Wednesday, July 11, 2018

DRAFT: paradigms of hospitality

adapted from the Distinguished Alumnus Address, St. Anselm’s Abbey School, April 29, 2018

I want to talk about the immense challenges of the transition from the third paradigm of hospitality to the fourth.

In the 21st century, the challenge of hospitality is immense. There are over 65 million refugees and other displaced persons in the world today. Where should they go? In the history of Judaism and Christianity, there have been four paradigms of hospitality. To understand the teaching and leadership offered by the Catholic Church today, we need a clear understanding of each of these four paradigms, plus a clear understanding of the long hiatus between the third and the fourth.

The four paradigms are the national pattern of the Old Testament, the personal pattern of the New Testament, the ecclesial pattern of a millennium and a half of Christianity, and the global pattern of today. Between the third and fourth patterns, there was a long period of several centuries when the Church was turned inward in a defensive posture, and did not have a systematic approach to hospitality. The third pattern was broken at the time of the great fracture of Christianity during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation; but the fourth pattern did not emerge until the end of the 19th century.


The Old Testament talked about hospitality as a national or ethnic responsibility. Moses taught: Welcome strangers, because – remember! – you too were once a stranger in a strange land. The nation of Israel should not imitate the nation of Egypt. If the nation of Israel does fall into rebellion and does imitate the nation of Egypt, then they will be punished by the nation of Assyria. If the nation of Israel is obedient to God about how to live (including hospitality), then all nations will stream toward Israel to learn. The paradigm described in the Old Testament is national.

The New Testament addressed hospitality as a personal responsibility. The nation was occupied, and could not fulfill national responsibilities. However, God’s command that we be hospitable did not disappear; it changed a little. If the nation cannot be hospitable, then individuals must take up the task. The clearest encapsulation of the new pattern for the ancient command is in the story of the Good Samaritan. There was one stranger beaten by thieves and abandoned by the side of the road. He was tended by one other stranger, a Samaritan. This was the new pattern: one-on-one service. The paradigm described in the New Testament is personal.

The Church from the time of the Fathers through a millennium to the time of the Reformation understood hospitality to be her own responsibility. The Lord’s precept – welcome strangers as you would welcome me – was understood to be mandatory, but in general the laity fulfilled this responsibility by supporting the clergy. The Rule of Benedict says that every guest is to be welcomed as Christ. This rule was not a counsel of perfection on the road to extraordinary sanctity; it was the social arrangement for carrying out the sacred duty (and joy) of hospitality. For about 15 centuries of Christianity, the paradigm of hospitality was ecclesial.

The fourth paradigm, initiated in 1891 and continuing up today, is global. More below. For the moment, it’s enough to say: the fourth paradigm is based squarely on the previous three, and if you don’t understand them, you can’t understand the fourth. And the third is – in our time – largely lost. There was a long gap between the third and the fourth, and understanding that gap matters as much as understanding the four paradigms.

The destruction of the third paradigm

If it is true that Moses and Jesus and the entire Church for centuries taught that hospitality to strangers is fundamental, how did all that teaching get eclipsed? Today, hospitality is often considered to be a pleasing but optional decoration. Is it truly a foundation of life as God would have us live? If it’s so important, why haven’t we heard more about it?

I’m sure there are many reasons for the partial eclipse of hospitality in the life of the Church, but I want to focus on two. First, the practice of hospitality was smashed in the Reformation. And second, the idea of hospitality was obscured by confusion about the corporal works of mercy.

The catastrophic gap, in practice

It made sense to delegate the responsibility and joy of hospitality to monks – as long as there were monasteries. But the monasteries were suppressed. It was worst in England, where all the monasteries were seized by King Henry VIII and used to purchase a brand new aristocracy. In 1535, there were about 800 Benedictine monasteries in England, doing many good things including offering hospitality. Between 1535 and 1540, Henry’s government closed every single one of them, up to and including Westminster Abbey in London. The monks were scattered, exiled, martyred. At one point in Benedictine history, there was one single English Benedictine monk left.

Beginning in the time of St. Jerome in the Latin-speaking world and St. Basil in the Greek-speaking world, monasteries built guest houses for all pilgrims and strangers. But during the Reformation, Catholics shifted to constructing priest holes to hide and protect fugitive priests.
In the rest of Europe, monastic life was disrupted, although not as completely as in England. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Europe – including England, Ireland, Scotland, the Low Countries, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Switzerland – was convulsed by religious war, setting Catholics and Lutherans and Calvinists against each other. Amidst that, Christians did no welcome all Christian strangers, let alone all strangers regardless of religion. The Christians were on the mend when they weren’t killing each other.

The catastrophic gap, in theory

The third paradigm is gone. It’s not just the practice, that the monasteries were suppressed without any plan B for welcoming strangers. It’s also that the theory was misplaced in an extraordinary fashion. St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out the problem centuries ago: the corporal works of mercy were cut loose from their roots in Matthew 25. That troubled him, but he wasn’t really in a position to do much about it, and the problem grew. In Aquinas’s time, most Catholics were already much more familiar with a teaching tool than with Scripture, and that got worse as time passed. Over the centuries, most Catholics were raised memorizing the list of corporal works, but hearing the list it was based on (in Matthew 25) only once a year – and not noticing the differences between the two lists. So “Welcome strangers” was smeared, blurred, and lost.

The catechesis of the laity did not include Matthew 25. Instead, standard catechesis taught the corporal works of mercy. Not “as well” but “instead” – instead! The corporal works of mercy aren’t Scripture, so they are plastic, subject to change. In Aquinas’s time, there had been three changes from Scripture. First, one item was added: Matthew 25 has six items, but the corporal works list has seven. What was added was an item from the Book of Tobit, “bury the dead.” Second, the order was changed: the corporal works list uses the six items from Matthew 25 in this order: 1-2-4-6-3-5. And third, “visit the imprisoned” was changed to the “ransom captives.” These aren’t dreadful ideas or anything; it’s just that the list is cut loose from Scripture.

