Thursday, May 10, 2012

God is in all our journeys

By Jeanette Arnquist
Director, Ministry of Life, Dignity and Justice

I remember that life is a journey especially at Easter because of the Emmaus story.  One question this reading from Luke urges me to ask is: Do I recognize Christ in my life?  Do I see him in the Word, in the Bread, and in the stranger?  Nearing retirement, I look back on my life and the many encounters I have had with the Lord, and as I look toward the future, I feel like I am traveling into uncharted territory.  When I consider my future, my faith reassures me that Christ will be with me on this next journey.  

I believe that sometimes my baggage keeps me from seeing reality and from finding Christ’s presence there.  As Cliff (my husband) and I get ready for retirement, we are reducing the volume of “treasures” that fill our cabinets and closets.  So far, local thrift stores have benefitted from six car loads.  On Good Friday I tried to decide what to do with the valuable (perhaps) dishes inherited from our mothers.  Some were purchased in the 1920s and 1930s. In the end I asked myself, how many fancy cake plates do I really need?

I am making progress in getting rid of physical baggage. There is other baggage, however, that clouds my vision:  the need to control, my preconceived ideas, prejudices, and grudges — all of which makes it difficult for me to recognize Christ walking with me.

Last month I attended what is no doubt my last professional conference.  It was a very good one, “Eucharist Without Borders,” and it looked at immigration through the lens of our Catholic faith, with special emphasis on God’s welcoming table, the Eucharist.  It was held in Rio Rico, Arizona, only 17 km from the U.S. –Mexico border. 

As part of the conference I went to the Tucson Federal court to observe “Operation Streamline.”  It certainly was a streamlined process.  In 45 minutes, 70 immigrants were deported.  Some directly while others were sent to serve 30–100 days in detention before deportation.  The scene in the courtroom was chilling.  There were several very large, very young men serving as guards.  The immigrants were all small and they were shackled with heavy chains.  In groups of 8 or 10 they pled guilty to unlawful entry.  If they are caught in the United States again, they could serve years behind bars before they are deported.  

After I returned from court to the conference, I looked closely at art and environment in the meeting room. The environment consisted of items discovered on the migrant trails.  (Since October 2011 to April 2012, there have been 71 deaths along the Arizona border and at least 2,358 deaths since 2000.) 

These artifacts each had a story. In some cases, perhaps a migrant thought that a particular item was just not worth the weight that it added to the backpack.  In other cases, I can only assume that the items were left behind because the migrant died.  As I looked at these objects, I thought about my journey and what I am giving up as I face retirement.  I thought about these migrants, termed “Illegal aliens” by so many, and what they have given up.  Home, the life they knew in Mexico or farther south, relationships.  One item was a tattered Bible.  How many of us love the Word enough to carry a heavy Bible 100 miles?  And I kept going back to the small children’s backpacks.  The little shoes of a child perhaps 4 years old.  And I kept going back to 2,358 deaths. 

What causes these migrants to risk everything, to set out on the journey through the desert carrying on their back everything they are taking into their new lives?  They must have an idea of the difficulty of the journey and the risks.  Who would make this journey if not compelled by circumstances of poverty or family reunification? 

I pray that like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I will recognize Christ in the stranger on my own journey.

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