Vigil Service for Bishop Mark Seitz’s Mother

Bp. Mark J. Seitz

December 1, 2014                St. Jerome, Oconomowoc, WI

Scriptures passages:      Rom. 6: 3-9, Matt. 5: 1-12

She never thought that she had accomplished much.  A few weeks before her death she met with a representative from a funeral home to do some preplanning.  When it came time to decide how many holy cards to order she indicated that 100 would be plenty. How many folks did she know anyway?  We looked at that and said a 100 would about cover her progeny, much less the many who considered her a mother and a grandmother and a dear friend, although not related by blood.

“How many kids did she have anyway?  I’m not sure she knew.  Oh, she was aware that she had 10 children to whom she gave birth.  She had 35 Grandchildren whom she welcomed with great joy. She was preparing to celebrate with us the Baptism of the 3 latest of her 10 Great Grandchildren in Texas.

But whereas some people say, we want 2.5 children. That’s enough!  There was once a TV show, “8 is Enough”. Mom never said, “That’s enough!”  Her heart was open, unconstricted.

A few minutes ago we heard the Beatitudes.  Mom chose them. When we were discussing the readings she wanted for her Funeral a number of years ago I have to admit that I was a bit surprised when she decided upon this passage with all its “Blesseds“.  It would hardly seem fittingly humble to number oneself among them.

I think I get it now. She loved the passage.  I think she saw those Jesus holds up for our emulation as goals she might hope to reach.  Jesus presents here a new economy, one which turns the world’s measures of success on its ear.

It is not “Blessed are the rich”. “Blessed are those who have stuff”. “Blessed are those who have power.”  “Blessed are those to whom others bow and scrape.”

No!  It is “Blessed are the poor, the ones who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the oppressed, the insulted…”

Yes, Jesus turns our presuppositions upside down.  Although Mom, like most of us, would not consider changing diapers, washing mega loads of clothes…daily; staying up with sick ones, correcting erring ones, dividing fighting ones, feeding hungry ones, listening to dejected ones, counseling bewildered ones and changing more diapers, the stuff of greatness, I suspect that Jesus does.

After all, he is a Savior who redeems, not by great and glorious conquests, riding in victoriously on a powerful white stallion; he is one who walks humbly among his people, working wood and living the life of the home for 30 years, he who shares the joys and sorrows of family life and the life of his community, he who was surrounded by his friends at the wedding feast and did his mother’s bidding, he who had his dearest friends desert him, he who hobbles along covered with wounds and blood and spittle, and bearing a cross upon his back.

It is into this Savior’s life, this Savior’s passion that Mom was Baptized.  Certainly, like us all she struggled with human failings.  For instance, we all learned early on that we should never mess with her when she was hungry…  Mom gave us fair warning when we were children that when she is hungry, she bites!

But she also walked with a grace that seemed so natural we could have easily missed the truth that it was grace.  To recognize God’s presence was second nature, to care and to serve was the purpose of life, to laugh and kid in the face of adversity lightened the load, to empathize (“That’s too bad!”), or to challenge (“Get back to work!”), or to correct (“Mark Joseph Seitz, if you do that one more time!”)—all of these were part of her repertoire.

Yes, these were works of grace!  By these means the Lord conformed her more fully day by day to Himself.  In these ways she entered into this new economy of salvation and revealed God’s presence in our midst.

Through her the Beatitudes were transformed from words on a page into flesh and blood among us.  We who have had the joy and the privilege of knowing her may have often missed the signs of this marvelous work of God within her.  Mom herself, humble person that she was and aware of her own shortcomings as she was, certainly did not fully recognize what God was accomplishing through her—until now!

Celebrations

El Paso Ordination Homily December 6, 2014

-Bp. Mark J. Seitz

Scriptures:           Jeremiah 1: 4-9, Heb. 5: 1-10, Matt. 28: 16-20

It is All About Christ!

