Monday, May 14, 2018

Pope Paul VI: pioneer of a consistent life ethic


I do not share any piece of the common attitude of disdain or measured contempt for “Humanae Vitae.” Pope Paul VI, who led the Second Vatican Council and declared most emphatically the world’s great need for the Social Gospel, saw this teaching as an integral part of his work. It seems to me that this encyclical does indeed have a tone that differs from his other writing – that he wrote defensively, aware of the hornet’s nest he was kicking. But I could easily be projecting, shoving the popular rejection of the encyclical back into the text itself.

I think it’s silly to say that the encyclical was divisive and ineffective – somehow unlike Paul’s other teaching. Paul called for an end to war: didn’t happen. He called for wealthy nations to treat developing nations as brothers and sisters, and to pour out our hearts extravagantly, as the only alternative to war: didn’t happen. He called for higher taxes: that was divisive. He defended the United Nations – not endorsing any specific structure, but asserting the world’s desperate need for a governmental body with global authority: that was divisive. “Humanae Vitae” was in no way unique among his teaching! If it was divisive, then we should reach across the divide with determination and perseverance! If it “failed” yesterday, struggle toward a better tomorrow!

We don’t have to speculate about the context in which Pope Paul thought his words should be heard. “Humanae Vitae” cries out: “No one can, without being grossly unfair, make divine Providence responsible for what clearly seems to be the result of misguided governmental policies, of an insufficient sense of social justice, of a selfish accumulation of material goods, and finally of a culpable failure to undertake those initiatives and responsibilities which would raise the standard of living of peoples and their children. If only all governments which were able would do what some are already doing so nobly, and bestir themselves to renew their efforts and their undertakings! There must be no relaxation in the programs of mutual aid between all the branches of the great human family.” To be sure, we can and do fuss about details, but who can be contemptuous of his intent?

He made three predictions, should the teaching in HV be rejected. First, he spoke of a general lowering of standards of morality. Was he right? It was five years from the publication (and vilification) of “Humanae Vitae” to the decisions in Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton.

Second, he predicted that rejecting the teaching would lead to a great new disrespect for women. That, obviously, is controversial; women are in positions of power all over the world, and a woman won the popular vote in the American presidential election of 2016. And third, he predicted that what was permissible would become mandatory. I think he was right about both, and point to Hillary Clinton’s much-celebrated speech at the Beijing women’s conference as evidence of both. She spoke about advances in women’s rights in Beijing, which was then and still is now engaged in the greatest assault on women’s rights in human history, a great campaign of population control directed at one sixth of the women in the world, enforced by governmental monitoring of menstrual periods, including inter alia forced insertion of IUDs and forced late abortion. This campaign is anti-life, anti-choice, anti-child, anti-woman – and Clinton ignored it. This was a great turning point in American policy vis-à-vis coercive population control, and a revealing update on the state of feminism. And, it seems to me, it was a chilling affirmation of the wisdom of Pope Paul’s prophetic cry.

I accept and embrace the extraordinary teaching of Pope Paul VI and the Council he led and implemented – about social justice, and about personal morality. I think he suffered as an early leader promoting a consistent life ethic.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hospitality and nonviolence: cousins, not twins

Richard Stith is among the geniuses of the world, and I’m blessed to know him. In a letter to friends who share a consistent life approach, he wrote a preliminary response to “Gaudete et Exsultate.” It was – of course, coming from him – thought-provoking. But I’d like to respond.

Stith raised three issues. First, the exhortation seems to be a ringing endorsement of the consistent life approach; but if you measure it as such, it falls short. It puts abortion in a context of other life issues, but does not mention war and the death penalty. That’s a lot of violence to overlook, and these are odd omissions indeed if Francis intends to endorse the consistent life approach.

Second, Stith points out that when the Pope speaks about immigration and abortion together, this seems to equate intentional lethal violence with misery. Stith in no way minimizes the misery caused by restrictions on immigration; but misery is different from intentional lethal violence. So, again, the Pope’s approach is not the same as a consistent life approach.
And third, Stith is concerned that the Pope seems to accept the largely false “canard that pro-lifers do not do anything much to help out in the difficult daily lives of moms and babies after they are born.”

