Friday, January 4, 2019

American saints -- and migration


Today is the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. She’s among the small handful of men and women who have been canonized by the Catholic Church who are known for their work in what is now the United States. I think it’s worthwhile looking at the list of American saint, with an eye on issues of migration.

First, the whole list: there are 11 canonized saints known for their work in the United States.

1.       St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. From Italy, worked with Italians immigrants
2.       St. Junipero Serra, from Catalonia (Spain), came north from Mexico and worked with native Americans
3.       St. Marianne Cope, immigrant from Germany, worked with leprosy patients in Hawaii
4.       St. Damien de Veuster, “Damien the Leper,” from Belgium, worked with leprosy patients in Hawaii
5.       St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, from France, worked with pioneers west of Mississippi and with Native Americans
6.       St. Mother Theodore Guerin, from France, worked with American pioneers in Indiana
7.       St. Isaac Jogues, from France, worked with Native Americans in New York
8.       St. John Neumann, from Bohemia (Czech Republic), worked with German immigrants
9.       St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, from New York, worked with the people of Maryland
10.   St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Mohawk from New York, life of prayer in Montreal
11.   St. Katherine Drexel, from Philadelphia, worked with African Americans and Native Americans

Of those eleven, eight were immigrants themselves:
1.       St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, from Italy
2.       St. Junipero Serra, from Catalonia (Spain)
3.       St. Marianne Cope, from Germany
4.       St. Damien de Veuster, “Damien the Leper,” from Belgium
5.       St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, from France
6.       St. Mother Theodore Guerin, from France
7.       St. Isaac Jogues, from France
8.       St. John Neumann, from Bohemia (Czech Republic)

Of the eleven, seven worked with Native Americans. Obviously, Native Americans are not immigrants, unless their ancestors strayed south of the Rio Grande for too long. But from the perspective of Native Americans, settlers of European descent are immigrants. There are host/guest issues here. Anyway, the seven:
1.       St. Junipero Serra, worked with Native Americans in Mexico and California
2.       St. Marianne Cope, worked with leprosy patients in Hawaii
3.       St. Damien de Veuster, worked with leprosy patients in Hawaii
4.       St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, worked with pioneers west of Mississippi and with Native Americans
5.       St. Isaac Jogues, from France, worked with Native Americans in New York
6.       St. Kateri Tekakwitha was herself Mohawk from New York
7.       St. Katherine Drexel, worked with African Americans and Native Americans

Six of the eleven worked with immigrants or internal migrants – that is, pioneers:

1.       St. Frances Xavier Cabrini worked with Italians immigrants
2.       St. Rose Philippine Duchesne worked with pioneers (migrants) west of Mississippi
3.       St. Mother Theodore Guerin with American pioneers (migrants) in Indiana
4.       St. John Neumann worked with German immigrants
5.       St. Elizabeth Ann Seton ran schools – AND worked with orphans from immigrant families
6.       St. Kateri Tekakwitha lived among Europeans, all immigrants from her perspective
7.       St. Katherine Drexel worked with involuntary immigrants – that is, slaves and their descendants

To me it seems bizarre beyond belief that an American Catholic could be persuaded to adopt an unwelcoming stance – or even hostility – toward immigrants.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The names of Jesus


New Year’s Day, the eighth day of Christmas.

The reading at Mass today is from Luke’s Gospel, about the shepherds visiting, and about naming Jesus. I was struck afresh by the name. Matthew’s Gospel also says that the child’s name is Jesus, but adds that, in accord with the Isaiah’s prophecy, he will be called Emmanuel.

Jesus means Savior. Emmanuel means God-with-us.

With us: what does that mean? I think it means that someone was visiting someone, that there was a host and guest – although it wasn’t necessarily clear which was which. When the King of the Universe comes to his own (and his own people debate whether to acknowledge him), who’s host, and who’s guest? Throughout Scripture, the issue of host/guest relations comes up over and over, and they are often intermingled – not in confusion, but in unity. They are brought together as one. The key images in Scripture of the unity of the Trinity are: (1) the Father/Son relationship, the two united by the Spirit of Love; and (2) marriage of the husband and wife, who are made one by the Spirit of Love, and (3) the unity of host and guest united by love, as at Mamre and the Visitation and indeed the Incarnation.

Which means: one aspect of the title “Emmanuel” is that it refers to God’s participation in a host/guest relationship with us. It’s about hospitality.

Jesus and Emmanuel: Savior and host/guest. The two names of Jesus correspond to the names of Moses’ children, Gershom and Eliezer. From Exodus 18: 3-4: “One of these was named Gershom; for he [Moses] said, ‘I am a resident alien in a foreign land.’ The other was named Eliezer; for he said, “The God of my father is my help; he has rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.” (Ger: stranger. El: God. Ezer: help.) The names of Moses’ children refer to hospitality and salvation, like the names Emmanuel and Jesus.

In John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Explaining this, he says that they call him Lord – and they should, because he is. But he adds carefully: this is what his lordship looks like! You serve, you wash the feet of your guests, like Abraham. That is, his lordship is – in large part – about hospitality. When we speak of Jesus as Lord and Savior, that lordship includes the Lord as Host at a banquet. Lord and Savior: this conjunction of two titles also echoes the names of Jesus and the names of Moses’ two sons.

Indeed, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to address God as Father, and to bless his name and affirm his will – and then to ask for bread and forgiveness – that is, for hospitality and salvation.

In our time, hospitality is often considered to be a minor matter, optional and decorative. But look at the pairs! Emmanuel and Jesus. Gershom and Eliezer. Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Lord and Savior. Hospitality and forgiveness.

Hospitality is a ray of light emanating from the fiery love that is the heart of the Trinity. Yes, it decorates. No, it is not merely decorative.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Towards a border policy


Hi, Tom. I saw your question, and didn’t overlook it. What should we do at the border, about border control? I’ll respond as briefly as I can, but that’s not too brief.

Step one: we must acknowledge that there is a right to control the border and also a right to migrate. These rights are in tension, and must be balanced in justice. That means, whenever we devise a border policy that protects the rights of American citizens and not the rights of immigrants, that policy is already unjust, before we write a single word of the law. Justice requires balance – which, for us today, starts with repentance.

Step two: if and when we smash the remnants of racism in our hearts and in our border laws, we still have to recognize that the ICE packs have done huge damage. If our minds and hearts are clear and pure, a problem we remains: we have a history of injustice reaching way back. We have to address that.

Step three and four: a detail of addressing our history is recognizing that immigrants approaching our border will assume they are approaching a zone of lawlessness – not just the coyotes, but also the land of the unjust brutes who claim that law is law is law, and that a statute based on injustice is still an enforceable stature. ICE has the moral authority of a band of thugs – no more. Our law must embrace the lessons of Prohibition, that you can catch grandma with a tot of whisky or the Mafia, but not both; to enforce the law requires that choose and focus on serious targets. Forget young men looking for work, and chase real criminals. But even after we get that clear in our minds and hearts, we still have to work diligently for years or decades to persuade 100 million skeptics that we are through with racist chases through the bushes to catch suspicious brown people. To enforce the law, we need to focus, and also persuade all interested parties that we have changed and are now intent on enforcing a just policy.

Step five: Pope Paul VI taught that the name for peace in our time is development. That is, if we are serious about peace, we must work hard to address the economic imbalance within our nation and also among nations. The challenges of poverty and corruption and violence in Honduras and El Salvador and elsewhere are not someone else’s problem. We must learn (re-learn) something about the solidarity of nations, and expand our foreign aid by several orders of magnitude.

Then we can talk about how to stop MS-13.

USCCB has sketched an approach.

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