There is an extraordinary vantage point in Yosemite National Park, referred to as Tunnel View. If you have been there, you understand. If you have not, please look it up as it is spectacular. It’s called Tunnel View because on your way there, you drive through a long tunnel and then just as you emerge from it… you’re there. You can’t miss it as you’ll see many cars parked and a long line of photographers with cameras mounted atop tripods, snapping away… all trying to stand in the footsteps of Ansel Adams, capturing one of America’s truly most beautiful landscapes.
I’m blessed to say that on one unforgettable occasion, I was one of those photographers who stood there with my camera pointed out into Yosemite Valley. The image above was taken on that morning, as the sun was beginning to reemerge after an evening snowfall.
If you were to put a telephoto lens on your camera… one that points deep and far into the scene, you would see El Capitan to the left, a gigantic wall of stone, or Bridalveil Falls, a stunning waterfall, or Half Dome… the treeless peak that falls just behind and above Bridalveil. Any one of those single shots is magnificent and you would be pleased to frame and hang it in your home. But put a wider lens on your camera and capture the whole scene – that’s where the magic happens. It all falls together into an extraordinary panorama of rocks, cliffs, trees, waterfalls, mountains, and mist – it’s truly extraordinary.
Zoomed way in you see one thing. Zoomed out, you see the whole picture. Depending on whether you are zoomed in or out, you see the scene very differently.
The same is true about a lot of things.
For example, in the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 58:6-8), the prophet is suggesting that we should share our bread with the hungry, bring the afflicted and homeless into our homes, clothe the naked and not turn our backs on others. Sure, but which hungry is he referring to, which afflicted and homeless, which naked, and exactly which others?
I’d say that the answer depends on whether you are zooming in or zooming out, whether you see the world through a tight telephoto lens or a vast wide angle one. Whether you see Bridalveil Falls only or all of Yosemite Valley. This is the question that the United States bishops and their agency, Catholic Relief Services or CRS, has answered. They take the wide view. In fact, the widest view possible. Everyone is our neighbor.
The mother and father who are trying to escape violence and become refugees in order to find a better life for their family. The young woman stolen out of her life and subjected to a life of forced servitude. The teenager who is on the other side of our world and who has no food, no shelter, no family… and who is destined to a short life of suffering. These are our neighbors.
We live in a time where we increasingly draw sharp distinctions, where borders between us rise up like high fences. I don’t personally disparage this notion. I don’t denounce anyone who says: “wait, what about us? Let’s put us first.” Those who are responsible for governing our country, for example, are responsible for thinking about our county. That is what they were chartered to so. The bishops do not have this luxury… or burden… however, as they see through the lens of our worldwide Church and are compelled to act on behalf of its founder.
Jesus told his disciples: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” He calls us to be the Samaritan who crosses to the other side of the road to tend to the one left beaten and dying on the side of it. We are to look beyond ourselves and to our neighbors.
The work of CRS aims to do just that. CRS, established by the US Bishops 75 years ago… right after World War II, has served over 120 million people in over 100 countries. As the use of the word relief in its name would suggest, CRS was established to offer assistance to those impacted by war and conflict, natural disasters and poverty. But in 1994, much changed. This was the year of the Rwandan genocide, an event resulting in the murder of 1,000,000 Rwandans over a one hundred day period and then the displacement of another 2,000,000, many of whom did not survive.
CRS had a local presence in Rwanda and as the disaster was occurring and then in the aftermath, it found itself wondering how this could have happened, how they did not fully see it coming and then how they might have prevented it. After this period of introspection and given the deep cultural and historical reasons for the genocide, CRS decided it need to take the wide view… to consider its own effect on a region served and then to work hard to develop more impactful, long-term solutions.
CRS still helps after disasters but it has re-positioned itself in ways that allow it to have a more lasting impact on the areas where it serves. This includes fostering fair trade practices, working to influence the socioeconomic factors that lead to poverty in the first place, and striving to impact the cultural underpinnings that promote human suffering.
This is not always easy work, but it is what our Savior (and his Church) calls us to do.
We are now confronting a significant refugee crisis as populations facing violence leave the Congo, Syria, Burma, Iraq and Somalia. Over 12,000 refugees from Syria have settled in the US since the start of their civil war in 2011 and I have myself seen the impact of the Somali unrest in places like nearby Lewiston, Maine where communities of former refugees work hard to rebuild their lives.
Regarding these refugees, did you know that (per CRS):
Refugees who come to the US must pay back the cost of their travel to America through a loan arrangement with the US Department of State . The US is the only resettlement country that requires this.
85% of refugees get a job and are self-sufficient within six months of arrival.
By the time a refugee has been in the US at least 25 years, their median household
income reaches $67,000—a full $14,000 more than the median U.S. income.
Recall that Jesus himself was a refugee, fleeing Herod’s wrath and resettling in Egypt with his parents. We don’t know much about this experience and how it impacted him and his parents. I often wish we did.
Were they treated poorly, fostering within him an empathy for those who flee their homelands in search of safety?
Or did they experience the kindness of those who took them in? Did he think about them when he was describing mercy to his disciples.
We are called to take the long view… as we know during Lent that we must look beyond the cross to that which comes after.
Similarly, we are called to take the wide view… thinking not only of what lies within our side of that high fence but also what lies beyond it.