It has been a long road, hasn’t it—from your homes in the Philippines and in Columbia to your new home in El Paso?  This transition has been followed with many years of study and discernment. Now at the culmination of this long process of preparation we have arrived at the moment of your Ordination as priests.

We would do well as we enter into this auspicious event to consider what it is you are about to receive and what you are to become.  Forgive me if I begin with a bit of a via negativa, but it is sometimes easier to begin by saying what this is not if we are to understand what it is.  Based upon the very readings you chose we can say: It is not your words.  It is not your priesthood.  It is not your power.  No son sus palabras.  No es su sacerdocio.  No es su poder.

Consider once again my dear brothers the passages you chose.  In the first reading which recounts the call of the Prophet Jeremiah, God calls Jeremiah and Jeremiah demurs, “I know not how to speak; I am too young.”   Jeremiah was understandably frightened upon receiving the call, because like all of us, he thought it would all be on him…  Remember what God says to him then?  “See, I put MY words in your mouth…whatever I tell you, you will speak…”  It is not your words.  No son sus palabras.

In the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews we heard the writer speaking about the priesthood. Of whose priesthood was he speaking?  Listen again to the passage: “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”  He is speaking of the High Priests of the Old Covenant—the Levites who offered animal sacrifices on behalf of the people.

Then he continues, “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”  (He is still speaking of the Old Testament High Priesthood.)  But then he continues, “In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.”  Just as he says in another place, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”  To whom is the writer now referring?  To Christ!  Jesus is the new High Priest.  The author is not referring to your priesthood, but to that of Jesus.  It is not your priesthood.  No es su sacerdocio.

Let’s move on to the Gospel passage we just heard.  When the risen Jesus appears on the mountain what does he tell them?  Then Jesus approached and said to them, “ALL power in heaven and on earth has been given TO ME.”  If ALL power is given to Christ, how much power belongs to you?   NONE!  Clearly, it’s not your power!  No es su poder.

So, based upon the very Scriptures you chose for you Ordination we have established very convincingly, It is not your words.  It is not your priesthood.  It is not your power.   ¿Estan de acuerdo?  Are you with me?

So what’s left, you may ask?  Why are we here?  The truth is that what we believe about the priesthood of Jesus Christ is even more wonderful than what we might imagine.  If the word and the priesthood and the power is not yours, it must be His!

In your Ordination as priests of the New Covenant Christ is conforming you to himself, making you extensions of his presence and saving work in the world.  By virtue of your Ordination when you speak in union with the Church it will be Christ who speaks.  When you enact Christ’s Sacrifice as his priest, it will be Christ who acts.  When you lead God’s holy people in union with your bishop it will be Christ who leads.

How else could we explain the words we speak in celebration of the Sacraments when you say, “I baptize”, “I absolve”, “This is my Body”.  In those most sacred moments is it you who speaks or is it the Christ who has conformed you to himself in his priesthood?

What a wondrous mystery we celebrate here today!  In one sense we could say it is not about you at all.  It is all about Christ: his word, his priesthood and his power.  In another sense it is about a work even greater and more glorious than we might have imagined.  It is about Jesus our Savior and our Lord, he who is Word and Priest and Power choosing to make himself present through two humble instruments named Gleen and Apolinar, to dwell among us and to guide and care for the holy people of God through you.

To Christ be glory and honor and power forever and ever.  Amen

 

Celebrations

Migration from the perspective of Faith

Do I live for myself or for others?  Do I try to gain all that I can for myself and my family or do I try to share what I receive with the poor?  Do I look for happiness in my success or in my service?  Do I find peace in a gated neighborhood well protected by security guards or in a neighborhood tied to those near it by bridges of friendship.

These are the questions that we need to be asking in today’s world.  These are fundamental questions that determine in what kind of world we are going to live.  I believe that they also indicate if in truth we have grasped the meaning of this Christian life.  They will determine if in fact we are on a Christian path or not.

