Category Archives: Family Spirituality

Credible Fear

Among the linguistic lunacies used to camouflage a racist and exclusionary immigration policy, “credible fear” must rank high.

On Oct. 1, fourteen US Senators (including Booker, Harris, Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand and Bennet) wrote the directors of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration, and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to express their concern with a new administration policy to have CBP agents conduct credible fear interviews, rather than specially trained asylum officers, as the law requires. “The change endangers the lives of countless vulnerable individuals, including children,” they stated.

Furthermore, the senators underline documented evidence that proves CBO’s hostility and indifference to refugees.  This threshold screening, if passed, simply allows a refugee to present a case to an asylum judge, yet if it is denied or handled thoughtlessly, it consigns many to violence and possible death. A bedrock principle of our democracy, these senators point out, is that an individual should have a fair chance to present his or her case.

This principle, many people could attest, is how their ancestors entered the U.S. During the potato famine of 1840-1850, 1 million Irish people died of starvation; another million emigrated to the US in “coffin ships.” Horror tales abound—for example, of a twelve-year old whose parent died aboard, arriving in New York City alone, speaking only Gaelic. Sound familiar, with the child speaking only Spanish? And what of those fleeing the Nazis? One Hungarian historian describes the slaughter of Jews: “the Danube turned red with the blood of the elderly, women and children who were shot in the back and dumped in the river.” Would these situations and countless others like Syria today constitute “credible fear”?

And perhaps a more fundamental question: who are we, or some overworked CPB agent, to judge the terror of a woman fleeing a murderous ex-husband in Guatemala, trying to save the lives of her two young sons, distraught that the boys will be taken from her? In many parts of the US where population is dwindling, immigrants are desperately needed to replenish the workforce.  What kind of country turns away a life-giving force for its future?

Feast of All Saints—November 1

When Jesus first walked among the crowds speaking the Beatitudes, the promises he made must have seemed astonishing. But Christians throughout history have recorded their own astonishment at the amazing fulfillment of what must have at first seemed utterly outlandish.


While many people are struck dumb by the gifts they have received, others are inarticulate. They may feel the amazement, but putting it in words is the work of the poets. So Raymond Carver, who died at fifty, marveled that the last ten years of his life were “gravy.” Because of his alcoholism, he had received a terminal diagnosis at age forty. The love of poet Tess Gallagher, with her encouragement to stop drinking, bought him years he never thought he’d see.


C.S. Lewis explains the thinking behind the Beatitudes:


“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”


Metaphorically, then do we settle for living in a dark, damp basement when we could be enjoying the five star resort?

Feast of Alphonsus Rodriguez—Oct. 31


The Catholic calendar of saints is heavy on founders of religious orders, who have the personnel in Rome to pursue the cause of canonization. So it’s unusual and delightful to celebrate a saint who did only the ordinary, extraordinarily well.

Rodriguez’ transformation began in tragedy—the deaths of his mother, wife and children, the failure of his business, the refusal of the Jesuits to admit him due to his age and lack of education. Finally, they allowed him to become a lay brother. And for the next forty years, he opened the door of their college in Majorca.  His quiet fidelity is known to most through Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem:

“Yet God…

Could crowd career with conquest while there went

Those years and years by of world without event

That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.”

Saint Peter Claver was one who as a seminarian passed through that door, and was attracted by Rodriguez’ prayerfulness, his attention to Christ in each person. Did that steady influence help Claver’s decision to devote his life to West African slaves arriving in Cartagena, enduring deplorable conditions?

I met a current version of Alphonsus in an 86-year old porter who’d opened the door to the shrine at Aganzazu, Spain for 68 years. He banged his cane on the floor with surprising vigor, announcing “Aqui!” “Here,” he meant, St. Ignatius had prayed before a small statue of Mary found amidst brambles and thorns before he was born. Had that led him to “finding God in all things”?

Such mysterious, unseen networks connect apparently random people and events, all woven with threads of kindness that become a powerful chain, a grace that cements.

St. Teresa of Avila’s Feast—Oct. 15

“From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, Good Lord deliver us!”

“May God preserve us from stupid nuns!”

No matter how hard they try, hagiographers can’t camouflage Teresa’s tart brusqueness. In her day, the sixteenth century, the Inquisition tried to force change through threats, imprisonment and violence. One suspects that Teresa’s humor had longer-lasting effects.

She reformed not only the Carmelite order, but also attitudes about women and approaches to prayer. Because her early training had shoe-horned her into trivial conversation with too many women jammed into one house, she created orderly spaces where her sisters could turn inward. “My daughters, we are not hollow inside,” she reminded them.

Then she took on the prevailing ideas of prayer: mindless repetition of rote formulas imposed by the clergy. Most people considered direct experience of God, without priestly intervention, subversive. Teresa gave images of contemplation that were close to daily life: the watered garden, beehive, interior castle, heart of God like the innermost, edible core of the palmetto. The face of God that Teresa reveals is not punitive or distant, but precious as a lover, close as a friend.

All the while she was dancing around the Inquisition, coyly claiming she had no idea what she was talking about. How could others condemn her when she beat them to it? Meanwhile, probably grinning self-protectively, she focuses on God’s generosity: “Do you think it’s some small matter to have a friend like this at your side?”