With regard to the third matter, it seems to me that pro-lifers have to accept that in 2018 the leadership of a substantial portion of the pro-life movement (other than the Consistent Life Network!) is untrustworthy. Millions of people continue to set aside their own ease and comfort so that they can help women and children threatened by abortion: I thank God for them, and thank them for their dedication. Nonetheless, there are criticisms of the movement as a whole that were not honest and fair 20 years ago that are honest and fair today. The Trump campaign pulled pro-lifers into an ad hoc coalition with people embracing some truly awful ideas.

With regard to the first and second issues, I agree with Stith’s argument that what the Pope is saying is not the same thing that the consistent life network is saying. But it isn’t obvious to me that the differences matter. It seems to me that abortion is a huge issue, and it’s complex enough that we consider it from a variety of different perspectives, learning from each.

From the beginning, the pro-life movement has always addressed a few issues. It has never been single-issue. Consider:

1.       Jack Willke and The Abortion Handbook
Jack Willke put abortion in a framework that included euthanasia. Abortion and euthanasia are not obviously similar: tiny and fresh versus full-sized and wrinkled; sharp lines (life begins at …) versus grey areas (the natural process of death, ordinary/extraordinary measures, who decides); deliberate lethal intervention versus deliberate non-intervention; etc. But Willke emphasized that abortion is a living person – with a beginning and end here on earth. From sperm and egg is not a continuum; it’s a change. From zygote to elderly is a continuum. From aging to corpse is not a continuum; it’s a change. Willke wanted to emphasize the value of the life of an individual, from beginning to end.

2.       The Human Life Center in Minnesota
There were many pro-life activists who emphasized that abortion is rooted in an attitude toward human sexuality. If a person accepts that sexual activity is private matter, and that its meaning for them is entirely up to them – if sex and birth drift apart in theory and in practice, with sex for fun and IVF for babies – and if we accept the apparent commonsense proposal that good fun cannot cause great damage – then abortion follows.

3.       Eagle Forum and the conservative coalition
Eagle Forum and allies often insisted that the pro-life movement should be single-issue. But when they got to work, their single issue was anti-abortion, anti-feminist, pro-nuke. This conservative coalition is still visible and vibrant, although it’s changed a smidgeon. Now it’s anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-gun.

4.       slavery and the Holocaust
Jesse Jackson, before he turned pro-choice, said that the mentality of slavery and the mentality of abortion are the same: treating a person as a thing. It was an interesting argument, but in fact pro-life activists and civil rights activists did not build a coalition. Ask Jesse why not.

Similarly, many pro-lifers compared abortion to the Holocaust, for two reasons. First, abortion involves killing huge numbers of people while society looks on and refrains from interfering. The phrase “Never again” expresses a shared determination, but the precise focus of this determination is not quite identical among Jews and Christians. Jews often mean, “We will never let this happen to us again.” But Christians often mean, “We will never turn our backs on a slaughter again.” Second, abortion produces corpses that end up in the waste stream, or in labs, or in crematoria. Tracing the bodies to a crematorium in Alexandria is sobering. The cremation of innocent victims looks like a holocaust. However, despite the similarities that pro-lifers saw, many Jews have expressed opposition to this linkage. It never helped build an effective coalition.

5.       Consistent Life Network
The consistent life approach was championed by Juli Loesch in the early 1980s, in the organization she founded, Prolifers for Survival. It was her intention to bring pro-lifers into the Mobilization for Survival. The ideas was embraced by Cardinal Bernardin, who spoke about a “seamless garment.” And now the idea is carried forward by the Consistent Life Network. They speak for me, for sure.

6.       Pope Francis offers another angle
I hadn’t really focused on it until Stith spelled it out, but the Pope’s approach is not the same as CLN. One might say it’s about a consistent approach to hospitality.

I’ve been working for six years to link abortion and immigration. And I learned slowly that most people consider hospitality to be a decoration, like flowers on the table, not a matter of immense and eternal significance like justice and truth. Emphatically, Stith does not trivialize hospitality. He notes that what the Pope is saying isn’t exactly the same as what Loesch and Bernardin said. Okay: it’s a new approach.

The links include:
(a)    Restricting immigration and expanding abortion are major accomplishments of the eugenics movement.
(b)   Both are about hospitality to people who show up in our lives on their schedules, not ours, capable of altering our lives substantially even if inadvertently.
(c)    It is almost impossible to construct an argument for restricting immigration that isn’t also an argument for can’t be turned pretty easily into an argument for global population control. And global depopulation schemes include forced abortion. In other words, restricting immigration here leads to more abortion overseas. Recent reports of increased miscarriages among pregnant women being held for deportation are horrifying in themselves; but they are only the tip of the iceberg.
(d)   Both abortion and restricting immigration are ways to turn away from the creative initiatives of the Lord, who always cherishes us but almost always challenges us. When the uncomfortable Other shows up in our lives, it’s likely to be God. Do not be afraid! Angels always say that when they show up, because people are always scared.
(e)   Immigrants and babies change our lives – but the changes, on balance, are joyful and delightful and enriching and wonderful, now and forever.