In the Hebrew Scriptures we can read again and again how God commanded his people to treat the foreigner with justice.  In the New Testament The Lord teaches us in actions, in parables and in words that we ought to love in a special way those who live on the borders of life: the poor, the sick, the marginalized the foreigners, even sinners.

He never said as far as I can recall that we ought to care only for ourselves.

He never said we should only serve those who can pay us back.

Regarding the little ones he says, whoever offers a cup of water will not go without his reward.

Regarding the blind man shouting his name he says, “Call him!”

To those weary and burdened he says, “Come to me!

To the pagan woman from Tyre he says, “Your daughter is healed.”

To the woman caught in adultery he says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

To his disciples who want to dismiss the crowds so they can seek food he says, “You give them something to eat!”

It is really very simple: To be a disciple of Christ means that we follow his example, that we do as he has done.  We want people to be able to live in peace in their home countries with their families and within their communities. No one should be forced to flee their place of origin.

But when a situation such as this happens we, as people of Faith, particularly we who are Christians, have a very blest opportunity to live our Faith.  The Faith is not something one can live in abstraction.  Faith requires action!

I thank God for this opportunity and for the generous response of the people of El Paso.  I give thanks for Ruben Garcia and to Annunciation House for their example and leadership through the years and particularly in this past year.  With their example and the participation of many within our community I believe we have demonstrated how we, as Americans and as people of Faith, ought to respond to our neighbors in need.

Celebrations

Option for the Poor

Bishop Seitz Addresses “Option for the Poor”

When it comes to fighting for the poor, which poor most deserve attention?  Bishop Mark Seitz addressed that in his keynote speech at the “Option for the Poor” awards dinner held on Oct. 17 which is the Diocesan Peace and Justice Ministry annual fundraiser dinner.

The dinner is held annually to create awareness in the Catholic community about the social teachings of the church and to recognize who often pick up the torch of social justice in the case of the greater good.

Here’s our bishop in his own words:

Option for the Poor Keynote by Bishop Mark J. Seitz
Diocese of El Paso
October 17, 2014

The Consistent Life Ethic: Principles of Social Justice that Transcend Ideologies

No one likes to be criticized, least of all me.  But there was one occasion when, because of the criticism, I knew I must have been doing something right.  During the run up to one of the Iraq wars I preached one Sunday mentioning Pope John Paul’s call for further dialogue and for peace. After Mass a man who was clearly angry came up to me and accused me of belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

Some weeks following this encounter I believe it was during October, Respect Life Month. I spoke in the homily about the terrible toll of abortion. Following Mass a person came up to me with something other than a smile on his face and accused me of belonging to the Republican National Committee. I didn’t say what I said because I belong to either Party, but because I am Catholic.

In our polarized country ideologies have replaced principles and too often the opportunity to make a political point has trumped the even the most basic demands of human compassion.

The response in Congress to the arrival of high numbers of refugees at our southern border made that abundantly clear to me. As many of you know in June this past summer I had the opportunity to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.  The Hearing was on the influx of unaccompanied children and of families that we were witnessing.  Now, one would imagine that the purpose of a hearing in Congress would be to learn about the issues that are being studied and to consider possible responses. The title of the Hearing put those presumptions into question. The hearing was entitled, “An Administration Made Disaster: The South Texas Border Surge of Unaccompanied Alien Minors”.

Another example came a little later in the summer.  We all heard the drumbeat in regard to those arriving at our border that they ought to follow the law. That was the case until it became apparent that the reason people fleeing to our border could not be immediately sent back was a law that had been passed in 2000.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was passed unanimously, signed by President Bush, and then reauthorized in March of 2013 under President Clinton.  It was seen at the time as a tremendous step forward for the sake of children and women that are so terribly abused. How quickly sentiment changed on the part of members from both sides of the aisle when protecting these victims of human trafficking became politically inconvenient.

