This article was originally given as a homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, 29 December 2019.
The Holy Family was a refugee family. There is little doubt about this. We hear in the Gospel of Matthew that King Herod was determined to kill the Christ child. So, an angel appears in a dream to Joseph to tell him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. Joseph does so and remains in Egypt until the death of Herod. This means that in the first year of his life, Jesus was forced to flee his own country, because of political oppression. What would have happened if the Holy Family had been turned away from the border in Egypt and sent back to Herod? Would Herod have been successful in his desire to kill Jesus before he could begin his ministry and accomplish our salvation? Of course, we cannot answer this question. But we should always be grateful to the Egyptians for protecting our Savior.
I wish I could tell you that in our world today there is no longer need for people to flee their homeland. But this is not the case. In fact, we are in the midst of a refugee emergency. In our world, there are 70.8 million people who have been displaced from their homes because of war or crisis. This is the largest number of displaced persons since the Second World War. Over half of that number are people who are fleeing from armed combat in Syria, southern Sudan, and Afghanistan. They, like the Holy Family, are fleeing political violence in an effort to save themselves and their families.
You may wonder why I mention such horrible statistics during the Christmas season. The lights are still on the Christmas trees. The poinsettias have not yet begun to wilt, and I am talking about refugees! I am doing so because I want to keep Christ in Christmas. Christmas is more than exchanging gifts and gathering together with our family and friends. If Jesus is the reason for the season, then we should know Jesus’ teaching and follow it. What we discover is that the issue of refugees is high on Jesus’s agenda. In the great Last Judgment scene, Jesus presents us with six issues that will concern him on the Last Day. The first three are these: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). Jesus places our treatment of those who are displaced on the same level as providing food and drink. This makes welcoming refugees central to our responsibilities. It is especially true this year. We all know that 2020 is going to be a very political year. There will be many candidates vying for our votes. As we consider who deserves our support, we should have the teaching of Jesus and its interpretation by the Church in our minds and hearts.
What would have happened if the Holy Family had been turned away from the border in Egypt and sent back to Herod?
The Church opposes the evil of abortion. It also supports the free exercise of religion without government interference. We should also understand what the Church teaches on immigration. There are three points to Catholic social teaching on this issue.1 First, it is a human right to migrate in order to survive and protect one’s family. Second, governments have a right to regulate their borders and control immigration. Third, government borders should be regulated with justice and mercy. In the upcoming months, as you hear candidates talk about their immigration policies, ask yourself whether those policies are characterized by justice and mercy? If not, they are not consistent with what we understand as Jesus’ teaching.
The flight of the Holy Family continues in our world today. The Holy Family is no longer fleeing Herod. It is fleeing political violence in Guatemala, Syria, and Afghanistan. The Holy Family is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and every other religious sect. The Holy Family is white, black, brown, and yellow. The Holy Family speaks every language and dialect on earth. The Holy Family is looking for safety and humane treatment.
We are called to welcome refugees with justice and mercy. Let us welcome them as we would welcome Jesus.
1 http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/catholic-teaching-on-immigration-and-the-movement-of-peoples.cfm accessed