Friday, February 15, 2013

Experiences from MACC, Part 2

Greetings in Christ,

In my last post I wrote about some of my experiences at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio. I would like to continue that train of thought as I reflect on my experience down near the border city of Brownsville, Texas.

Many immigrants who come north in search of a better life end up in small communities called “colonias,” which are usually formed on rather desolate patches of land offered by developers, in exchange for a financial commitment on the part of the one purchasing the property. It is then up to the immigrant, who usually has little or no means, to build a home, and remain current on the obligation to repay whatever loan they have taken on. The monthly payment may not seem like much, usually a few hundred dollars, but to one who has nothing but the clothes they are wearing, it can seem insurmountable. The newly arrived sometimes end up living in tin shacks with no plumbing or running water, and only over the course of many years are they able to slowly construct something that resembles a house, as we know it.

Las Milpas, the colonia that we visited, had undergone significant growth and development since it first began in the early 1970’s: there are paved roads and public utilities now, and most homes have at least some minimal modern conveniences. Many of the residents, however, are still struggling. A community organization known as “Arise” has done a tremendous job of helping the residents in learning their rights, learning processes of government, and helping them to adjust to their new circumstances. One of the principles of Arise is the idea that “we will not do for you what you can do for yourself,” which seems to uphold St. Paul’s admonishment to the Thessalonians: “In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thes 3:10). In my brief time there, I did not meet anyone who was unwilling to work.

Most people who come north in search of the American dream do not want to be dependent on others, except only God, but circumstances sometimes mean that they need our help. Thus Paul’s teaching must be held in tension with what Christ commands in the Gospel according to Matthew: that we must welcome the stranger, give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked…(cf. Mt 25:35-37). As Catholics, we are ‘both/and’ people, and so we must reflect on how best to incorporate both of these teachings into the fabric of our Christian lives.

I do not know what the political solution to America’s immigration difficulty is, and I would not even pretend to address that issue in this forum. But God clearly wants us to both care for ourselves, and for one another. I hope that during this Lenten season, we might take some time to prayerfully consider how best to do that.

May you have a blessed and fruitful Lent, and may whatever emptiness you gain by your sacrifices, be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit!

Peter Bucalo

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