This uprooted drift continued, changing the reference to welcoming strangers. In 1885, when the American bishops published the Baltimore Catechism, the list of corporal works included “harbor the harborless.” The catechism has two footnotes about the corporal works. One footnote is 441 words explaining the Crusades, and the need to ransom captives. And then there’s a note about harboring the harborless. The full note follows:

“A pilgrim is one who goes on a journey to visit some holy place for the purpose of thus honoring God. He would not be a pilgrim if he went merely through curiosity. He must go with the holy intention of making his visit an act of worship. In our time pilgrimages to the Holy Land, to Rome, and other places are quite frequent. “To harbor” – that is, to give one who has no home a place of rest. A harbor is an inlet of the ocean where ships can rest and be out of danger; so we can also call the home or place of rest given to the homeless a harbor.” (Baltimore Catechism, 1885)

“Ransom captives”: that’s a good call! You can’t visit prisoners on a galley, so ransom them! So far, so good. But the second major alteration is the list of the corporal works of mercy was catastrophic. “Welcome strangers” became something vague, something about taking care of pilgrims – real pilgrims, mind you, on the way to Jerusalem for spiritual reasons, not just tourists. What we’re supposed to do, says the 1885 Catechism, is “harbour the harbourless” – which may be clear and to the point if you happen to own or control a harbour somewhere in the western Mediterranean. Which is to say: that injunction is pretty interesting, but it doesn’t apply to me. Some words in Scripture are for kings, some for virgins, some for celibates, some for martyrs – and some for people who run ports. But I don’t have friends on any Saracen galleys, and I don’t have a harbour in Sicily.

So in 1885, the command to welcome strangers had disappeared from the list of corporal works of mercy. And note carefully: the text from Matthew 25, which of course still referred to strangers, was among the readings that Catholics heard every year – once. But it would be a remarkable person who would sit up during Mass and notice that the list in Matthew was so different from the familiar and indeed long-memorized list of the corporal works of mercy that the differences were worth exploring.

The practice of hospitality in the Christian world was smashed during the Reformation, when the monasteries were suppressed. And the teaching about hospitality was also eclipsed – hidden behind the admirable but non-scriptural teaching tool, the corporal works of mercy.

The fourth paradigm

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII promulgated an extraordinarily influential encyclical, Rerum Novarum. In a carefully written documents, he taught that workers have a right to organize. He discussed strikes cautiously, and urged that workers try to enlist the aid of government when their rights are abused. He listed problems involved in a decision to strike, but refused to condemn them. Cautiously, he left the door open. “Qui tacet consentire videtur” – silence gives consent.

The encyclical inaugurated a new era in Church history. Three encyclical in later years are based so firmly on Leo’s teaching that their titles refer to the years since Rerum Novarum, on the 40th, 80th, and 100th anniversaries. Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, 1931, balances the right to private property with a higher good, the common good, and asserts that in an extreme case the State may even have a right to expropriate private property. Pope Paul VI’s Octogesima Adveniens, 1971, cries out for effective action to redress economic injustices. And John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, calls on the State to be an effective agent of justice for the poor, and to protect the human rights of all citizens. In addition, on the 90th anniversary, Pope John Paul II published Laborem Exercens, a remarkable re-thinking of the meaning of work what includes an explicit reference to the “right to strike.” It was John Paul II’s intention to publish the encyclical on May 15, the same day as Rerum Novarum; but he was shot by a would-be assassin on May 13, and the publication was delayed a few months. These anniversary encyclicals are just the most obvious assertions of the immense significance of Pope Leo XIII’s work inaugurating a new era; a whole new body of thought and teaching beginning with Leo XIII, called the “Social Gospel,” is collected in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 2004.

This new body of thought includes the idea that there are some problems that are global in their nature, and that require a global response. For sure, it’s best when problems are addressed as locally as possible, by the smallest unit of society capable of an effective response – the family, the extended family, the village, the county, the state, the nation. But plagues and famine cross national borders; they require international action.  Industrialization and modernization and urbanization are global; effective responses must be global. And among the challenges facing the globe – challenges that cannot be addressed effectively by any social unit smaller than the globe – there’s migration.

So the fourth paradigm of hospitality is based on the Social Gospel. All people of goodwill work together to care for all people in need. Catholics cooperate with others, to respond to global challenges. Global.

Protecting the foundation of hospitality today

The first pattern is national; the second is personal; the third is ecclesial; the fourth is global. But the fourth pattern is based squarely on the first three – which is a great strength, and a great challenge. Its strength is that we can have confidence that this pattern corresponds to the will of the Lord who created us. The weakness is – well, it’s complicated. Serious Christians ask whether the Lord asks us to engage in specific political arrangements. Does God really care about border laws? Is the United Nations a Christian thing, or is it even compatible with Christianity? Et cetera.

To make the fourth pattern work well, we need to show how its relationship to the previous patterns. But the third pattern is largely forgotten. What does this amnesia do?

When you see three patterns of hospitality, you can easily look for a fourth. But if you forget one, then you have the pattern set by Moses and the pattern set by Jesus. With three, you talk about the patterns of response to God – all of them responses to the command of Jesus, all responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit – one pattern described by Moses and the prophets, another described by the four evangelists and others, and the third described by St. Jerome and St. Basil and the rest of the Fathers and many other people. But without the third pattern, you back up and find yourself asking whether you want to adopt the pattern of Moses or the pattern of Jesus. That’s a false choice that the history of the Church will keep you from falling into – if you know the history. But if you don’t know your history, and if you think that you have to choose between Moses’ social approach and Jesus’ personal approach, many Christians will keep whatever Moses said that Jesus also said, but scrap whatever Moses said that Jesus didn’t also say. So if you lose the third pattern, the ecclesial pattern, many Christians will also promptly lose the first pattern, the social pattern from the Old Testament. And if you lose the first pattern, then huge parts of the second pattern also drop out of sight, because the New Testament teaching is based on the Old Testament. The second pattern, isolated, is shriveled: being nice is nice.

The history of the Church shows that Christian men and women embraced the teaching of Moses and Jesus, and implemented that teaching, in a pattern that was not quite the same as the pattern of the ancient Israelites, nor quite the same as the pattern in Bethlehem and Nazareth. Same Spirit, new arrangement. But the loss of a vibrant awareness of hospitality in the history of the Church has been catastrophic.

Is it possible to build the fourth pattern on a puny scrap of the second pattern: “be nice”? Probably not.

Can the Catholic Church in the modern world get organized to protect and serve 65 million refugees and migrants and displaced people? Probably not – unless we recover a clear sense of our heritage.

