A few months ago, I went to a meeting with Archbishop Hanus called the Priests’ council. This body brings together priests from different parts of the diocese in order for the Archbishop to articulate his vision and listen to the concerns of his people from various parts of the diocese. It was my responsibility to bring him the concerns of all the parishes close to Highway 30 from Tama to Ames, an area we call the Marshalltown deanery. Several of the priests had heard that the insurance rates for our parishes were going to increase dramatically so I was given the responsibility of asking about the particulars increase. The Archbishop and his advisors did a very comprehensive presentation that lasted for a few hours on Sunday night and again on Monday morning. Since I was the youngest person in the room, I thought it best to listen and not ask my question too early. Finally, toward the end of things, the Archbishop asked for questions. I raised my hand and asked about the insurance rates and saw this pained look come across his face. He acknowledged that the rates were likely going to triple because of the floods in Cedar Rapids, the tornado in Parkersburg, and the immigration raid in Postville. I was kind of taken aback because, while I could understand why natural disasters like floods and tornadoes would affect insurance, it had never occurred to me that federal agents raiding a processing plant would likewise affect insurance. So, being young and insatiably curious, I asked what the connection was. The same pained look deepened in the Archbishop’s face and he said that the government’s actions were a disaster. They separated families. People were afraid to go back to their homes out of fear that the government would leave their children and deport the illegal member to Mexico. There were rumors that a sizable immigrant population was living under a bridge in town because of the situation of fear. Up until this point, I have to admit that I was at least not entirely pro immigrant. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t a xenophobe like Lou Dobbs. But, I believed that the government’s right to protect its borders meant that it should prosecute those people here illegally and send them back to their native countries. But, hearing the Archbishop tell us stories of families being separated, homes being abandoned, and individuals being punished while the producer finds a way to avoid persecution, just made me angry. And, what especially made me angry was when the Archbishop told us that he receives far more letters criticizing him over his stance on immigration than he ever did criticizing the church’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis.
We heard in the first reading today that the first gift of the Spirit was the gift of tongues. In the sixties, a group of very feeling-oriented spiritual people used this phrase almost exclusively about their particular spirituality. This charismatic spirituality involved a person being so overwhelmed by the Spirit that they start making what seems to most people as nonsense sounds. But, to the person involved in charismatic prayer, these nonsense sounds are a gift from the Spirit to show God’s presence to them. But, that’s not what is happening in the first reading. The first gift of tongues was, in a sense, a miraculous learning of other languages and dialects. It was a Rosetta Stone experience of learning a foreign language quickly and well. This happened in a way that seemed to reverse the Genesis experience of the tower of Babel in which the entire believing world was separated by words. Now, God the one who brought the Word into the world will bring the world together through words.
This unity of faith is what we have been given both as a gift and a responsibility. The Spirit is what guides us to help continue bringing about greater unity in the church. And, it is our responsibility to strive to bring that unity ever more fully to the church. One of my greatest frustrations about this country is that there are those who seem to believe that English is the only real language that exists. This attitude has become especially troublesome since the church made the concession of translating the mass into the vernacular. Whereas before 1960, it was obvious that the church was larger than the United States, was universal, because the entire mass was in Latin. Nowadays we only pray in English. We may occasionally pray Kyrie Eleison during Lent which is a Greek phrase. And we sing “Alleluia”, which is Aramaic…sort of. I fear that we are in danger of losing the mission given to us both in the first reading and the gospel, to bring ALL PEOPLE, not just Americans, together in Christ.
So, how do we get out of this? Let us listen to the Apostle Paul from the second reading. In that reading, Paul said, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” In other words, there is room for diversity amongst the unified body of Christ. There’s a part of me that wonders how we would react in most Catholic Church's in this country if the stranger was Latino, African, or Asian, especially if the person had a strange language or spirituality to go along with the strangeness of the color of their skin. This is as much if not more of a challenge to me as it is to anyone here: what are we doing to make the stranger to feel welcome, to be open to the diversity of gifts in order to bring together the one body of Christ?