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Bearing one another’s burdens

March 5, 2017

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

Recall the biblical story of suffering Job. When Job’s three friends heard of his afflictions they set out to visit him. But, when they arrived to console their friend “they sat down upon the ground with him seven days and seven nights, but none of them spoke a word to him; for they saw how great was his suffering” (Job 2:11-13).

How often in the face of profound suffering and anguish do we struggle to find the appropriate words to console and show our compassion for others. Sometimes just being present is enough. It’s certainly a good start. Simply a willingness to be with others in their suffering demonstrates our solidarity with them and assures them they are not bearing their burden alone. This is a profoundly human response in the face of suffering. It shows respect without attempting to minimize, demonize or explain away suffering.

As Christians we find still deeper motives for bearing one another’s burdens. Saint Paul teaches us that we are all members of Christ’s body. Using the analogy of the human body he says, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” A sprained ankle or an aching tooth makes the whole body miserable! God so constructed the body that each member “may have the same concern for one another” (1Cor. 12:12-27). Elsewhere he says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

Today, many members of the Body of Christ here in Oklahoma are suffering anguish and fear in our midst. I am speaking of our immigrant community. Thousands of our brothers and sisters live each day in fear for themselves or family members who are without legal protection because they are undocumented. This is a neuralgic topic in today’s politically charged and deeply polarized climate. I am aware that this column probably will result in many defensive reactions. It is not my intention to provoke.

The simple fact is that rumors of mass deportations, the fear of raids to round up the undocumented in our homes and neighborhoods, in workplaces and even in churches and schools have resulted in an understandable fear and even a sense of panic throughout much of the United States and Oklahoma.

Who are these people? It’s easy to demonize nameless, faceless persons. But, these persons are parents with students in our schools. They are our neighbors. They are business owners and laborers. They sit next to us at Mass and serve in virtually every ministry in our parishes. They volunteer and they pay taxes.

Unfortunately, most of them are invisible because they fear exposing themselves to the risk of deportation and separation from family and community. This renders them even more vulnerable to exploitation. It makes our communities less safe because it discourages undocumented persons from reporting crimes in their communities and cooperating with law enforcement in solving crimes and bringing criminals to justice. Fear drives people into the shadows.

So what are we to do? Whether readers are aware of it or not, virtually every one of us knows someone who is living with this fearful uncertainty. We need to acknowledge that this affects us all.

As archbishop, I am calling on all of our parishes to pray for a just and compassionate resolution to the immigration and refugee stalemate we are experiencing in our nation. We must never forget that we are a nation of immigrants. We welcome the stranger. This is part of the authentic “American exceptionalism” of which we all can be proud.

I am pledging the services of our Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Catholic Charities offers counseling and legal services to those immigrants and parishes looking for answers and guidance as well as to families affected by separation from loved ones. We will continue to provide advocacy on the state and federal level to promote justice for immigrants and all vulnerable persons.

First and foremost, however, we will continue to accompany our vulnerable brothers and sisters in their suffering, fear and anguish.

As Christians we are all called to bear one another’s burdens. It’s what we do.