But it is not as though this is a high stakes game played by only one political party.  What took place in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act I believe presents another clear example.  The Catholic Church in the United States has for decades supported national health insurance. We were very pleased when the Affordable Care Act passed.  Although it was far from perfect we felt it was an important step forward.

When regulations began to be published by the Department of Health and Human Services we were very disappointed to see that the Catholic Church was directly targeted through rules that seek to force Church institutions and Catholic individuals to pay for so-called services that are contrary to our teachings. Worse than this the regulations seek to employ a more narrow definition of what constitutes a church and is therefore protected under the First Amendment. It has been commented that under this definition Jesus and the Apostles might not qualify as a church. It means that our schools, our hospitals our charitable outreach would not be considered the work of the Church.  This definition will have repercussions far beyond the unpopular beliefs they target. All churches are being told that only as long as we keep our Faith within the Church walls we will have the liberty to practice it. That is not my understanding of what it is to be a church. What about you?

In the 1980’s when US political life was already heading in an ever more polarized direction and that polarization was also being seen in the Church, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the Archbishop of Chicago, of happy memory, sought to call us to a deeper and more coherent ethic, one that would not be driven by the changing winds of political exigency.  He referred to it as “the seamless garment”.

The Church’s Social Justice teaching is based upon our conviction about the value of all life, and the unique and immeasurable dignity of human life.  As Jesus told us in today’s Gospel, “Are not 5 sparrows sold for two small coins?  Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God.  Even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Do not be afraid.  You are worth more than many sparrows.” ( Lk. 12: 4-7)  For once we can accuse Jesus of understatement!

A close corollary to this fundamental truth is that human beings cannot be owned, they do not even own themselves.  Life is a gift that is on loan.  It is not a possession.  The father of Bill Cosby may have told him when he was acting up as a child, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out again!”  But I think we all know that this most certainly is not true.  Parents have a role in bringing a child into the world, but they themselves stand in awe at what emerges from their cooperation.

We today are coming to see more clearly than ever that the baby and the young child have rights that society must protect.  Parents have a responsibility to care for a child, but they do not have the autonomous authority to beat the child, abuse or mistreat the child, sell the child.  We even have restrictions on child labor.

The inalienable rights upon which our nation has been built are not of our making.  They are not ceded to us by a government or anyone else.  Was this not the point of the Declaration of Independence it says that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?

And if I have rights then so does the other.  We are not autonomous.  We did not bring ourselves into the world and we do not have the right to take ourselves out of the world.  The act of suicide is not only destructive to the individual and to those who love him or her, but also to society itself because it denies the inalienable right to life.  We belong to one another and we are called to care for one another.  We are called to care for every human person without distinction from the moment they come to be until they are called home by God.

Without this foundation it is hard to see how a nation can long endure.  Without this basis for the common good we are just a chaotic mass of individuals striving for their own self-interest.  And God help you if you are weak or in the minority.

Yes, we are pluralistic society, but we must find common ground around these fundamental principles.  Most people of faith and even some who do not have faith will be able to find agreement around these basic foundations. It is our special responsibility in the world to enlighten others with these basic truths of the dignity of the human person, not only for the sake of their eternal salvation, but for the sake of our nation and the world.

One of the points that give this ethic of life a great persuasive power is its consistency.  We do not pick and choose from the continuum of life’s moments.  We are not left to weigh relative values of life at a given stage.  We do not place a price tag upon this life as opposed to another’s life. The value of a person at life’s most remote beginning is the same immeasurable value of the child, the youth, the adult, the aged.  If we were to in some way place a higher value on one it would only be insofar as we make a special option for the poorest and the weakest because this will be the measure of a truly just society.

We certainly can speak of a right to self-defense against an unjust aggressor but that is based upon our own special responsibility to protect the life God has placed directly in our care and, in fact, we may only respond with sufficient force to protect ourselves and our neighbors.

