Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Escucha! Exercises on the border

Listen, I'm sorry that didn't listen last night before dinner.  Or afterward.  Perhaps when I pray Compline, I thought. Wrapped in the comfortable dimness, solaced by the familiar prayers, perhaps then I will be able to listen to the children taken from their parents without weeping.  My finger hovered over the white triangle, wondering how this might sound to my husband in the next room, whose mother came to the US as a child — alone — fleeing the Nazis.  I let it go.

The last intercession for Morning Prayer today opened with an imperative "Remember the poor and the afflicted..."   And so after closing my breviary, I hit play. I listened for 7 minutes and 47 seconds to children wailing for their parents, to a young girl pleading to call her aunt so that she could be with her mother again, to harried consular officials trying to sort the situation and to the exasperated, mocking voices of the border patrol, "Well, we have an orchestra here..."  It's in Spanish, and I didn't need the subtitles, removing yet another layer of insulation. 

I replayed it and listened with the ears of the Third Week, hearing again to the confusion and existential pain of children taken from their parents.

The Third Week of Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises is a contemplation of Christ's Passion. The Third Week demands presence, not just to the externals, to the physical suffering, but to the internal anguish that is set out for us on the cross.  To see the pain of rejection and feeling hated, as David Fleming SJ puts it in his translation of Ignatius' text [197].  The Third Week demands that we slow it down, to watch and listen and experience again and again.  Until we can etch into our hearts what mercy looks like. This is a schola affectus, lessons for the heart in recognizing mercy and salvation in the midst of rejection and evil.

¡Escucha!  ¡Mire! The Third Week is playing on our borders.  Can I — can we — put ourselves in the way of the Passion.  Look!  Listen! Have we learned what mercy looks like? Does it sound like wailing children separated from their parents for what is the equivalent of a speeding ticket until the parents cough up the fine?

I hear you saying, but these are people crossing our borders, they are likely to be criminals and they are taking away resources from citizens. This isn't anything at all like speeding.  Just for a bit of context, in 2016 speeding accounted for more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities, more than 10,000 people (NHTSA).  Compare that to the total number of murders in the US in the same year:  17, 250 (FBI).  Arguably most of those were not committed by people who crossed the border without proper documentation.  If this is about the safety of people, tell me why we don't have a zero tolerance policy for speeding. Why are we aren't pulling children out of the cars of people stopped for speeding? It would certainly deter parents from speeding. In Pennsylvania alone the annual cost of traffic deaths due to speeding is almost a half billion dollars (CDC). The cost nationwide of traffic deaths and injuries exceeds 400 billion dollars, well beyond any estimate of the cost of undocumented people in the US.  A zero tolerance for speeding could make Americans safer and save us a lot of money.  Why aren't we on this?  Right.

In the Exercises of the Third Week, Ignatius expects a response that goes beyond tears, that extends beyond our own sorrow for what we have brought to an innocent.  He expects action. What will I do? Certainly not advocate for family separation for speeding tickets. 

¡Escucha!  ¡Mire! 


  1. I want to respond. I cannot yet get beyond the tears. I know that I have to do more than read and be outraged. I believe that the Ignatian exercises are also about discernment, are they not? Pray with me that the way forward becomes clearer.

    1. Doris, pray I will. And you make a good point, Ignatius would tell us to pray for discernment. I plan to keep on calling my state senator's office and making noise on Twitter and here and in person -- and to keep praying to see the way forward.