Easter Sunday, Year C

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Mt. 25:35)

Last Tuesday, April 3, the Marin Independent Journal reported on the Marin Community Foundation entering the debate over illegal immigration when it provided emergency funding to two agencies that serve undocumented immigrants [1]. The report quoted the president of the foundation as acknowledging: “Does the foundation’s board of trustees expect to take some criticism for this? Of course, you can’t touch this issue now without being criticized.”

I said to myself, right after reading the article, that there would not be any lack, for sure, of critics who would feign shock and ask something like, “Why does MCF support lawbreakers and cater to them?” And sure enough, an April 6 letter to the editor of the paper wonders why illegal acts are being rewarded [2]. The letter chastises San Rafael authorities for not upholding or enforcing immigration laws and not going by the legal system.

When it comes to the question of immigration, “uphold and enforce the law,” or something similar to it, has lately been a convenient buzzword, or phrase, for not a few people in the United States. Has it not perhaps crossed the minds of these people that their country’s founding fathers did not exactly go by the legal system then? Had the founding fathers done so, there might not be a United States today and the inhabitants would still be under the government of Great Britain.

I am not advocating, of course, that laws not be taken seriously. In the spirit of the caution found in the U.S. Declaration of Independence about prudence dictating that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes, I uphold that one ought to obey the law. But I would like to add likewise that there might be times when one must answer to a higher authority.

It is my hope that not included yet on the list of forgotten truths is the saying, at once Petrine and apostolic (Acts 4:19; 5:29), “Better for us to obey God than men!” If Caesar has his rights with regard to what belongs to him, so does God with regard to all that belongs to him. And the worldview, subscribed to by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, takes God the Creator to be the owner and governor of all—everything and everyone—as the first reading of the Easter Vigil reminds us (cf. Dennis Hamm’s “Dodging Faith’s Call” in the March 27, 2006 issue of America). God’s claims, therefore, have precedence over Caesar’s. While we must obey and cooperate with the government, obedience to God also warrants that we critically scrutinize the government lest it become as tyrannical and oppressive as the rule of the Pharaoh who reduced the Israelites to cruel slavery.

We must obey human laws, surely, but without compromising divine laws—laws that affirm God’s everlasting love and unsurpassable generosity and which guarantee peace, cleanliness of heart and new life. And the whole of the law, according to Gal. 5:14 is summed up in “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Furthermore, as St. Vincent de Paul affirmed, charity is above all rules.

Concern for the superiority of God’s laws over human laws is, I believe, part of the reason why those who have been brought back to true life with Jesus should look for the things that are in heaven and not simply settle for things that are on earth. Those who in baptism died and rose with Jesus become his witnesses and bearers of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection when, not failing to understand the Scripture, they contribute to their society and their government becoming like an unleavened bread of sincerity and truth by way of their going against laws that bear traces of the old yeast of malice and wickedness. The smallest traces of the old yeast, I am afraid, could easily lead to a legal system not unlike the one Nazism imposed by force. Those who would rather submit to a higher authority could well contribute to the enactment of fairer laws and the repeal of some that might have had, for their inspiration, the same motive that was behind the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the California’s anti-miscegenation statutes, and such local ordinance forbidding the overnight stay of any colored person in the locality.

And I do not doubt it that those who are now zealous for God’s prerogatives—even in hidden and seemingly insignificant ways, perhaps—will surely appear with Christ in glory when he appears.