The Holy Family was a refugee family. There is little doubt about this. We hear in today’s gospel 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 Jesus’s life, he 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 win our salvation? Of course, we don’t know the answer to that question. But we should always be grateful to the Egyptians for protecting our Savior.
I wish I could tell you that today in our world there is no longer any need for people to flee their own country. But this is not the case. In fact, we are in the midst of a refugee crisis. In our world today, 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.
At this point you will probably say, “Father George, it’s Christmas. Why are you bringing us these horrible statistics to our attention now? The lights are still on the Christmas trees! The poinsettias have not yet begun to wilt, and you are talking to us about refugees!” I am. 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’s teaching and follow it. What we discover is that the issue of refugees is very high on Jesus’s agenda. In the great Last Judgment scene, Jesus presents us with six issues which will concern him on the Last Day. The first three are these: “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Jesus puts our treatment of those who are displaced right up there with 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 a lot of candidates vying for our vote. As we consider who deserves our vote, we should have the teaching of Jesus and its interpretation by the Church in our minds and hearts.
We all know that the Church is opposed to the evil of abortion. We know that the Church supports the free exercise of religion without government interference. We should also know what the Church teaches on immigration. Catholic social teaching says that it is a human right to migrate in order to survive and protect one’s family. Catholic social teaching also says that governments have a right to regulate their borders, but when they do so it should be with justice and mercy. So in the upcoming months as you hear candidates talk about their immigration policies, ask yourself “are those policies characterized by justice and mercy?” If not, they are opposed to the teaching of Jesus.
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, Moslem 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.
Let’s commit ourselves today to welcome refugees with justice and mercy. Let us welcome them as we would welcome Jesus.