Spiritual Reflections

God’s “Temple of Humanity” at the US-Mexico Border

Asylum seekers depend on the compassionate care of people who believe that God resides in the “Temple of Humanity” and who do not turn a blind eye to their brothers and sisters’ angst and suffering.

“Jesus… takes God out of the Temple of brick and mortar and places God in the Temple of Humanity.”1 

Rev. Peter M. Preble

In the gospel of Jesus flipping the tables in the temple precincts, we encounter the Jewish community who believed that God resided in the temple. For them, sacrifice within the temple was deemed necessary to find favor and be in right relationship with God. In the story, what began as an ordinary day in the temple became, for Jesus, an extraordinary opportunity to confront the money changers whose unjust rate of exchange for temple currency put a heavy burden on those without resources to buy what was needed for sacrifice. On that day, Jesus not only condemned a religious practice that favored the powerful and marginalized the poor, he also challenged the narrow understanding of where God resides, and he exposed the hypocrisy of the religious authorities who prioritized the temple of bricks and mortar and ignored the “Temple of Humanity.” 

When I think of a temple of bricks and mortar, I imagine people sitting stiffly in cold, hard pews, eyes focused forward with little or no awareness of those beside them. It is an image that is neat and organized and portrays a God who is distant, with whom I need to negotiate to attract attention and gain favor. 

The image of a God who resides in the “Temple of Humanity” is very different from what I described above. Humanity is messy, chaotic at times and unpredictable, and God dwells in its midst. A “Temple of Humanity” speaks of the sacredness of the whole and of divine love that is unconditional and freely given to all, not just a few. By flipping the theological thought from God residing in a temple of mortar and brick to a “Temple of Humanity,” Jesus is inviting us to be “compassionate, caring flesh” in this world. 

Ministry at the Border

Currently, I live with other IHM sisters in McAllen, Texas, just twenty minutes from the US-Mexico border. Our small community is an inter-congregational initiative of the Oblate Sisters of Providence and the Monroe, Immaculata and Scranton IHM Congregations. We have been sent to McAllen to be a welcoming and compassionate presence to our brothers and sisters seeking asylum in the US. 

We are not alone at the border. Working side by side with other women and men religious, dedicated laity and non-profit organizations, we serve migrants on both sides of the border. Although we have been here only a few months, we have seen enough suffering to last a lifetime. 

Once a week we walk across the Hidalgo International Bridge to Reynosa, Mexico, where thousands of people are forced to live in sub-human conditions while waiting their turn to cross into the US. Many of them have been waiting for months, and some for over a year. They wait because they know that returning to their country of origin, where they endured extortion and death threats and witnessed the killing of family members, is not an option. 

Life in Reynosa can be cruel and frightening at times, especially for those who live on the streets outside the overly crowded shelters. Women and girls on the street have been raped in broad daylight while husbands and boys have been forced to watch. In the muddy and garbage-filled streets of Reynosa, I experienced the true meaning of the word “squalor.” Families with small children huddle on the edge of the road under make-shift lean-tos that unsuccessfully shelter them from the rain, the mud, and the extreme heat. Many are sick with no recourse to healthcare; all of them are hungry. Despite all of that, they continue to wait… believing that their only hope for a better life is across the river. 

In Reynosa, some migrants do find a safe space where they receive care and compassion. In the Casa del Migrante, the Daughters of Charity provide shelter, food, clothing and basic healthcare for families. But more important than what they do is how they do it and why they do it! The sisters have embraced the messiness and the unpredictability that seems to be part of the migrant’s life. They treat each person with dignity because they see God in the midst of suffering humanity. 

Those migrants who are fortunate enough to cross the border are welcomed in McAllen by the staff and volunteers at the Humanitarian Respite Center, which 

is managed by Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Brownsville. They come with hearts full of gratitude as well as feelings of sadness and anxiety. Many have left mothers, fathers, siblings and children behind and do not know if they will ever see them again. Others like Jessica, whose one-year-old nephew was taken from her in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are heart-broken and anxiously wait to be reunited with loved ones. 

The initial relief of finally being in the US is short-lived. There is a palpable sense of urgency among migrants when they arrive. They know that they immediately must contact their sponsors, ask them for help to make travel arrangements and arrive on time at their destination to appear for their court hearing. Many migrants come without phones and depend on staff at the respite center to help them find separated family members and contact sponsors. Most are unaware of how vast the US is and that they may have to travel for days by bus or make several connections in airports to reach their destination. 

Asylum seekers depend on the compassionate care of people who believe that God resides in the “Temple of Humanity” and who do not turn a blind eye to their brothers and sisters’ angst and suffering. In the world in which we live, it is tempting to be a “temple authority” or a “money changer” and to look out for our own interests, even if it means busing or flying asylum seekers with papers to places far from those who are sponsoring them or making promises that we have no intention of keeping. When we believe that God resides only in a temple of brick and mortar and not in our brothers and sisters, it is easy to sustain systems that protect the powerful, create fear and distrust of the most vulnerable, and exclude those we think will take what is ours. 

What if we became “compassionate, caring flesh”? What if we acted in ways that were welcoming and inclusive? What if we imagined the immigrant as our neighbor who comes not to take what is ours but rather to bring creative ideas to the table and values that will strengthen our community, state and country? Some might call this thinking naïve and idealistic. I believe it is what we need to flip the tables! 

  1. flipping-over-tables.html ↩︎

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