Homily Reflection for Migrant and Refugee Sunday 2019 – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13: 22-30
25 August 2019
“It is not just about migrants”
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us that ‘people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’ It sounds as if this kingdom could be a place for all comers, or at least for all sorts from the four corners of the globe. We know that our family home is not the same as the kingdom of God, and neither is our country. Our table is not available to everyone. Our door is not open to everyone who knocks. At home, we do put our loved ones first. We can’t welcome all comers at just any hour of the day, and in whatever numbers they want to come. At our national borders, we expect our political leaders to maintain security and order while admitting migrants and refugees in generous and manageable numbers. We expect our politicians and public servants to give some preference to new migrants who have relatives already living in the Australian community, and to have an eye for those refugees most in need.
We all have the right to determine who enters our homes and who dines at our tables. We have the right to determine who enters our country and who is allowed to settle here permanently. We cannot provide a place for every person in need. But we have a responsibility to provide peace and security for some of those people in our world who suffer most. There is no magic formula to determine the extent of our responsibility to migrants and refugees. After all, there are more than twice the number of displaced people in our world than there are Australian citizens. But we Australians have to play our part. Australia has long been a country of migrants who together with the First Australians have extended a welcome to those coming to our shores seeking a better life. We have profited and benefited from this large scale immigration.
Just before Christmas last year, our bishops asked our politicians to put an end to the intolerable situation on Nauru and Manus Island endured by asylum-seekers whose plight continues to be our responsibility. The bishops said, ‘We cannot afford to have the plight of these people made even worse by making their futures the subject of bitter electoral disputation in the year ahead. Enough is enough. Let’s find them a home.’ We have come through another election and we have still not found these refugees a home even though some of them have had their lives put ‘on hold’ in distressing circumstances for more than six years.
After the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, Pope Francis took up the observations of the Pre-Synodal Meeting repeating in Christus Vivit: ‘In some host countries, migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political ends. This can lead to a xenophobic mentality, as people close in on themselves, and this needs to be addressed decisively’. We Australians can’t just think that he was referring to anyone but us. He had us in mind, just as he had in mind all those from wealthy secure countries who have closed their doors too firmly on those suffering greatly.
For this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis has insisted that ‘It is not just about migrants’. How we welcome migrants and refugees affects all of us and helps to shape the sort of society we want to be, and the sort of people we want to be. We cannot establish God’s kingdom here and now, but we can do more to make our homes, our local community, and our nation more welcoming to those who come to our shores. Living on an island nation continent, it is easy for us Australians simply to put out of mind those fleeing persecution, those who no longer have a place to call home.
In today’s first reading from Isaiah, the Lord speaks with hope and charity about those who ‘shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries, to Jerusalem, my holy mountain’.
Continuing to enjoy the fruits and benefits of secure and peaceful lives in our homes in the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit, let’s open our hearts and take some extra practical steps individually and collectively to provide a home for those who deserve more than the closed door of our fear and isolation. Let’s always call to mind what it would be like for us if we were on the other side of the door, knocking, or if we were on the other side of the national border, pleading. Remember, in the kingdom of God ‘some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last’.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Statement from President ACBC, 18 December 2018, available at https://www.catholic.org.au/acbc-media/media-centre/media-releasesnew/2168-acbc-statement-on-refugees-and-asylum-seekers/file
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).