That’s the sketch. Let me go over it again, digging a little deeper.


The teaching of Moses, reviewed

When I started trying to understand what the Church teaches – in Scripture and in her tradition – about immigration, I started with a single and simple question. When Jesus used the word “stranger,” what did that word mean?

In Matthew’s Gospel (25:30-46), Jesus describes the Last Judgment. And he says he will separate people – separate the sheep from the goats. (It’s a metaphor; relax, goats.) And the criteria for sorting the good from the bad is pretty clear and explicit: did you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and visit the imprisoned? If yes, enter the kingdom prepared since the beginning of creation; if no, depart into eternal fire. That’s pretty clear. But what’s a “stranger”? Since it’s a matter of eternal life or death, can we take a few minutes to understand the word? Are we talking about the new kid on the block, or the drunk on a grate, or an immigrant?

Oddly, most serious Christians recall this list about the Last Judgment in a predictably spotty fashion. They remember food and drink and clothes, and then some visiting, but scramble around trying to recall the sixth item. This is odd, because the question of when and how to welcome immigrants – or even whether to welcome them at all – is among the most hotly disputed issues of your time. Given that, you might expect Christians to be curious indeed about what Jesus meant when he talked about strangers. You might expect it, but you’d be wrong.

Anyway, whatever others said or didn’t say, I wanted to know what the word meant. And it seemed obvious to me that the answer to that question – what did a word in the New Testament mean? – should be found in the Old Testament. And while it might be useful to have a list of degrees in Scripture studies, the question seemed simple enough that a careful reader should be able to figure it out. So to answer that question, I read the Old Testament with an eye out for welcoming strangers. In the literature that Jesus read, in his culture and in his language, what did they say about strangers?

What I found shocked me deeply. The teaching about welcoming strangers in the Old Testament is abundant and clear and forceful – and almost completely unfamiliar to me. (So I wrote a couple of short books about that I found, and you should read them.) In short: Jesus said what he said about strangers because he was a Jew. (Of course, the Word of God shaped the Jews, but one step at a time.) Hospitality is fundamental in Old Testament.

The followers of Moses took two key lessons from the Exodus. First, about God who saved us from slavery: be grateful. And second, about people, don’t be like the Egyptians! Welcome strangers, because – remember! – you too were once a stranger in a strange land.

These two key lessons from the Exodus show up all over the place. But one easy example: Moses had two sons, named (more or less) “God saves” and “welcome strangers.”

And look at the Patriarch of Jews and Christians, Abraham. God’s revelation of himself to the Jews began with Abraham. A quarter of the Book of Genesis is about Abraham, and two chapters are about God teaching Abraham about hospitality at Mamre (and Sodom). Lesson one: welcome strangers, because it might be God knocking on the door. Lesson two: the reward for hospitality is fertility.

And look at THE Prophet, Elijah. He is identified as a sojourner from Tishbe, and he began his public life depending on the hospitality first from a raven and then from a widow and orphan in Zarephath. It’s worth noting that throughout Scripture the prophets assert that God has a special concern for a widows and orphans – and strangers. The word “widow” shows up 49 times in the Old Testament; of those 49, 21 references are about a familiar pair, widows and orphans; and of those 21, 18 refer to a trio, widows and orphans and strangers.

Then there’s THE King, David: he was just plain Jewish without any quibbling, right? No, not quite: there’s a beautiful but puzzling book in the Bible, Ruth; it seems to be there just because Ruth was David’s beloved great-grandmother. And she’s a Moabite.

THE Lawmaker, Moses, was a stranger in a strange land who talked endlessly about hospitality to strangers. And THE Patriarch, was a wanderer from Aramea who hosted God. THE Prophet was a Tishbite sojourner. And THE King was part-Moabite. The Patriarch, the Lawmaker, the Prophet, and the King: all identified with strangers in some way.

These are just a few examples. The point is, in the Old Testament, the teaching about hospitality is everywhere. And the teaching is forceful: on at least four major occasions, Scripture describes God intervening in history to punish inhospitality, with immense determination and violence.

The answer to my question, “what’s a stranger,” was pretty simple. A “stranger” in the Old Testament is, first and foremost, whatever the Jews were when they were in Egypt. A “stranger” is a person from another land who moves into your land and wants to stay a while – for months or centuries. The word might refer to a person you’ve never met before, but mostly the word refers to a political category – an immigrant.

Hospitality in the New Testament

I was shocked by the teaching in the Old Testament: it seemed to me to be abundant and clear and forceful, and yet it was all new to me. I was confident that I wasn’t completely wrong, because the Church today says these things too. But there was so much! So I thought that maybe what I had found was just a projection of my own ideas. The test, perhaps, could be simple. If the teaching I found in the Old Testament was real, I could find it in the New Testament as well. If the Old Testament had a long list of things that I hadn’t noticed previously about welcoming immigrants and other strangers, then this teaching must be in the New Testament also. Is it? It is! I found 21 shocks in the Old Testament, and about triple that in the New. The teaching is everywhere. And once you see it, you can’t un-see it.

Here are a few quick examples.

The birth narratives

The wise men from the Orient are strangers: angels ensure that the gospel in its infancy reaches the poor – shepherds – and strangers – the magi.

Then when Herod realizes that there’s a threat to his throne, Joseph takes his wife and son and flees to Egypt. The Holy Family are refugees.

Jesus, the newborn king, returns to the land that Moses knew as a place of inhospitality and slavery, as the prototype of inhospitality. Jesus returns there, and gives Egypt another chance to get it right, and they do. This is a miracle of healing, before the public ministry of Jesus began.

In his Gospel, John says that the Lord came to his own, but his own knew him not. It wasn’t good that they didn’t recognize him; but if they had treated strangers well, their ignorance might have been acceptable. But they didn’t recognize him, and then they maltreated the stranger.

The patient revelation: Who am I?

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus feeds five thousand people with a handful of food, and then a little while later he crosses the sea in a boat with his disciples. There’s a storm, and they wake him up: “Save us!” So he calms the storm and the waters subside. They were worried about the storm, but even more disturbed by the solution. To which Jesus says (paraphrasing): I don’t understand why you are so startled by this. What conclusions did you draw from it when I fed 5,000? They stare at him, bug-eyed, completely baffled. And so do we. What’s the connection between multiplying bread and calming the sea? What am I missing? What did they miss, and what do we miss? Jesus proclaims, not in word as much as in deed, but nonetheless with clarity: I AM the God who led my people out of Egypt and fed them in the desert. I am the God of Moses. I am the God of your salvation who is also the God of hospitality. Hospitality and salvation go together, two revelations of one spirit. I am the God who inspired Moses to name his children “God saves” and “Welcome strangers.”