Protesting Children in Cages

One of the most memorable things Rachel Maddow said in “Raise Hell,” a documentary about reporter Molly Ivins was, “She wasn’t afraid to get angry.” The imprisonment of children near our southern border demands our anger: for details, see last week’s blog. Every religious tradition believes in the spark of the divine in the human and the call to protect the innocent. Hence, as promised, this week’s blog explores ways to protest.

Call Your Representative

This is the phone number for the House and Senate Switchboard.

Tell them who your representative is; they will connect you directly to that person.


You may talk to a tape or speak with an aide; make your message succinct: “I’m a constituent, calling to ask what N______ (insert name of Congressperson) is doing to stop the imprisonment of children at the southern border. I’m appalled that my taxes are supporting for-profit prisons which keep children in cages and make huge sums off their misery. These children have not committed a crime. How will you stop this human rights abuse?

Encourage members of your church, synagogue or mosque to call too. If you have contacts in the news media, ask them to keep up pressure to close the camps.

Put the creche in a cage; Post this poem

Last year, many churches placed their crib scenes within cages, saying symbolically: the children in cages are Christ himself. For Christian traditions preparing Advent resources, here is a poem drawing a parallel between the holy family and refugee children today. You have permission to reprint in your non-profit bulletins, etc.

                                           Nativity Scene, 2019

                                             by Kathy Coffey

Infant in a cage,

Magi banned from travel.

Desperate parents fleeing

murderous thugs, saving

the child’s life. While

Herod-in-Chief names them

thieves and murderers, amasses

armies to defend rampant fear.


The moral unraveling not so

easily packaged as the creche:

we tolerated this atrocity.

Still on southern borders

a child sleeps beneath aluminum foil,

wakes to florescent lights on wire mesh.


Innocents Imprisoned: Children Still in Cages?

It’s puzzling when we think an issue has been resolved, but it continues to surface. Such is the case with the children separated from their parents at the border, jailed in horrid conditions at for-profit prisons. A few background points:

∞ In July 2018, tens of thousands of people marched around the country, protesting the criminalization of those doing what any of us would do: fleeing dreadful violence to protect their children’s lives.

∞ In July 2019, people again demonstrated with signs carrying messages like, “Close the Camps!” The ACLU sued, saying more than 900 children have been separated from their parents since the practice was ordered to be stopped last year. How many children have since been returned?

∞ Last Friday, federal judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles blocked administration rules that would have kept immigrant children in detention with their parents indefinitely. The Flores agreement will remain in place and NOT be used to deter refugees fleeing desperate conditions from seeking asylum. But does this apply to the children separated from their parents?

Earlier this year, a few attorneys were allowed into the detention centers, and they were horrified by conditions there. But elected members of Congress were prevented from entering, and now the press is not permitted entry. Meanwhile, the private prison system makes huge profits off miserable children, deprived of adequate food, showers, health care and education. According to a reports by Daniella Silva of NBC, Julia Ainsley of NBC, Senator Jeff Merkeley of Oregon, and others, children as young as toddlers are living in extremely crowded metal cages, in freezing temperatures, with no bedding or blankets. Citizens can’t find out about it, and we’re paying for it.

Rachel Maddow did a segment on this outrage July 30: Especially touching is the interview Julia Ainsley did with a 17-year old boy. He had recently been released, and guaranteed anonymity, could report on conditions in the prison. He explained how children were so tightly squeezed together, they took turns sitting or lying down to sleep, and spent a great deal of their time standing. Most memorable: deprived of adequate food, the younger children cried, which would invite retaliation from the guards, so the older children shared theirs. What a tribute to the generous human spirit, that gives away desperately needed nutrition under terrible circumstances!

Because the children are grieving the loss of their families, and have no idea what will happen to them, they are certainly terrified and distraught. (See the long-term effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences in the review of Deepest Well, published on this site 7/28/19.) Guards punish those who cry, or ask for anything, including food or water. A 15-year old girl was sexually assaulted by a guard and there are reports of physical violence against other children by guards.

How can we ignore the suffering of the innocents? Everything in our religious traditions tells us to act. Next week, see suggestions on how to protest this human rights abuse.

Thank You, Greta Thunberg

∞for spending more than a year sitting every Friday in front of the Swedish parliament, alone in all weathers with your “Climate Strike” sign

∞for finding an alternate to jet travel—a solar-powered boat–for your journey to the US to speak to the UN Climate Action Summit

∞for using strong language to condemn the inactivity of the world’s leaders on global warming: “How dare you?”

∞for galvanizing a children’s crusade to save the planet which young people will inherit, and awakening us all to the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions

∞for staring down the flurry of Donald Trump’s arrival at the UN (not, however, to contribute anything to the discussion of climate change. Even though the promises of other nations were inadequate, they were attempts. The US offered nothing.)

∞For reminding the world that everyone can make a difference in the effort to preserve the planet

∞For openly acknowledging you’re on the autism spectrum, transforming what could have held you back, instead ignoring “social coding” and following your own path

∞For unfailing politeness in a grueling schedule of televised interviews, and the brusque correctness of your British-accented English

∞For not allowing the fact that you’re only 16 to stand in the way of an urgent imperative to speak out and turn the tide

∞For filing a complaint with the UN that governments’ lack of action on a pressing issue endangers children’s right to a future·

Every now and then, a bright light flares across the scene of world events and inspires humanity. We’re blessed to have seen yours, Greta.