The Gospel reading at Mass today (Monday, first week in Lent) is the Last Judgment passage from Matthew: whatsoever you do to the least of my family, you do to me. It’s the passage that led me into an exploration of Scripture and immigration. When Jesus said that we will welcome strangers and meet the Father, or turn them away and go to hell, what did he mean by “stranger”? We can figure that out.
According to an Australian scholar, Raymond Canning, this passage was of the two passages that St. Augustine used as the take-off point for understanding all of Scripture. (The other was the story of Paul on the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” There too, Jesus identified with people in trouble: what you do to them, you do to the Lord, personally.)
Augustine spoke specifically about refugees pouring across the Mediterranean: if you want to meet Jesus, invite a refugee into your life.
And Jerome also spoke about refugees on the shore of the Mediterranean. Addressing the idea that we can sort them out, and welcome some refugees while rejecting others, Jerome reached out for a rhetorical boost from his favorite pagan writer, Virgil, who wrote about secure and snug citizens – who watched human being drag themselves out of the savage sea into the hands of worse savagery ashore, the savagery of smug and smiling self-righteous rejectniks. The passage bursts with anger and contempt: Virgil can’t think of a crime lower than inhospitality.
Jesus, Augustine, Jerome, and the Pope. Listen up!