The Good Samaritan

Who’s my neighbor, Jesus is asked. It’s a question about law, about defining boundaries. But he doesn’t respond with technicalities; he responds with a story. On the road to Jericho, a man is assaulted and robbed. Exemplars of the community, who know the teaching of Moses and have pondered the Law, walk past him. Then a Samaritan stops and cares for him: a stranger and outcast cares for a needy reject. Jesus uses the story, not a text or legal tradition, to define “neighbor.” He says (I paraphrase) that to understand what it means to love your neighbor, have to get inside the experience of the person who needs a neighbor. You have to empathize – proactively and imaginatively. We might have some theories of relationships and responsibility, a series of concentric circles around ourselves. There’s a tight little circle, our family, the people we know best and for whom we have the greatest responsibility. And around that, there’s another circle – our friends, whom we also know and for whom we are also responsible. And then there’s a circle of neighbors. Those circles aren’t total nonsense, but they are off center. These pretty little circles around you – the circle of family, circle of friends, circle of neighbors – are not especially relevant. The circles that matter are the circles around the person in need: his family, his friends, his neighbors. His family isn’t here! His friends aren’t here! When he looks at you and you look at him, does he see a neighbor? Is there somebody there from his circle of neighbors? That’s the question that matters. And – Jesus says elsewhere, not in this story – you had better make sure you are inside his circle of neighbors, because he and I are one. When you see him, you see me. If you aren’t his neighbor, you aren’t mine.

There’s a critical detail here: Jesus talks about the boundary between the insiders and the outsiders exactly the same way Moses does. Details differ: Moses talks about strangers, contrasted with the children of Israel, while Jesus talks about neighbors, contrasted with strangers. But both say that we must get inside that person’s experience. Moses says remember, and Jesus says imagine – but by whatever route, we must get inside his or her mind. Imagination is the wellspring of compassion.

The morning prayer of the Church, the psalms and prayers and readings that monks and nuns and others sing and pray daily, includes the Canticle of Zachariah, The Benedictus. The father of John the Baptist, struck dumb during the nine months of gestation, regained speech when the child was born, and burst into inspired words. Note one word that shows up at the beginning and then again at the end of the canticle. He cries out: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and set them free.”

Often, when we recite this prayer, we slur the word “come” at the beginning, and focus on freedom. But that’s like skipping Christmas to get to Easter faster. The word “come” at the beginning episkeptomai in Greek, and it’s a word of immense power. The same word shows up at the end of the canticle: “the dawn from on high shall break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” It’s explosive and transformative: come quietly, perhaps, like the dawn, slipping through the trees – but then, also like the dawn, inexorable and with all the majesty and splendor of the sun-god Apollo, lighting up the entire world, ending the power of darkness, bringing all creation back to life. Episkeptomai!

This is the same verb that shows up the two of the six precepts in Matthew 25, about Judgment Day: visit the sick, visit the imprisoned. This does not mean we should show up to moan and groan in pity; we are asked to show up as agents of eternal renewal.

Notes about hospitality in Scripture

Some people point out that the proclamation of the Gospel is often accompanied by healing. Jesus heals someone miraculously, and the miracle establishes his credentials. Evangelization and healing seem to go hand in hand. That’s interesting. But it’s also true that salvation and hospitality are conjoined over and over all through Scripture – not just in the Benedictus, but also in the most fundamental events, including the Exodus and the Easter Triduum, as well as scores of other incidents.

The hospitality described in Scripture does not keep the roles of host and guest carefully delineated. They blur together, not in confusion but in unity. At Mamre, Abraham is host at the beginning when strangers show up at his tent. But a few hours later, the setting is no longer under the trees; they are, rather, under the stars, and God is the host, showering gifts on Abraham. When Mary visits Elizabeth, the event is at Elizabeth’s house, but Mary took the initiative. So who’s host, who’s guest? Who cares? This is, I think, a small piece of what Jesus was trying to explain when he washed the feet of his apostles: just as Abraham washed the feet of God, so now God washes our feet, because a good host is a gentle servant, not an arrogant master.

Hospitality is share in the life of the Trinity, a blazing ray of light straight from the depths of the radiant heart of God.

If it’s all over Scripture, it has to be all over Christian teaching

If it is true that the Old Testament and the New Testament are chockful of teaching about welcoming strangers including immigrants, and all this stuff is real and not just the product of a fevered imagination, then it’s in the teaching and practice of the Church. So go find it, or be quiet!

So I set out to understand the teaching of a significant but limited collection of Christian teachers. If the devil can quote Scripture, and determined fanatics can cherry-pick Scripture to prove just about anything, the same pitfalls certainly exist in a much larger and less authoritative body of literature – the lives and writings of Christians for the past 20 centuries. So I tried to understand hospitality in the early Church, but focused on (1) the Patristic era, and (2) Thomas Aquinas. To make the task manageable, I focused on the eight Fathers called “Great,” the Four Great Latin Fathers and the Four Great Greek Fathers. I had a ball. They’re a wonderful bunch!

St. Jerome

“God’s angry man, His crotchety scholar,/ Was Saint Jerome,/ The great name-caller,/ Who cared not a dime/ For the laws of libel/ And in his spare time/ Translated the Bible …” – Phyllis McGinley

I started with St. Jerome (347-420), because I found him easy to like. He translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew to the language of the people – that is, to Latin. But he had a fiery temper, and called his bishop a matula – or “chamber pot,” a bucket with a mission. He was an ascetic, but he liked fiery redheads. Fiery, foul, smart, ADHD: what’s not to like?

Jerome is remembered for his work as a scholar. One of the best-known commentaries on Scripture is appropriately named for the ancient translator – the Jerome Biblical Commentary. But he is also the person responsible for setting the pattern of hospitality in Western (Latin) monastic life. He made sure that the monastery in Bethlehem, where he lived, had a guest house. And he encouraged his friend Fabiola (the fiery redhead) to do the same at the monastic establishment near Rome. What St. Jerome and St, Fabiola did in the West, St. Basil did in the East: they established the pattern that when you build a monastery, you build a guesthouse well, or at least some accommodation for travelers and pilgrims and strangers, who are to be welcomed as Christ.