Over time Cardinal Bernardin spoke less of the ‘seamless garment’ and more of a ‘consistent ethic of life’ because people were misapplying his point.

One misunderstanding was that he was not trying to say that every issue of injustice has the same moral weight.  The failure to pay a just wage (although it can have terrible consequences) is not the same as the direct taking of an innocent human life by abortion or euthanasia or by targeting civilians in war. A second common misunderstanding was that this required that everyone be involved in every issue.  On this matter Cardinal Bernardin had this to say: “Does this mean that everyone must do everything?  No!  There are limits, time, energy and competency.  There is a shape to every individual vocation.  People must specialize, groups must focus their energies.” (Address, Seattle U., 3/2/86)

Looking at the ways his challenge to consistency was being misused he had this to say, “The concept itself is a complex and challenging one.  It requires us to broaden, substantively and creatively, our ways of thinking, our attitudes, our pastoral response.  Many are not accustomed to thinking about all the life-threatening and life-diminishing issues with such a consistency.  The result is that they remain somewhat selective in their response.  Although some of those who oppose the concept seem not to have understood it, I sometimes suspect that many who oppose it recognize its challenge. Quite frankly, I sometimes wonder whether those who embrace it quickly and whole-heartedly truly understand all its implications.” (ibid.)

In our work on behalf of the poor and to build a world that is truly just let us then put aside anything that would smack of narrow partisan ideology which defines itself simply in terms of opposition to the position of the other.  Particularly we in the Church have received a rich heritage calling us to build a true culture of life.  We recognize the rich dignity of every person and we therefore treat every person, even our enemies, with love and respect.  Anyone working for the cause of social justice should find solidarity with us, especially when they are our brothers and sisters in the Church.

This consistent ethic of life is not reserved though to those of us who share Catholic Faith.  It is a gift to the world to which our Faith gives even greater clarity and power.  May God make us bold in this proclamation because our nation and the nations of the world will be lost and without a true foundation until they rediscover the true dignity of the human person and a coherent, consistent ethic of life.

Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz, DD

El Paso

A Visit to Artesia

September 16, 2014

Since the Artesia, New Mexico family detention facility for those who cross our border without documents opened three months ago I have hoped for an opportunity to see it and to visit those who are detained there.  My opportunity came this past Saturday, September 13th when I decided to attend the funeral of the father of a priest serving in my Diocese of El Paso.  Accompanied by a transitional Deacon for the Diocese I began the 200+ mile journey at 6:00 a.m. in the morning.  We drove west out of El Paso and within two hours of travel through sparsely populated desert landscape we found ourselves driving through fog and mist near the Guadalupe Pass. 

Once we entered New Mexico the signs of an oil boom were everywhere to be seen.  Gas and oil wells are in evidence wherever one looks from south of Carlsbad and beyond.  We arrived in Artesia, a town of 12,000, in a little more than 3 hours.  El Paso is the nearest large city.

After the funeral at the Catholic Church in Artesia we proceeded on to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) on whose property the detention center was placed.  A tour had been graciously arranged by ICE and that was to be followed by Mass in the hall which also serves as a cafeteria.  One of the two directors of the center met us along with the chaplain.  They took us through the facility along a similar path to those who were being brought there for detention. 

The center is being used for “family units” which consist of a mother with children younger than 14.  It was explained to me that older children were found to be more difficult to manage.  Most of those who arrive come by bus from El Paso after having been brought to our west Texas city by plane or bus from other places on the border.  When they arrive they are processed and given identification they must carry throughout the facility.  They are also screened for health issues.  There is a 24 hour medical staff on hand.  They have seen a lot of lice and scabies. 

The facility is in a barren location.  There are no trees, no grass.  Temporary buildings are set upon brown sandy dirt.  As the ICE agents readily admitted this detention center has been and continues to be a work in progress.  It was a surprise to everyone, including the agents, when this location was chosen.  Since then they have been racing to catch up.  Temporary buildings have been brought in.  Medical facilities created.  The most recent arrival was an x-ray machine which is set up in a tent to allow them to screen on site for TB.  Even psychological services are now offered.