I’m not disturbed by Stith’s comments. I think he’s right: the Pope’s links are not consistent life links. They are similar, but not the same. It’s actually something new and different. And I embrace it wholeheartedly.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Trust on a Cliff


Trust on a Cliff

In 1972, I spent 40 days in a hermitage a mile from Christ in the Desert Monastery, in Abiquiu, NM. “Hermitage”? Please translate into standard modern English. That is, I went camping with a friend for a couple of weeks, then alone for a few weeks more.

I had no agenda for the summer, just an idea that felt like an invitation. Jesus says we should call his Father, the creator of the universe, Our Father. What does that mean? It’s not a proposition; it’s supposed to be a way of life, a fundamental attitude toward everything. So, mull it over and try it out.

I had no agenda, but I ended up doing this and that. I read the Bible cover to cover, again. I tried some vigils. I visited the monastery most days, to listen and watch and pray; I learned a great deal from Fr. Aelred, Fr. Gregory, and Br. Anthony. I drafted a letter to a friend, over and over (check out Jim Risen’s “Wrath of Angels” for that story, if you want). I listened to coyotes and elk, and watched 13 buzzards. I met the angel of the river (see Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life”). And I climbed around in the canyons and mesas.

One day, I went up the Rio Chama, past the monastery, past their fields, past their hermitage (which looked like a real one, with stone and adobe), and a distance farther. Then I examined the north wall, to plan a route up the cliff, and tried to climb out of the canyon. Halfway up, I got came to a dead end. Any serious rock-climber could have kept going easily, but I couldn’t; I had to back up. I had run out of ledges and hand-holds that would work for me. I turned around, and froze.

Coming up, I had reached easily over a gap, grabbed rock a few feet up, and clambered across. Going down, I had to stand on a ledge and jump forward and down three or four feet to a ledge that was perhaps 15 inches wide. An easy jump. Picture standing on the kitchen table, with three cinder blocks lined up on the floor, a yard away from the table. Jump from the table to the cinder blocks. Easy.

Easy, except that if I missed the jump, I would die. I would fall 200 feet, bouncing off the cliff a little but mostly just falling, onto sandstone boulders. No one would look for me for a couple of weeks, or maybe months. And when they did look, they wouldn’t have any idea where to look in an area of 314 square miles, assuming they found my tent and looked within ten miles of it. Buzzards and coyotes might scatter my bones before anyone found me, and I would disappear without a trace. Easy jump, if you just do it. But I was scared.

I sat there for a very interesting 45 minutes. If you’re scared, then you have something to be scared about; if you’re all shaky, you can mess it up, and fall. If you’re not scared, there’s nothing to be scared of; it’s an easy jump.

Q: Lord, am I going to be okay?
A: Yes.
Q: I’m not going to fall and die?
A: I didn’t say anything about that.

Him: Do you trust me?
Me: Yes.
Him: Then jump.
Me: No.

I sat a while, enjoying the incredible beauty of the canyon, the same colors as the Grand Canyon. I listened to the silence, with an occasional bird. I smelled the hint of mesquite on the hint of a breeze. I prayed the Rosary, thinking about Mary’s incredibly eventful life. Then I made an easy peasy little jump.

Attitude.

The story is on my mind, because I’ve been thinking about my friend Phil Lawler, who is promoting his book about Pope Francis, the wayward shepherd who’s killing off his flock parish by parish. Phil was on EWTN shortly after the book was released, being interviewed by that polished pink guy. And the interviewer set up a question. A gaggle of bishops got all gussied up for a synod, and everybody who really knows anything about anything that matters knew that the real issue at the meeting was how to interpret and enforce footnote 734 in Latin-Latin about how to handle sinners who come to Mass with their toupees crooked and a tangled marital history which has already been completely explained by the ancient and venerable bishops of Latvia and Timbuktu. Something like that.

And I thought, no. The Pope thinks that marriage is joyful. Start there.

If you’re scared, there’s good reason to be scared. If you’re not, there’s not.