Jerome wrote about Abraham with passion and tender love, and described him as the model of hospitality. He said that when Abraham welcomed the strangers to his tent, he carried the fattened calf in for the feast in his own hands, and that Sarah made the bread they served with her own hands. Those two details are not in Scripture; I think he made them up, projecting them into Abraham’s life because he admired Abraham. I think those two details reflect Jerome’s ideal, not known details about Abraham’s activity. Jerome found hospitality throughout Scripture, and understood it to be central in Christian life.

There is a delightful passage about hospitality in a letter Jerome wrote to the Presbyter (priest) Marcus in 378 or 379. In it, he insists that true hospitality embraces all people, not some select portion, not just Christians. To clarify his point, Jerome quotes a pagan poet, Virgil. Virgil, you may recall, wrote the Aeneid, is the greatest epic of the Roman literature, a deliberate imitation of Homer’s great Greek epic, the Odyssey. Centuries later, Dante wrote yet another epic imitating Homer, the Divine Comedy, perhaps the greatest poem of the Renaissance. In it, Dante made Virgil his guide through the Inferno. Jerome, looking for passion and eloquence about universal hospitality, reached out to Virgil for help. In his letter to Marcus, he wrote: “I am forced to cry out against the inhumanity of this country. A hackneyed quotation best expresses my meaning.” Then he quoted the Aeneid (Book I, lines 539-541):

     What savages are these who will not grant
     A rest to strangers, even on their sands!
     They threaten war and drive us from their coasts.

Then Jerome remarks in his frustration at inhospitable Christians, “I take this from a Gentile poet so that people who disregard the peace of Christ may at least learn its meaning from a heathen.”

St. Athanasius

Athanasius (c. 297-373) was the first of the eight Great Fathers. His life straddled the transition from Roman persecution to state-supported Christianity. He was educated by martyrs, but is remembered for his participation in the Council of Nicea and for his defense of the Nicene Creed. The Council wrestled with questions about the Lord – true God and true man – declaring that we believe in Jesus Christ, “the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” He is credited with proposing the famous clarifying word “homoousion” (“consubstantial”). And he is also the source of the oldest list of all the books that the Catholic Church considers to be part of the Bible.

Athanasius didn’t write about hospitality; he wrote about Christology. However, when he is making points about the Lord’s revelation of himself, the examples that he chooses are revealing. Athanasius was exiled five times during his life, and also chased out of town by mobs at least six times; these experiences shaped his imagination in part. His explanation of how the Lord manifests himself draws on stories about caring for exiles and refugees. Some familiar, like the stories of Abraham and Lot and Job; but he also uses one story that’s not standard in hospitality lists, the story of Obadiah risking his life to protect 100 prophets from the bloody-minded murderess Jezebel, hiding them in caves and feeding them (1 Kings 18:4). That is, Athanasius didn’t talk about the theme of hospitality explicitly; but when he talked about the Lord, the examples that came to his mind were examples of hospitality.

St. Basil

Basil (c 329-379) did the same for the Greek world that Jerome did for the Latin world. He was wealthy, and poured out his wealth to build a community – a whole town, the Basilead – of monks and nuns and other Catholic-Worker types who devoted their lives to payer and to serving the needy in conscientious obedience to the precepts of the Lord in Matthew 25. They fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the ill-clad, and visited the sick. The sick: any serious history of hospitals must include the Basilead, which was (arguably) the first hospital in the world, an institution devoted to caring for the sick. There may be other examples of hospitals that pre-date Basil, but if so, he was still a pioneering social development – free, and serving the public without discrimination. The “public”: that’s emphatically not the way the community thought of their guests; they served Christ, whom they met in those in need.


I need Augustine! (Of Hippo, 354-430.) Augustine is among the most influential philosophers and theologians in the history of the Church. So it’s non-trivial that his understanding of Scripture begins (and continues and ends) with his rock-solid conviction that to know and love and serve God, you must know and love and serve the people around you. When he was explaining Scripture, Augustine kept going back to Matthew 25: “Whatsoever you do for the least, you do for me.” (There is one other passage that he uses as a kind of touchstone: the story of Paul getting knocked off his horse, and Jesus asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “Me,” Jesus said, speaking of Saul’s persecution of the Lord’s followers.)

Just one story. Augustine was an African, and served for 35 years as the bishop of Hippo (in present-day Algeria).Bishop of Hippo, northern Africa. While he was in Hippo, there was warfare and pillaging that sent thousands of people across the Mediterranean in anything that would float, fleeing chaos and murder and rape – just like today. But in Augustine’s time, refugee traffic went from north to south: the Lombards had sacked Rome. Augustine urged his people to be hospitable, and his approach to the matter is delightful. He recalls the story of Zacchaeus, a small man who climbed a tree to see Jesus passing by. Jesus saw him, and called out, “Zacchaeus! Come down! I’m eating dinner at your house!” We’re inclined to be jealous, says Augustine. But we shouldn’t be! We too can have Jesus to dinner! Just go welcome a refugee who’s crawling out of the sea!

There are three points worth noting in the short bit of a sermon. First, of course, Augustine urged that we welcome refugees. Second, he understood and explained the story of Zacchaeus in the light of Matthew 25: what you do for least, you do for the Lord. Third, and oh so wonderful: when Augustine urges hospitality, he does not talk about obedience so much as about joy. Joy! His experience and his expectation is that serving those in need, including refugees, is a matter of great joy!

St. John Chrysostom – and St. Benedict

St. John Chrysostom (354-430) offers a challenge. He was eloquent about the six precepts in Matthew, but tacked on twist. Jesus demanded that we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, but the passage ends: whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. What does that mean? Most people think it goes beyond the six specific items, using them as examples for a more general point. For example, when the list of corporal works was invented, it certainly followed the spirit of the six precepts, although it changed details. But John Chrysostom had a very different understanding of the passage. He said that it limits the passage: we feed the hungry among the brothers of the Lord. That is, we are obliged to care for Christians, the people who are brothers (and sisters) of the Lord because they know the Lord by name and follow him.