School classes will soon begin.  A nursery has been provided to care for children while parents are in court or seeing doctors.  Cubicles for private visits with attorneys are coming in.  A parking lot has been paved and a new gate will soon allow direct access to the facility.  They will soon be providing food especially tailored to the needs and tastes of the detainees.  I was impressed with the care and compassion of those I met at the center.

At the Mass around 220 of the 520 residents joined us.  They sang with gusto and responded to the prayers in a way that showed me they have been active in their churches at home.  It was the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross.  I told them that I could see the cross that was so present in their lives and I could clearly see the face of Christ in them, Christ carrying his cross among us.

We blest and provided rosaries donated by the Knights of Columbus after Mass.  Many requested individual blessings after Mass.  I met some who had been there for two months, some who had been there as long as three months.  Many were concerned about their sick children.  One asked me to pray for her sister who was separated from her after they were detained.  She had not heard from her since.

My guides were responsive to questions I posed.  Questions which no one there could answer were those that had to do with why this center was opened before all of the detainee’s basic needs could be provided?  And why was this place, so far removed from services the community could provide such as legal support and pastoral care, would be chosen in the first place?  Nor could I find the answer as to why we would spend all this money for a temporary facility when release to the custody of family members would have been much more humane and cost effective?  Some questions just don’t admit of easy answers I guess.

Bishop Mark J. Seitz, DD

Bishop of El Paso

 

 

Celebrations

The Final Solution to the Problem of ISIL and Every Kind of Violence

“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy”: these were the words of President Obama in his recent televised address regarding our nation’s response to this new terrorist menace in the Middle East.  About this same time his Vice President, Joseph Biden, was using even stronger words: “They should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice.”

 

There is no question that a group such as this merits a firm and even a forceful response from our nation’s leaders.  As even Pope Francis has said actions to protect the innocent, even those that make use of arms may be called for.  The world cannot sit idly by while the innocent are brutally tortured, raped and slain in the thousands.

 

While most of us could agree there are times when the use of force is called for, at this juncture in our history we would do well to ask some difficult questions about the resort to weapons to resolve the seemingly endless cycles of violence in our world.  Violence, even when it is used in a just defense of the innocent, never provides an ultimate solution to violence.  Most will agree that World War I had its seeds in a previous war.  World War II had its seeds in World War I.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be traced back to Biblical times and shows no sign of ending.  Many such sad examples could be given.

 

War and other kinds of violence against our fellow human beings can for a moment bring the seething acquiescence of defeat but few students of history would call that true peace.   That is why Pope Francis recently issued this heartfelt cry: “…violence is not answered with violence; death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace! (Pope Francis, Sunday, September 7, 2014, Angelus appeal for peace)

 

I would like to suggest to you what I believe is the one thing that can end the seemingly endless cycle of violence in our world, the one path to lasting peace: a profound and sincere reconciliation.  At our Foundation Banquet on September 18th we heard a strong voice reassuring us that this is possible.  Immaculée Ilabagiza is a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide that took place in 1994.  She endured 91 days hidden in a 3 x 4 foot bathroom with 7 other women.  As a 22 year old witness to the horror of a systematic bloodthirsty massacre of 1 million men, women and children including her parents, grandparents and all but one of her siblings, Immaculée felt the common human desire for vengeance.  But praying the Rosary, and particularly the Our Father over time taught her that there had to be another way.  She knew that she could not pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” sincerely without forgiving the very ones who had slain her family.

 

Yes!  There has to be another way, but the truth is that the way of peace is beyond our frail human abilities.  Only Jesus, the Prince of Peace, can break these seemingly endless cycles of violence.  Only he can show us the way to forgiveness and reconciliation.  Only the one who gave his life for love of us even as we were doing violence to him can show us the way to true and lasting peace!