I choose to trust my Father.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The fast in Nineveh

Today is Wednesday of the first week of Lent. The first reading at Mass today was from the wry Book of Jonah, about a reluctant prophet. I read it with a deliberate slant, with hospitality on my mind.

Jonah goes to Nineveh, reluctantly, to warn the city that God will destroy them in 40 days. Unfortunately for him, they repent, and God opts not to wipe them out; he looks like a fool, just as he had predicted.

They “repented.” What does that mean?

Well, they fasted, didn’t even drink, and they put on sackcloth. The king joined the fast, and went out to sit in the ashes. That’s a familiar story; I’ve heard this stuff before. But it’s still pretty weird. Why did they do all that? Who were they trying to convince? What were they trying to say? What’s the connection between all that stuff and the preferred outcome – presumably, avoiding annihilation? Is there any discernible logic to it? And what does any of this have to do with repentance, whatever that it?

Augustine used Matthew 25 as a jumping-off point for understanding all of Scripture. Okay, can we?

In Matthew 25, Jesus says, feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty and welcome strangers and clothe the naked and tend to the sick and visit prisoners. In the fast in Nineveh, the people skipped food and water, and set aside their good clothes. Okay, the lists overlap; maybe there’s something here. Maybe.

Maybe this. Repentance is about changing direction, turning around, trying to get your heart right. And the point of a fast is to push that change along. We don’t know what the problem(s) were in Nineveh, but for sure they included something that ruptured or distorted relationships between God the people, and also among the people. All this fasting stuff does two things. It re-establishes a proper understanding of the relationship between God and us: everything we have is a gift from the Creator, and we depend on him for our daily bread. And also, although fast doesn’t address the difficulties of the poor, it is – or can be – an expression of solidarity with neighbors who are hungry or thirsty or cold (or, in the king’s act, homeless).

Maybe repentance is about right relationships with God and neighbor. And maybe fasting is can be a rational step toward repair.


(Book of Jonah. If you want a delight, read my cousin’s novel. It’s got nothing to do with all this fasting stuff, but it’s a quirky bit of thought-provoking joy. Set in New York, Amsterdam, and Las Vegas, it’s a love story – Jonah’s girlfriend is Judith the peg-pounder. The villain is a real estate mogul, although the novel was written before the Trump erumption; it is, after all, a novel about a prophet.)
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EGJ3328/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

defense of priorities

[posted on FB Jan 14, 2018; edited]
I had an unpleasant encounter yesterday. A group of pro-lifers were engaged in a debate about how pro-lifers should respond to Trump’s racism. It was a fiery and interesting debate. But there was a guy who participated, denouncing Trump – as I do – and his allies – which I consider a key battleground. After quite a bit of back and forth, it came out that this guy was not asking pro-lifers to pull away from Trump; he was asking pro-lifers to forget about abortion. He was strengthening the ties between pro-lifers and Trump, insisting that they are natural allies. I was appalled. Some pro-lifers stick to Trump because they believe that – like it or not – Trump is the key to stopping abortion in the USA, and to achieve that goal they will put up with just about anything. So telling pro-lifers to dump-Trump-and-forget-abortion strengthens Trump. I thought the guy was among the most effective pro-Trump voice I’d encountered.

Let me clarify why I am a pro-lifer opposing Trump. This is a sketch, but 1400+ words.

First: NSSM 200.

I don’t think Roe v. Wade was the most violent document ever penned. I think NSSM 200 launched far more abortions that RvW. National Security Study Memorandum 200 was a definition of threats to American security, written by officials in the Nixon and Ford administrations. “Security” here doesn’t mean money in the bank; it’s diplomatic language for the things about which this nation is prepared to go to war. The document said that our deadly enemies were:

Commies in Europe, to be fended off by the military;
Commies around the Pacific Rim, also to be fended off by the military;
Commie propaganda in Latin America, to be resisted by the CIA; and
African women having babies, to be stopped by the Agency for International Development.

Under these two Republican presidents – and everyone since until NSSM 200 was scrapped in – hm, hm, was it scrapped? – our enemies were Commies and black babies. To stop them, we had nukes and abortion. I over-simplify, but you see the point.

The take-away: NSSM 200 led to far more abortion than RvW. Pro-lifers who focus on RvW are dilettantes, overlooking most of the abortions launched by the USA. We started abortion globally, and we have to stop it globally. Abortion inside America – the whole RvW thing – is about 2% of the abortion problem.

Second, Sherri Finkbine.