Jerome was emphatic that we are called to serve all people. John Chrysostom is equally emphatic: we are called to serve all Christians, not others. If we serve others, that might be okay too, but the demand is that we serve the least of the brothers. The idea that Christians should serve Christians, and that our obligation toward non-Christians is to preach to them until they are Christians but not necessarily to protect them from starvation: this idea appalls many Christians today, but is embraced by some – and has ancient roots.

I am not qualified to argue with St. John Chrysostom, one of the four Great Greek Fathers. But his interpretation was not the majority view then, nor is it now. Further, more importantly, the Fathers wrestled with ideas and taught eloquently – but then, what mattered more than their words was what others did with their ideas. And the question of whether we should serve all people or all Christians was, in practice, turned over to monks and nuns to settle. Those heroes were the ones who did the actual work, for most of the history of the Church. So what did they say and do? The answer comes from St. Benedict, who – though he was not among the eight Great Fathers – was immensely influential.

St. Benedict (480-550) did not invent monastic life; there were monasteries all over the world for hundreds of years before him. But he worked hard to build monasteries that were balanced and sane. He and his followers led lives of prayer, bolstered by fasting and other ascetic practices. But Benedict was aware of the dangers of fanaticism, and he worked hard to construct monastic life in a way that was sustainable, organized toward God and not toward some nihilistic ideal sprinkled with holy water. Toward the end of his life, he collected his ideas and wrote up them up. Fifteen centuries later, men and women around the world still choose to live by this “Rule of St. Benedict.” There have been many offshoots and alterations, and many reforms, and reforms of the reforms; but the Rule remains a steady and healthy starting point. And the Rule is clear and explicit about hospitality: it is universal. All guests are to be welcomed as Christ. Special care is appropriate for those of our faith, and for pilgrims, and for the poor; but those are details within a more general rule, based on what Jesus himself said. The Rule of St. Benedict is unmistakable:

Caput 53: De hospitibus suscipiendis.
Omnes supervenientes hospites tamquam Christus suscipiantur, quia ipse dicturus est: Hospis fui et suscepistis me.

Chapter 53: about welcoming guests
All guests who come are to be acknowledged and accepted as Christ, because he himself will say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” All.

The teaching of St. John Chrysostom deserves respect. But the disagreement between Jerome and Chrysostom was settled definitively in practice, for centuries, by Benedict. Omnes: all.

St. Thomas Aquinas

The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas has had an unparalleled impact Christian thought, for centuries. His ideas about welcoming strangers are nuanced. In brief, he said that the Lord’s command that we welcome strangers is indeed binding. On the other hand, he also said that nations have a right to scrutinize immigrants and to set up criteria for citizenship. Third, he made a quiet observation about the corporal works of mercy that is – in retrospect – extraordinarily significant.

Aquinas embraced the teaching in Matthew, without reservation. And when there was some debate about whether this teaching was “counsel or perfection” or “precepts” – that is, advice for people intent on heroic virtue, or commands applicable to all – he was unhesitating: they are precepts, mandatory for all. The responsibility for meeting needs could be delegated – to monks and nuns, for example, who provide food and clothing and shelter in obedience to the Lord’s commands, acting as representatives of the Church, supported by the laity) – but the responsibility is sacred and permanent, and cannot be simply dismissed.

FINISH!! immigration criteria …
1.       Aquinas has same balance as American bishops: a right to control borders AND a right to migrate
2.       sketch Aquinas on steps to citizenship
3.       examine Aquinas’ use of the Vulgate, and the simple misunderstanding there – Jerome translated one word in Hebrew word into two Latin words. Aquinas did not know Hebrew; he saw two Latin words, and built a theory on the distinction between them.

Aquinas pointed out a problem that didn’t seem particularly serious then, but which metastasized over the centuries. He noticed that the corporal works of mercy were not the same thing as the precepts in Matthew 25. The corporal works include the six precepts, but also include burying the dead, following the moving and generous example of Tobit. Aquinas said that “mercy” can’t be offered to the dead, and burials are not, strictly speaking, acts of mercy. So the corporal works were enumerated incorrectly, he said. This split between the precepts in Matthew 25 and the list of the corporal works of mercy grew over subsequent centuries – eventually leading to catastrophic results.

The third pattern, re-stated

No one in 15 centuries of the history of the Church ever said that we needed a new pattern of hospitality. But in fact, the pattern of hospitality that developed in the Church was different from the national pattern of Moses, and the personal pattern described in the Gospels. No one urged that kings, not monks, should care for the poor. And no one challenged the guest houses at the monasteries, and said that people in need should be dispersed throughout the town, cared for individually.

Jerome (and Fabiola) and Basil established the monastic pattern of hospitality – thinking of their work as obedience to the clear teaching of the Lord, and understanding themselves to be doing the same thing that Abraham did. Quite explicitly, they said they were imitating and obeying what they found in Scripture.

Others Fathers promoted hospitality – speaking of it as imitation of Abraham, and obedience to Jesus – but working out details in the new ecclesial pattern. St. Ambrose, for example, in his great work The Duties of the Clergy taught clearly that hospitality was a clerical responsibility. Of course everyone has some responsibility, but caring for strangers was particularly the duty of monks and nuns and pastors. St. Gregory the Great, similarly, in a letter to St Augustine (of Canterbury) discussed how to work out a budget for the churches in England, and said that a quarter of the income should go the bishop – because he was responsible for hospitality. (For clarity’s sake, let me state what should be obvious, but isn’t: in this context, “hospitality” meant care for the poor and for strangers, not expensive banquets for noble guests.)

The pattern of hospitality for centuries and centuries in the Church was inspiring, practical, successful. But it had a weakness. When the monasteries were suppressed in England and weakened elsewhere, there was no Plan B for hospitality. That sacred task fell through the cracks. When priests are on the run, who sits up to ask about the work of the porter?

The fourth paradigm, reviewed and documented

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII initiated a new body of thought within the Catholic Church. He was elected pope after Pius IX, who had responded to new developments in the world with vigorous denunciations of the grave threats to Christian life contained in modern life. Leo was similarly cautious, aware of the dangers of Communism; but he refused to stay frozen in a defensive crouch. New things were unfolding in the world, and Leo responded with new ideas. If the Industrial Revolution threatened the dignity of workers in a new way, the Church supported new ways of asserting and protecting that dignity.

