Today is the Feast of St. Michael—our parish patron saint. We’ll have our picnic this afternoon. We celebrate, not only St. Michael, but that we are a parish: a stable, defined community. We gather together to hear the Word of God. We partake of the Body of Christ to be strengthened as the Body of Christ. We come together so that together we can support one another, so that together we carry on the ministry of Christ. We support one another, and together we are sent into the world.
Today is also the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, as declared by the Church. The Catholic Church in the U.S. has been celebrating this every year since 1914. That is significant for our parish: This celebration was important 100 years ago, and it is important today.
Catholics were outsiders and “suspect.” Catholicism was a foreign religion. Catholics were called “Papists,” pledging loyalty to an Italian pope, head of papal states. Catholics were hated by the KKK which was very strong in northern Indiana—They paraded down Michigan Rd in Plymouth.
Our stained glass windows reflect our parish root. In one of our windows we have St. Patrick. The Irish had gone through terrible trials. In New York 150 years ago, their homes were burned—one a night by the Know-Nothings until Bishop John Hughes went to the mayor and threatened retaliation. The movie The Gangs of New York accurately depicts the bitter struggles between the Nativists and the Irish.
The window with St. Boniface reminds us that portion of our parish was German—. German-Americans were also thought to be unpatriotic and sympathetic to the Kaiser. Woodrow Wilson commented—referring to German-Americans– “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him, carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic when he gets ready.” Public libraries got rid of books in German, German schools, such as one in Rolling Prairie closed. Some German-Americans Anglicized their names from Schmidt to Smith.
And of course, migrants and refugees today are in the national news and in Plymouth.
Nationally, it is the growth of immigrants that has kept the Catholic Church from shrinking as dramatically as the other churches in the U.S.
Locally in Plymouth, the population has basically stayed the same since 2010. However, 29% of our population is now Hispanic. What would Plymouth look like today without the presence of migrants and their U.S. born children?
Immigrants today—like those of earlier generations—are on the margins of society–much poorer than those whose families have been here for generations. The Church 100 years ago and still today, serves and protects those who are poor. We started Catholic schools to teach the Catholic faith to our children—and to protect them from the nativist Americans. The bishop of Fort Wayne invited the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ to come from Germany to teach the German speaking children in German. The Sisters were to serve and to protect. That is still our mission today. As a parish we continue to support and protect one another, especially those on the margins, the poor and the vulnerable, those who do not have legal status: the unborn and the undocumented.
Today’s readings remind us of the centrality of works of charity and social justice to the mission of the Church. It’s part of what we do as the Body of Christ.
We tend to think of the social mission of the Church as “something extra,” or as something just from the goodness of our hearts, or something we do after the real mission of the Church is done. But charity and justice are at the core of what we are called to do. As the 1971 Synod of Bishops said (a world synod whose document was approved by Pope Paul VI) said:
Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel,…that means if we do not serve with works of charity and justice, we are not evangelizing in the Catholic tradition (No. 6)
In the first reading last week, Amos condemned those ”who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.” This week he goes after “the complacent in Zion,” stretched out comfortably on their couches, drinking wine from bowls, unaffected by the poverty and ills that hurt others.
Amos’ God—our God–keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, loves the just, protects foreigners, sustains the fatherless and widows.
Jesus made serving others—including the welcoming of foreigners—the basis of entering His Father’s Kingdom at the Last Judgment in Mt. 25. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is the foreigner who acts as neighbor.
In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, it is service to those in need that is the basis for entering the kingdom. We only know two things about them—First, one was rich and the other poor. Second, one was in need, and the wealthy one failed to help him and so he is sent to hell. There is no mention of whether they prayed, were faithful in their marriages—only that one was in need, and the other failed to do anything for him.
Today, as we celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, we are the richest country in the world, with people—like Lazarus, seeking asylum, have people like Lazarus at our doorstep, seeking asylum, fleeing poverty or violence—or both, or living in our midst in the shadows, in fear.
It is the mission of the Church to protect and to serve. We are called to be guided by love. Pope Francis’ call to Encounter is meant to call us to, not only serve one another, but get to know and love one another: the entire Body of Christ, the entire parish, across race, social class, and nationality.
As we celebrate our parish Feast Day, share in our parish picnic, I am reminded of a theme for the Congregation of Holy Cross: “Crossing borders of every sort.” Today we have the opportunity to cross borders of culture, perhaps language, perhaps nationality to break bread with fellow parishioners. I encourage you to meet some one who is different from you. Ask them about their family roots, their hopes for their children, their dreams, their Faith. You may discover you have much more in common than you think—and find a new friend.