The propaganda push for abortion in the USA did not begin with RvW. The propaganda push began with Sherri Finkbine. She had a TV show in the 1950s, called “Romper Room,” a popular kids show sort of like “Mister Rogers” or “Sesame Street.” She took thalidomide, a sedative that was used then to treat morning sickness. But then news broke that thalidomide was “teratogenic”: it caused serious birth defects, including severely shortened limbs. Parents were afraid their kids would be born with flippers, not arms. So Sherri Finkbine, the Mrs. Mister Rogers of the decade, went to Sweden to get an abortion. And wasn’t it awful that she had to go across the Atlantic to avoid having a disfigured baby.

Two quick lessons. The push for abortion in the USA began with eugenics. And abortion cannot be considered a national problem; it was international before RvW.

Third, population control.

Population control isn’t a sideshow; it’s most of the abortion battle. And a detail of population control is now and always has been immigration restrictions. When Hitler was trying to wipe out the Jews, some fled to the United States. But our immigration policy sent some back to Hitler’s camps; you can get a list of some of the people who saw Miami, weren’t allowed in, and went back to Europe to get killed. When the Chinese launched a one-child-only depopulation policy, some women fled to the USA. We debated whether to let them in: a prolife policy and pro-immigration policy overlapped, and most pro-lifers saw it clearly. The same thing is going on now. Women are fleeing from depopulation policies – and other violence. Will we protect women and children? To me, that’s a no-brainer. I simply do not recognize this new “pro-life” movement that turns away pregnant women at the border. What happened to you?

Fourth, Lopez Trujillo and the Mexican Yellow Pages.

I had a squabble one year with the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family. He hosted a pro-life conference in Rome, and during the conference, I invited participants to meet to pray outside an abortion clinic at a hospital close by. He was appalled, and wanted my boss to ship me out of Rome promptly. In the ensuing discussion, one of the details that emerged was that he wanted good laws on the books, but didn’t care much what actually happened. In Mexico, for example, the law about abortion at that time was pretty good (from a pro-lifer’s perspective), and he wanted that. But abortions were advertised in Las Paginas Amarillas. The law was unenforced; it meant nothing. I thought reality mattered more than the damn law. He wasn’t interested in that; he wanted good laws.

Many Irish pro-lifers are as blind as Cardinal Lopez Trujillo. They are focused on preventing abortion in Ireland. That’s a good interim goal, but banning abortion in Ireland might not save a single child and family, not one. You can get from Ireland to England and back for the price of a carton of cigarettes. It’s a nuisance, and an added expense: killing Irish citizens in England takes several extra hours and adds maybe 20% to the price tag. Stopping abortion in Ireland, completely, has almost no connection with protecting Irish babies; it’s a tiny first step, no more.

The lesson: there’s a difference between (a) protective laws on the books and (b) actually protecting mothers and babies. They aren’t completely unrelated, but they are not the same thing. If you fail to change the thinking and habits of a pro-choice society, changing the law is almost meaningless. (Also impossible, but that’s a different issue.)

Fifth, the father’s failures.

One of the many appalling crises facing Americans today is that white males have lost their sense of purpose and identity. Schools across the nation stare at the stats, baffled. Every demographic group in the nation is improving from one year to the next on test scores – some groups with large gaps still to overcome, but there’s steady improvement. Every group is improving, except one. While males, starting at the top, have been declining slowly but steadily for years. Their scores are not declining relative to other scores: that is, the decline is not really just another way to say that everyone else is improving. No. While male scores are declining this year relative to white male scores last year, year after year. Why? Your guess is probably about as good as anyone’s.

I think that a piece of the problem is that a huge portion of the men in the nation – a quarter, more or less – are parents of a dead child. So are the women, but there’s been a lot of thought given to that. For men, I think that the test scores at school point to an unexplained problem, and men’s total failure at their first duty in life may be a partial explanation. What did you do when your first child was scheduled to die? Nothing. You bottled it up, got depressed. Maybe you did your best to cherish and support your partner in her crisis. But your child?

There’s no quick fix to that problem. But one detail that is clear, that men can address now: you can work to ensure that women don’t have abortions because they feel trapped and abused. That’s not the whole issue, but it’s a real part, and it’s fixable. So when someone attacks a woman, and makes her feel stupid or helpless, step in. You can’t protect a child unless the child’s mother feels empowered. When some male monster says it’s okay to grab pussy, fix his thinking; you may be saving a child’s life. That kind of thinking and language isn’t just a little gross, a little naughty, a little juvenile; it’s deadly. I don’t know what “fight” means to you; but when somebody talks about grabbing pussy, a child’s life is in danger. Fight. Fight for children, and for women, and for dignity, and for the future, and for everything on earth that has value.

