their support.”

The clinic is a testimony to God’s providence. It would never have gotten started or continued through the years without God’s hidden, silent care. People “come along” and things are done.

Now they’re worried at Providence Clinic that some vital government funds will be withdrawn and they wont be able to meet their modest budget for this wonderful work.

Even in hard days, God offers signs of resurrection.  I’m hoping and praying Providence Clinic will continue to live up to its name.

The Big Picture: The Magi

This is the time of the year when people make predictions about the future. It’s a time to look back and look forward.

Our local newspaper on Friday in Hudson County featured the predictions of a local psychic about the future of our mayor, our governor, our senator and a variety of local politicians. Psychics are big this time of year.

The host of PBS’s Newshour the other night asked his two experts to talk about the big picture ahead. “What does it look like?” They talked about the “Tea Party,” possible roll-backs in the health care program, the new Republican majority in Congress. That’s about as far as they went. I would guess the cable news channels talked about the same things from even a narrower perspective: politics and economics–American politics and the American economic picture.

Something’s missing. Our “big picture” is really a small picture. We seem to lack of larger vision of life.

We live in a secular age, an age of “expressive individualism.”(Charles Taylor) One of the drawbacks of the secular mind is its tendancy to be small-minded, to concentrate on the here and now, on what we see and do, on our personal interests. Even believers are part of a secular age and share its tendancies.

The secular age needs the spark of revelation.

What about the mystery of the Epiphany we celebrate today? Can it bring sparks to secular minds?

Let’s take the gospel story of the Magi out of its Christmas card setting and ask what its all about. The Magi were strangers, people coming from afar, bringing gifts. They recognized the Child whom others did not see. Then, we may surmise, they brought news of him back to their own people and part of the world.

The other day I was talking to a young priest from my community in Kenya, an African who’s studying now in Chicago. He was asking me about the new media and how to reach others through it. He wants to learn as much as he can from us, but he also thinks that Africa has something to offer the world, and his church in Kenya as something to contribute to the church beyond it.

Is he the Magi coming to us today?

Matthew’s gospel is the only gospel with the story of the Magi. The gospel was written for Jewish Christians in Galilee and the neighboring areas and it emphasizes that Jesus came first to them. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus tells the Canaanite woman, a gentile pleading for a cure for her daughter. (Mt 15;24)  “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus instructs the twelve as he sends them out earlier in his gospel. (Mt 10, 5)

Were these stories Matthew’s way to bolster the faith of  Jewish Christians beset by a powerful Jewish orthodoxy that questioned their belief in Jesus Christ? Was Matthew’s story of the magi also a reminder that the gospel was meant for others besides them?

Jesus came to save all, even though his first ministry was to the Jews. God  saves the world and his gifts and graces are in many peoples and places. He doesn’t save the few.

We live in a big world that’s meant to be one. It’s not a world to be ignored. Great gifts and burdens are there, gifts and burdens meant to be shared. An earthquake in Haiti, for example,  is our tragedy too.  A worldwide depression is our problem too. More  and more, we tend to demonize the Muslim world. The Magi may have come from present day Iran or Yemen; two places we hardly view positively today.

We are tending to demonize immigrants in our own country today. Many of us are descendants of immigrants who came here with gifts and burdens. When they first arrived, those here often saw them only as burdens to this country. We know better.

The story of the Magi is not a sweet story about camels and men dressed in strange rich robes. It’s about the big picture, a picture we should see.