There is no “right to strike” in Scripture, but neither is there any Industrial Revolution in Scripture. It would, of course, be ideal if a worker and an owner could sit down together and work out an agreement based on principles of justice and brotherhood; but that ideal was not realistic in the 19th century. Workers became replaceable bits of machinery in a large and complex system. Strikes don’t show up in Scripture, but the dignity of workers and indeed the dignity of all human beings is in Scripture. So if protecting the rights of workers requires a strike, the Church will not oppose it. The Church stands with all the children of God, and speaks on behalf of us. Leo denounced “the cruelty of men of greed, who use human beings as mere instruments for money-making. It is neither just nor human so to grind men down with excessive labor as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies.”

He taught that the worker’s right to a living wage took precedence over the myth of free consent in a free market: “Wages, as we are told, are regulated by free consent… nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.” He denounced a neutral or laissez-faire approach, asserting that “if employers laid burdens upon their workmen which were unjust, or degraded them with conditions repugnant to their dignity as human beings; finally, if health were endangered by excessive labor, or by work unsuited to sex or age – in such cases, there can be no question but that, within certain limits, it would be right to invoke the aid and authority of the law.” And he put the Church on the side of unions, expressing a desire that “they should become more numerous.”

It is true that Pope Leo did not state explicitly that there is a right to strike. However, he supported unions, supported their key demands, and advised against some mistakes in strikes. In that context, the inference is fair, almost unavoidable: silence gives consent. Ninety years later, Pope St. John Paul II spoke explicitly of the “right to strike.”

Pope St. Pius X

In 1914, Pope Pius X inaugurated the annual Day for Migrants and Refugees, a day of reflection and action that the Church has marked for over a century now. Each year since then, the pope has re-stated the Church’s support for pilgrims, migrants, strangers, refugees.

The last “pre-Vatican” pope

One of the most influential assertions in this line of thought, providing an efficient and effective grasp on the Church’s teaching on migration, is the apostolic exhortation, Exsul Familia Nazarethena, or “The Exiled Family of Nazareth,” issued by Pope Pius XII in 1951. He opens:

“The émigré Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”

Fifty years ago, Fr. Aidan noted my proclivity for stating things with fiery adverbs – firmly, unequivocally, absolutely. Perhaps, he suggested, I could learn to speak and write more softly and gently and invitingly. I’m still trying. But look at the adjectives of Pius XII in this exhortation. The Holy Family is “the archetype of EVERY refugee family … for ALL TIMES AND ALL PLACES, the models and protectors of EVERY migrant, alien and refugee OF WHATEVER KIND.” There’s a time and place moderation, to be sure; but apparently, in the view of Pius the reassuringly be-spectacled scholar, this isn’t it. EVERY, ALL, ALL, EVERY, OF WHATEVER KIND.

The Second Vatican Council

The Social Gospel teaching inaugurated by Pope Leo XIII was embraced firmly by the Second Vatican Council, which was called by Pope St. John XXIII, and led by his successor, Pope Paul VI. Since the apostles met in Jerusalem to decide whether you had to become a Jew first in order to be a true follower of Jesus, there have been 20 such councils, bringing together the successor of Peter and the successors of the apostles. The teachings from Councils are considered by Catholics to be our most authoritative teaching, second only to Scripture. This Council issued a number of documents, including prominently Gaudium et Spes (“Joy and Hope”), with an English title that describes what it is about: The Church in the Modern World. This revolutionary document embraces the Social Gospel firmly and completely. It opens with a glorious assertion of a new paradigm:

Gaudium et spes, luctus et angor hominum huius temporis, pauperum praesertim et quorumvis afflictorum, gaudium sunt et spes, luctus et angor etiam Christi discipulorum, nihilque vere humanum invenitur, quod in corde eorum non resonet.

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”

That is: our hearts.

The document is explicitly global. The audience is global: it “addresses itself without hesitation, not only to the sons of the Church and to all who invoke the name of Christ, but to the whole of humanity.” The concerns in it are global: the joys and hopes and griefs and anxieties of all people in our time. The document asserts the Church’s “solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for the entire human family.” And looking toward wisdom in responding to global problems, the Church adopts a new position, not as the arrogant master of all good things, but as the servant of all: the council “offers to mankind the honest assistance of the Church in fostering that brotherhood of all men.”

The Second Vatican Council notes that modern life has been transformed by global forces. Industrialization, urbanization, and rapid global communication have changed the way we think of society. And in this context, Gaudium et Spes explicitly recognizes a “personal right of migration.”

Centuries before, when the Church had an organized and robust response to strangers and wanderers and migrants, the pattern was that the Church – usually clerics, monks and nuns – welcomed strangers. That pattern was disrupted when monasteries were suppressed. The Council asserts a new paradigm. The people to be served: that’s not changed, but it’s made explicit, authoritatively: ALL. If the intent is to serve the needs of all, globally, that’s beyond the capabilities of the Church; but the Council is untroubled by that, because the servants that the Council summons to action are all people of good will. The Church is a partner in a global effort.

In our time in history, ancient divisions are being healed. The most ancient division in the Church’s history is our violent rejection of our “older brothers” in faith, Jews. The Council re-oriented the Church, admitted wrong, and set out to establish peaceful and respectful relations with Jews. That effort is not perfect, but it’s good. The Catholic Church is similarly committed to peace and reconciliation with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, and there has been great progress. The Catholic Church has recognized that Protestants know and love the Lord, that we share “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is Father of all.” There are still tensions and disagreements, but we aren’t about to go to war with people whom we believe to be heretics headed rapidly to eternal perdition. The Catholic Church is committed to a new and respectful relationship with Muslims, who worship the God of Abraham. But in the midst of these immense repairs and healings, a new division has opened. The Church is often seen to be ripped apart left against right, setting the advocates of personal morality against the advocates of social justice. This is bizarre, schizophrenic. But there it is: we’re divided, despite the unifying teaching of the Church. One detail of this division is that some people study and embrace the Social Gospel, while others study and embrace the Gospel of Life. So it’s worth noting that the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is not afflicted by this schizophrenia: the documents on life and family issues are intermingled with the document about peace, justice, labor, migration.