Enough. Each point here deserves a book, but my overall point is clear and simple: pro-lifers should oppose Trump.

It is true that Trump said he would resist abortion, and specifically that he would appoint pro-lifers to the Supreme Court. He did appoint Gorsuch, and it is possible that Gorsuch will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, although Gorsuch himself casts doubt on that prediction. But RvW by itself is a sideshow. What really feeds abortion? What’s the real issue?

1. It’s an international struggle; “America First” is silly.
2. It’s based on eugenics; Trump’s on the wrong side of the eugenics fight.
3. It’s about racist depopulation, which includes restrictive abortion, Trump’s main political goal.
4. It’s about reality, not just about the law; but when Trump spoke – once, briefly – about why he’s against abortion (the Raymond Arroyo interview), his little tale was transparent fiction.
5. It’s about men abusing women; Trump is the poster boy of using women as toys and/or decorations and/or status symbols.

Trump made a promise to pro-lifers. But in my view, the promise was superficial. In fact, I think Trump is now and always has been a staunch proponent of everything that leads to abortion. Opposing Trump is not the same thing as abandoning the pro-life movement. I’m a pro-lifer, AND SO I oppose Trump with everything in me.

Some former co-workers of mine have accused me bitterly of abandoning the pro-life movement, and going off to some other movement – the immigration movement. That’s silly nonsense. It is true that I can’t tell the difference between the pro-life movement and the pro-immigration movement; I follow Pope Francis.


But do I prioritize immigration over ending abortion? I do not; that’s a flat lie. I prioritize immigration over reversing Roe v Wade.

balance in the Our Father

Tuesday of the first week of Lent. The Gospel reading at Mass today is about the prayer that the Lord taught his disciples, the “Our Father.”

I was struck by a detail. When the prayer turns from words about God to words about us, we make two requests – for bread and for forgiveness, for hospitality and for healing and forgiveness. The second request has a balance: forgive us as we forgive others. But the request doesn’t have anything like that, just gimme. Why?

I think that the nature of hospitality, following Abraham, includes balance, has a built-in balance. The host-guest relationship, like a marriage, reflects the life of the Trinity: it starts with two people, but moves inexorably toward unity. We welcome the Lord, and he feeds us: who’s the host?

Why do we ask for bread, not – say – meat and potatoes, or kasha, or lovely rice pudding again? Why bread? Well, bread is the classic basic food: when you’re packing to travel across the desert, bring some compact bread. Bread is simple, but evocative: see Neruda’s “Ode to Bread.” It’s a common food, simple nutrition, familiar to billions of people; but also, it’s been used in religion (Eucharist) and politics (French Revolution). It touches every level of human life. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Mostly, it’s the most familiar symbol we have of unity: when we break bread together, this isn’t just about our bodies.

Give us bread, and draw us into forgiveness: hospitality and healing are conjoined everywhere.


whatsoever you do to the least

The Gospel reading at Mass today (Monday, first week in Lent) is the Last Judgment passage from Matthew: whatsoever you do to the least of my family, you do to me. It’s the passage that led me into an exploration of Scripture and immigration. When Jesus said that we will welcome strangers and meet the Father, or turn them away and go to hell, what did he mean by “stranger”? We can figure that out.

According to an Australian scholar, Raymond Canning, this passage was of the two passages that St. Augustine used as the take-off point for understanding all of Scripture. (The other was the story of Paul on the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” There too, Jesus identified with people in trouble: what you do to them, you do to the Lord, personally.)

Augustine spoke specifically about refugees pouring across the Mediterranean: if you want to meet Jesus, invite a refugee into your life.

And Jerome also spoke about refugees on the shore of the Mediterranean. Addressing the idea that we can sort them out, and welcome some refugees while rejecting others, Jerome reached out for a rhetorical boost from his favorite pagan writer, Virgil, who wrote about secure and snug citizens – who watched human being drag themselves out of the savage sea into the hands of worse savagery ashore, the savagery of smug and smiling self-righteous rejectniks. The passage bursts with anger and contempt: Virgil can’t think of a crime lower than inhospitality.

Jesus, Augustine, Jerome, and the Pope. Listen up!