Monday, April 20, 2009

Work and pray

There are times blogging comes easily. Some others, not so much.

I’m struggling now with whether I want to write about proposed legislation in California. It proposes issuing different birth certificates to the U.S.-born infants of undocumented immigrants than to any other U.S.-born infants. It would thus become material proof of “second class” status and would sweep away the 14th Amendment’s jus solis category of citizenship for those the state deems “undesirable” [].

But no, as much as the proposal alarms me – and should alarm any child or grandchild or great-grandchild of immigrants whose citizenship was granted by virtue of having been born on U. S. soil – I just don’t want to delve into what such a proposal means. What it says about the type of nation we are contemplating becoming.

Neither do I want to examine the fact that anti-immigrant groups such as FAIR [ and] have responded to the President’s readiness to begin addressing immigration reform by pledging renewed and increased talk radio and internet attacks [,0,446373.story]. Or the fact that the nativist group, according to information on its web site, has been called to testify before Congress on immigration proposals more than any other organization in America.

I don’t even want to write about the illuminating but depressing Catholic News Service article about the Pew Center’s recently released “Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants” [] or any of the excellent articles on immigration I read daily in El Diario/La Prensa [].

Instead, I’m tempted to blog Catholic.

It is not something I do often, though faith underpins every entry about immigration and torture and sanctuary and all the personal stories I’ve ever posted here. It’s just that – it may as well be said upfront – I’m hardly the poster child for Catholicism. I was away from the Church almost as long as I’ve been in it, and am no more capable of deep theological thought than your average bear. Forget apologetics or eschatology or whether I prefer Aquinas or Augustine (though an amusing Facebook quiz tells me I’m in Aquinas’ camp) I want to write about a far more mundane aspect of being Catholic.

May 1 is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

This memorial looks not at the saint’s exalted moments of angelic guidance, but at his day-to-day labor as a carpenter and the tradition that, as Jesus’ foster father, he taught Him his trade.

The memorial acknowledges the dignity of work – no matter that it be accomplished with sweat and physical exertion or without formal education – and of the dignity of the human beings performing that work.

It is good to be reminded of this. Our society doesn’t much value certain types of labor, or see artistry in what it considers ordinary. We hardly notice those around us who keep the roads paved, the fields yielding or the shelves stocked. We probably wouldn’t have noticed this simple village carpenter either.

Through this memorial, and in her papal encyclical about the dignity of work, the Catholic Church honors what many of us forget – that nations would founder without laborers, and that they are due every bit as much respect as the white-collar workers who make it onto the pages of Fortune magazine.

A column that will appear on the bilingual page of the Catholic Standard & Times’ April 23 edition [] talks about St. Joseph the Worker and also notes that May 1 marks the national “Day without an Immigrant.” Though the rallies associated with the day have dwindled in recent years, at their peak hundreds of thousands of people gathered in a visible reminder of how many immigrants labor side by side with us; how many of them pray for justice and redemption side by side with us as well.

The author of the column in the CS&T reminds us that in addition to a laborer, St. Joseph was an also immigrant, seeking refuge with his family in lands other than his own. It fits so perfectly, don’t you think? Work and pray. That is what we do together.

On May 1, let’s promise to notice those who labor around us. Let’s notice not the color of their skin or the quality of their language or the status of their documents, but the work of their hands. To paraphrase a U2 song, those are the hands that build America.

Painting of St. Joseph by Georges de La Tour at the top of this blog is from Wikimedia commons' public domain images.


  1. I hadn't heard about this legislation

    what are we coming to as a nation?

    first, popularity votes on the rights of citizens - and now this less-than-citizen status on birth certificate.

    what could POSSIBLY be the purpose in that?!

  2. Personally when it comes to imigration, this country is all backwards anyway. We as a people don't want to do the "s*** work," but God forbid, an imigrant does..all heck will break lose. I know if it weren't for imigrants, I wouldn't be her. I'm Whelsh, German and Russian!!!

  3. There are so many issues concerning imigration. Should imigrants be able to take jobs from American born residents, even though the job is not that glamorous? Hope this comment helps the question.


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