 

Bp. Mark J. Seitz

Celebrations

Jesus and the Stranger

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Gospel: Matthew 15: 21-28 – “The Canaanite Woman”
Given in Spanish and English at Our Lady of the Light on August 17, 2014

 Jesus and the Stranger

We usually think of Jesus walking the highways and byways of Israel.  But today we find him traveling as a stranger on the other side of the border in the region of Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon.  He has probably gone there to escape the threat of King Herod who has recently murdered his cousin, John the Baptist.  He needs time to think.

So Jesus is outside of his home country in Lebanon for a while.  His disciples, who are with him, soon forget where they are.  They think they are the homeboys and the local woman who approaches is an intruder.  When this woman will not give up her persistent petitions for assistance to her daughter, who is beset by a demon, the disciples ask Jesus to get rid of her because she doesn’t belong.  She is an annoyance, a burden.

In the beginning Jesus responds just as the disciples have asked.  He says to the woman that it is not right to take the food that belongs to the children and give it to the dogs.  But this woman knows something the disciples have forgotten, that God is the Lord of all and that everyone is the object of his Fatherly love.  She responds very humbly that even the puppies under the table receive the crumbs that fall from there.

I cannot hear this Gospel today without thinking of the situation we have been experiencing with the refugees who are arriving at our border in great need.  The majority lately have been children and mothers who are fleeing here from terrible violence and threats in their home countries.  The refugees come to our border without food, without clothing, without being able to speak the language—totally lost.  I can hear the disciples’ voices in the words often spoken by our countrymen who shout “Get rid of them!  They are not our problem!  These foreigners don’t deserve our charity!”

Of course we need to protect our borders from armed invasions.  Certainly we need a well-regulated process to receive those who would like to come here.  But there are times when we need to follow the Gospel more than rules.  There are times when what people share as children of God is much greater than that which divides us.  There are times when the command of God to love one another transcends all the laws we make.

Thanks be to God we in El Paso understand these truths much better than many in our Country.  Many of us live on both sides of the border.  We have family and neighbors in Juarez and in all of Mexico.  We would prefer to build bridges much more than walls.  We cannot see those who live on the other side as “aliens”, as though they come from another planet.  Many of us in our lives have experienced the loss of everything, including our dreams and we have lived in necessity.  Yes, it is much easier for us here in El Paso, a city of immigrants, to receive those who come to us as brothers and sisters!  We have less than many but we share what we have.

But if we understand this situation better than others then we also bear a great responsibility.  We need to show by our example and our words how Christians respond to these refugees at our border.  We have this responsibility if we ourselves wish one day to belong with them to a Country in which everyone is an immigrant, but no one is an alien—the Kingdom of God!

Most Reverend Mark J. Seitz, DD
Bishop of El Paso

Celebrations

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Those who have known me through the years have known that I believe and am willing to defend all that the Catholic Church teaches, whether in her doctrinal or social teaching. But the issue that has always been closest to my heart, the concern that most passionately moves me to action, is the defense of the life of the unborn. While I feel tremendous compassion and sympathy for the woman who finds herself to be expecting a child in a difficult situation, I see the assault on the life of the innocent unborn child as the most egregious attack on the dignity of the human person imaginable.

 

Lately, and quite a bit to my surprise, I have found myself in a position to speak out publicly on another issue—the issue of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border.   Like the unborn, these children are vulnerable to violence, both on their journeys and in their home countries, and the Church is obligated to defend the “least of these.”

 

Some have questioned why I would take a position more consistent with the Democratic view on the crisis than the Republican view, which looks to enforcement as a solution.  What some have difficulty grasping today is that the Church’s teaching is not beholden to any political ideology. The Catholic Church is neither Republican nor Democrat, Conservative nor Liberal.  The Church is called to defend the rights and dignity of all of God’s children, born and unborn, regardless of the political wisdom of the day.

