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Third Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2017

by Professor Hosffman Ospino Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Education School of Theology and Ministry

Hosffman Ospino holds an MA in theology with concentration in Church History and a PhD in Theology and Education from Boston College. Dr. Ospino's research concentrates on the dialogue between theology and culture and the impact of this interchange upon Catholic theological education, catechesis, and ministry.

Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent:

Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4: 5-42

Lent

I Am a Stranger… Would You Welcome Me?

"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… [I was] a stranger and you welcomed me'" (Matthew 25:34-35c)

How does the United States of America, a nation essentially built by immigrants and the children of immigrants, welcome the stranger?

I must confess that I am not too fond of the term "stranger" since it connotes some distance and it often sounds impersonal. On the other hand, as long as we acknowledge that every stranger is a human being created in God's image and likeness, then the term is an invitation to learning more about someone who has something to reveal.

This week's Lenten reflection is a straightforward invitation to examine who we are in a society for which the idea of welcoming the stranger is profoundly personal. Being "a stranger" is something that hits very close to home for most of us. Most people living in the U.S. can trace a connection to an immigrant relative somewhere in the last two centuries. At the dinner table or in living room conversations, we still hear the stories of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents leaving all they had to come to the United States searching for new opportunities. Some left conditions of dire poverty, violence, persecution, and lack of opportunities to flourish and support their loved ones. Others left because they firmly believed that their dreams could come true by giving their best to building this society. In many ways, we represent that better future and the embodiment of their dreams.

Nearly 42.2 million immigrants presently live in our neighborhoods, constituting about 13.2 percent of the nation’s entire population. That is a significant number! However, there have been moments in history in which that percentage has been much larger. These immigrants call the United States their home. Just like the immigrants—the strangers—of the past, these people are integral to the fabric of our society. As a society, we have done a good job welcoming people from everywhere in the world, despite the normal imperfections that accompany every human process. If we could go back in history, most likely we would do many things in a better way. When we say that we are proud of who we are as a society, that pride has much to do with the fact that we gave ourselves the opportunity to welcome and embrace many strangers.

I am an immigrant—a stranger who calls this country my home. This is the place where I came as a young man with hopes and dreams, where I have become much of who I am today. This is where I am raising my family and sharing my gifts, participating in the construction of a better world, and journeying with the new generations that I engage as a theologian teaching at Boston College.

What has led so many "strangers" like me to call the U.S. our home? I would highlight three core reasons.

First, faith communities have excelled in their practices of hospitality, incorporating new members who share their faith, healing the wounds of those hurt and lonely, and opening their doors to those most in need. Many of these communities draw from the wells of the Judeo-Christian tradition that constantly invites us to welcome the stranger as if we were welcoming God. Tall order, indeed, yet one that we have fulfilled in creative ways.

Second, welcoming the stranger is not something new for us as a society. We have done this for centuries and will likely do it for many centuries more. We have learned much in the process. A major strength of the U.S. society is its incredible resilience embracing difference and freshness. This is exactly what many throughout the world associate with being American.

Third, the prophetic conviction that welcoming the stranger is the right thing to do, especially when lives and the dignity of other human beings are at stake.

There is no doubt in my mind that we have been able to welcome the stranger thanks to the undeniable influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition that still grounds many of the social values that make us who we are. This tradition in turn resonates with similar values espoused by other religious and philosophical traditions that coincide in our communities.

Sometimes in our society, and even our faith communities and families, we get caught up in conversations that center on questions related to the limits of hospitality: who should we welcome? What legal procedures are we to follow and how should we interpret them? What numbers of immigrants or refugees make us comfortable or uncomfortable? These are important conversations, yet we must be careful not to fall into the trap of discriminating, demonizing, excluding, and even rejecting the stranger. Such attitudes are opposite not only to the best of our Judeo-Christian values, but also to the best of the values that identify us as a society.

When we encounter the strangers of our day—immigrants, exiles, refugees—and their families, regardless of their race/ethnicity, gender, age, and religion, they are the face of Christ for us here and now. Are we seeing the face of Christ in the person who says, "I am a stranger…would you welcome me?"

As we move through this powerful season of Lent, let us focus part of our prayer and reflection time on how we welcome "strangers" into our families, our faith communities, our social circles, our towns and cities, and our country.

What can you take up this Lent once you see the face of Christ in the stranger? Let me offer you a few suggestions:

Educate yourself, your family, and community about issues related to immigration

Have a conversation with your children or grandchildren about this topic. Host a meeting in your faith community to talk about how, and whether, we welcome the stranger. Draw from the wells of our Catholic tradition. For instance:

  • Explore the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops campaign to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and just treatment of immigrants and their families. The name of the campaign is called Justice for Immigrants
  • If you have the time, read the 2004 insightful instruction from the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, The Love of Christ Towards Migrants.

Advocate

Find out what you can do in your town, city, or state to advocate for better care and protection of immigrants and refugees, especially those who are most vulnerable. Write or speak with your political representatives to see what they are doing to treat all immigrants and refugees with respect. Express your opinion informed by your faith.

Do something practical this Lent

  • Put a face to "the stranger." Visit with someone who is an immigrant or a refugee and ask this person to share her/his story with you.
  • Send a donation to an organization that advocates for just treatment of immigrants and refugees.
  • Offer, at least once a week, a prayer for the many millions of people in the world who had to leave their homes and their lands, and are searching for authentically welcoming communities.

For reflection and discussion:

1. What can you do as a person of faith to promote conversations that help others to treat immigrants and refugees as the presence of Christ in our midst? Name some of the language and ideas that need to be challenged.

2. What will you do this Lent to see the face of Christ in the immigrant or the refugee?

3. Can you spare 15 minutes of your busy life at some point this week to pray and meditate? If so, name that moment, reserve it, and treat it as sacred. Return to this reflection during that time.

Please submit a comment or response to this week’s Reflection below. We will post as many possible.

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