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When I was in my early twenties, I drove across the country with a friend and got a tattoo in Los Angeles: “Qvid est veritas,” Latin for “what is truth?”, in simple black letters.
I was playing with returning to my Catholic faith at the time. I thought that no matter which way my spiritual life went, the quote would have staying power. This was my young mind rationalizing an indelible mark on my right bicep like some kind of backwards Pascal’s wager.
Pontius Pilate’s enigmatic question to Jesus, recounted in John 18:38, speaks to us today. Truth is a complex and sometimes painful thing to accept. With Jesus Christ — the way, the truth and the life — before him, Pilate allowed someone else to decide the answer to his own query. Pilate knew full well the innocence of Christ. I wonder if his fear of the crowd was so great that he let them decide the truth, despite knowing and believing Christ’s answer to his question.
Today, we are presented with many decisions similar to Pilate’s, prompted by situations that may not directly threaten us, but in which a great deal is at stake for others. I can’t count the number of times I have seen people (literally or figuratively) throw up their hands in response to atrocities that conflict with their worldview. Among these reactions, none have been as startling as the ease with which “hands can be washed” of the deaths, separations and mass detention of fellow humans, including Catholics, in our neighborhoods and at our border.
In the face of many thoroughly documented raids, abuses, deaths, separations and mass detention of immigrant families, we have the choice to shrug. We have the choice to take in all the news images and stories, and still decide to hold onto our comfort. We have the choice to let someone else decide the truth, and decide the future of these children and parents through our inaction. What are we afraid of losing if we admit the truth?
In each of these choices, God whispers to us in many ways. To Pilate’s wife, God spoke in a dream. To Pilate himself, Jesus spoke plainly in direct answer to the Roman governor’s question. Despite the persistence of God, Pilate chose comfort and safety.
Whom will we turn over to immigration officials in return for our comfort? Whom will we allow to choose the truth for terrified children and desperate parents? How much of their pain is the acceptable price for the stability of our worldview?
What exactly awaits the families we wash our hands of, when we just can’t be sure if they are experiencing real abuse, injustice, torture or neglect?
What if it’s the more loving thing to realize that families may in fact be broken up from raids on their homes, and that such a thing is not the desire of Jesus for that family? What if the face of Christ, in that exchange with Pilate, calls us to acknowledge the possibility that children and families are being detained on a mass scale without proper care?
Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” But of the reports of our detained neighbors, we can ask ourselves, “What if this is true?”
And what if it is true, and still we do nothing?
Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew may have become cliché to some, but in them, Christ entrusts us with a means of measuring our actual love for him: “Whatever you do for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. … What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Mt 25:40, 45).
Confronted with these possibilities, might it be the response of Jesus to bring an end to this heinous suffering by immigrant families, despite the suspicion that it is politically motivated propaganda? Might Jesus instruct us that stories of outlandish anguish warrant active response? The burden of proof ought to rest with those with the ability to end the suffering, rather than with those actually suffering.
One dead child in immigration detention is one is too many. My son was just baptized the other week, and the Gospel passage, taken from Mark, described how the Apostles tried to keep children away from Jesus. At this, Jesus was “indignant,” and rebuked his closest followers for their actions: “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).
Christ reserves some of his strongest language for people who would hurt or hinder children from coming to him. I pray we cast our lot with Christ, and follow his lead.
Patrick Walsh manages Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry at Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about Martha’s Choice can be found at www.marthaschoicemarketplace.com.