 

For me, involvement in immigration issues, particularly in the question of how we should treat families and unaccompanied children who are fleeing to our border from Central America and Mexico couldn’t be more consistent  As I see it I have actually been speaking in the name of voiceless immigrants all along. Both the life issues and the questions relating to those fleeing to our border challenge us to ask how we are to receive the stranger; how are we to treat the one unknown to us.

 

Even today with technology making the world so small, so transparent, we still seem to struggle to recognize the frail human face of both the child within the womb and the child at the doorway of our Country. In both cases I believe it is fear that raises our defenses against these innocent ones.  Fear of the one who is unknown can even lead us to see the most helpless child as a threat–a threat to our way of life, to our health, to our financial well-being.

 

I would not suggest that we are obliged to keep every child that arrives at our border here indefinitely. Some will need to return home if they can do so in safety.  Likewise, the mother of an unborn child who doesn’t feel ready to raise a child is not obliged to keep the child. She may send the child to a loving family. What a radically different choice adoption is than choosing to violently bring an end to that child’s life!

 

I would implore the people of our nation to receive the child who is a stranger with love and to make that child’s well-being our first priority.  I think they could learn much from the response of the people of El Paso.  Living on the border with family on both sides we know that these children are not a cause for fear.

 

A willingness to give of ourselves for the sake of the most vulnerable is the measure by which we will be measured according to the one who said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matt. 25:35) Jesus also told us: “Whoever receives a child such as this in my name receives me.”  (Matt. 18:5)  Jesus surely loves the little children.  We are called to do the same.

 

+Mark J. Seitz, DD

Bishop of El Paso

July 15, 2014

Celebrations

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops On Unaccompanied Children

BSeitzfinaltest

Testimony
of
Most Reverend Mark Seitz
Bishop of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
On
Unaccompanied Children
House Judiciary Committee
June 25, 2014

Click Here to view or download the document

El Paso

Statement to the Media on My Testimony

June 23, 2014

I have been called to serve the Church as a Bishop, a Bishop of a Diocese on the border.  My challenge, as that of every Christian, is, to the best of my ability and under the guidance of the Church, to apply the Gospel teaching of Jesus to present day situations.

This will be my main role when I testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon. As I do so I will also bring with me the substantial experience and expertise of the Church in her charitable outreach to migrants in our hemisphere and around the world.  We do not know these situations as abstract numbers or statistics but as people with faces.  When it comes to Unaccompanied Minors and to mothers and families who are bringing young children, we know them as people who are fleeing for their lives, experiencing violence and unspeakable abuse on their journey, and finding themselves in a place unknown to them, with only the clothes on their backs.  How can we fail to show them compassion?

I will clarify the US Bishops support for the right of a nation to control her borders and to enforce the rule of law.  We do not consider the current broken immigration system as in any way serving as a model for the way a country should receive migrants.  Migration should be orderly, safe and controlled in a way that is consistent with the common good.

While many reasons can be given for the influx of young migrants we believe that the primary reason they are departing their homes and their families is the pervasive and brutal violence that has become a part of everyday life in the three Central American countries from which the vast majority come: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  As we were told on our trip to those countries, the migrants are not simply leaving their homes, they are fleeing.

We believe that other nations that have opened their doors to people fleeing violence in accord with the United Nations Conventions to which we are a signatory, such as Lebanon which has accepted more than 1,000,000 who have fled from the Syrian violence Jordan; Kenya, Thailand and many other nations which host refugees.  The world will be watching to see how we handle this much smaller influx.

By the grace of God I hope that my testimony will help to reach the hearts of these leaders to overcome the fear and political paralysis that prevents us from responding as the compassionate nation we are. This migration challenge, which involves the most vulnerable among us, is a test of the moral character of our nation.   Let us pray that we do not fail this test.

Celebrations