Indeed, the “right to migrate” is also asserted in one of the most significant “pro-family” documents of our time, Familiaris Consortio. This is an apostolic exhortation, issued by Pope John Paul II in 1981. A section of the document is a “Charter of Family Rights,” which includes “the right to emigrate as a family in search of a better life.”

The fourth paradigm of hospitality is completely established in theory. But the drag of centuries of confusion remains.

Here’s the challenge. Can Pope Francis persuade the Church to care about the 65 million migrants on the roads today? Is it possible if most people have lost any sense of the centrality of hospitality, and consider hospitality to be decorative, like polished silverware and soft linen napkins at dinner?

What if you …
·         … forget Tradition, the third paradigm: hospitality as the work of the Church, especially monks.
·         … set aside the Old Testament, the first paradigm: hospitality as a national responsibility.
·         … trim the New Testament, the second paradigm: hospitality as a personal responsibility – reduced to shelter for the homeless.
·         … and then ask Christians to care about 65 million people over there.

It’s a stretch. It’s too much. The request falls on deaf ears.

The fourth paradigm of hospitality depends on the previous three. But what happens if we forget the teaching and example of Benedict? If Benedict is gone, then Moses and Matthew are in tension. And if the Gospel seems to differ in some ways from the teaching of Moses, we drop Moses. If we drop Moses, then Matthew is almost incomprehensible. So now, can Pope Francis build a call to hospitality on a few incomprehensible scraps from the New Testament?

Modern problems, modern solutions

One of the challenges of our time is that modern communication makes it possible for us to see tragedies unfold all over the globe, to experience them almost first-hand, vividly – by the thousands, daily. If you watch international news, and try to get inside the pains and sufferings of each and every person you see, you go crazy pretty quickly. You can’t respond one on one, face to face, heart to heart, to all the people you see in trouble on TV. Unequivocally, certainly, you cannot. That’s a modern challenge, brought to you by modern technology. And you cannot respond without folksy old methods. Can’t.

So you can give up. Or you can look for other ways of responding. And indeed, the world that brought you TV and a million people in pain also brought you communication devices to reach a million people ready to help. Massive aid agencies don’t have to be impersonal; they can be nasty and uncaring, but so can you next-door neighbor. You can’t fix a million problems daily by yourself, but you can work with a million people who – together – can and do.

That’s the fourth paradigm.

Contrast two models for clarity

Focus one more time on the teaching in the New Testament – without the insights offered by the Old Testament, and without the insights of the Church. Look again at the pivotal story about hospitality to a stranger, the parable of the Good Samaritan. One oft-repeated interpretation holds that Jesus showed us how to serve the poor, including strangers. He offered personal service, face to face, heart to heart, one on one. And indeed, this is the way the Lord deal with each of us, now and forever: his love is intense and personal, direct and unfiltered – one-on-one. He didn’t rely on any massive agencies or impersonal bureaucracies; he didn’t build a governmental program; he didn’t tax the people. In fact, the closest he came to having a bureaucrat handling the requests of the poor was Judas. And if that’s the way he did it, that’s the best way, and that’s the way I want to serve. That’s not a wacky interpretation of the passage.

But there’s another way to understand the passage. It seems to me that the passage shows Jesus teaching almost exactly the same thing that Moses taught. Moses had a long list of rules and regulations, including some about how to provide for strangers who move into the community. He laid down rules about how to harvest crops. He said that observant Jews should be deliberately inefficient in their vineyards and grain fields: leave some for widows and orphans and strangers to glean. That provides the food they need, and also protects their dignity a little. The rules are interesting, but I don’t have a vineyard; do I have any responsibilities toward strangers? Emphatically, yes, according to Moses. We are all required to welcome strangers, because – remember! – you too were once a stranger in a strange land. The command includes two parts: welcome and remember. Why should we remember? Because our memory of our past suffering opens the door to understanding the stranger. Memory or imagination is wellspring of compassion. The harvest rules are good, but they’re just examples; the point is to welcome the stranger. And that welcome must come from the heart – from compassion – from memory.

Jesus was asked to define “neighbor.” But the question was nakedly practical, not theoretical. The real question was, who can I ignore? I’ll take care of my responsibilities, but where do they stop? What’s the boundary? Where I can turn away from people in need with a clear conscience? Jesus declined to respond with a legal definition; instead, he told a story. And the heart of the story is, to understand what a neighbor is, you have to see the question from the eyes of a person in need. It’s not the circles of kinship and friendship around you that matter; it’s the circles of kinship and friendship around the person in need that matter.

Moses and Jesus both talked about the boundary between “us” and “them.” Moses talked about “us” – i.e., native-born children of Israel – versus “them” – i.e., strangers. He said we should find compassion in our hearts, via memory, and welcome them.  Jesus talked about “us” – i.e., neighbors – versus “them” – i.e., non-neighbors. He said we should find compassion in our hearts, via imagination, and welcome them.

These two interpretations – the story of a one-on-one response, and the story of shifting perspective and being compassionate – aren’t contradictory. You don’t have to choose between them; you can use both – and likely many more. They aren’t contradictory, but they aren’t the same either. The interpretation that is enlightened by the Old Testament is, it seems to me, more flexible. Suppose the person in need is a thousand miles away, in need of a lawyer? Can I ignore that need? It’s not face to face! I’m not a lawyer! The problem is, if you insist that Jesus served this way – and just this way – and I want to imitate Jesus – then you can fall into a new Pharisaism. You can walk away from the problem, without trying to sympathize, without struggling to figure out how to help.

Suppose an immigrant needs an advocate.

Offering bread to a man who needs an advocate at the border is insulting.

Offering water to a man who needs an advocate at the border is sweet, but insufficient.

Offering clothes to a man who needs an advocate at the border is silly.

Giving toys to a child who needs an advocate at the border is callous and cruel – blind, not kind.

Clearly, we should give what’s necessary, in response to the needs of our neighbor – not just scraps from some bag of Christmas alms!

This is the difference between a cramped version of that second model of hospitality versus the Church’s modern version of a fourth model of hospitality. All four versions are responses are responses to the command of the Lord – all four! God is not just a nice guy with a beard and an open heart; sometimes he comes to us as Paraclete – that is, as Advocate.


In sum

The hospitality of St. Benedict cannot be offered by monasteries alone. Benedict’s work of hospitality depends on us. That great and joyful work – joyful but work, work although joyful – that work is in our hands.

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.