Thursday, November 30, 2017

10 excuses for the loss of hospitality: #2

The second excuse: The story of Sodom is blurred, and the hospitality triptych is lost to us.

Here’s the second of the ten excuses for inhospitality. (List of ten at bottom, in rough chronological order.)

Angels of Sodom, draw near!

The story of Sodom is blurred, and we have lost track of its integrity.

What do you hear if someone prays that the angels of Sodom come now, and come quickly? I have never tried to measure it, but I suspect that most people think they are hearing a plea that God will send angels of destruction to kill off the LGBT folks. That’s a seriously weird distortion. The angels of Sodom are the same as the angels of Mamre. The image of the Trinity painted by the Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev six centuries ago – three tranquil angels by an altar – is an image of the event at Mamre, where Abraham provided hospitality to God. Three strangers showed up at his tent, and he welcomed them, providing rest and refreshment, water for their feet, and a feast. The First Feast in the Bible foreshadows the Eucharist: God and man at table are sat down. The day after the feast, two of the visitors go on to Sodom, and one – now identified as God – speaks with Abraham. The two enjoy Lot’s hospitality, which follows Abraham’s model in a list of details. But the men of Sodom want to rape Lot’s attractive guests, so the angels destroy the city. Homosexual gang rape is the polar opposite of hospitality.

For a thousand years, everyone referring to the story of Sodom used it to talk about luxury and injustice and flaunting your wealth. It was seen as the third piece of a story about hospitality. But in the early years of the Christian church, Peter and Jude (and Josephus) spoke about Sodom referring to carnal evils. Okay, that’s there too; I’m not going to argue against two epistles in the New Testament. But I note that three prophets and two Gospels and Genesis 18 and Judges 20 all offer an interpretation of the Sodom story that has nothing to do with same-sex carnality.

I would argue that the cramped interpretation of Sodom causes two problems. It seems to justify a completely unbalanced attitude toward people who identify themselves as gay. But also, it smudges a story that is loaded with insights into hospitality.

If you pray with all your heart that the “angels of Sodom draw near,” are you asking for the destruction of carnal sinners, or of arrogant men who are content to enjoy luxury without offering a scrap of hospitality to strangers – who, in fact, abuse widows and orphans and strangers? Are you asking the God of justice and hospitality to come quickly to our aid? Is it a Christmas prayer? Is it a Marian prayer, like her words in the Magnificat, rejoicing in God who lifts up the poor and sends the rich away empty?

I am not afraid of the angels of Sodom. I’m not disrespectful of them; I’m careful. But not afraid, or not much afraid, or not just afraid. Their advent is good news for the poor.

Come, O Angels of Sodom!

The list of ten excuses

1. GER, NOKRI, ZUWR: guest, weirdo, enemy. The teaching about strangers in Hebrew was clear; Greek and Latin and English do not have the same clarity.

2. The story of Sodom has been mangled, and the hospitality triptych has disappeared.

3. In the Patristic era, St. John Chrysostom and other Fathers disagreed about who we are commanded to serve. Who is the least of the brothers: people in need, or Christians in need?

4. The shamrock image of the Trinity (attributed to St. Patrick) is a dead end for thought. We are not accustomed to exploring images of the Trinity, including three found all over our teaching: Father/Son and Spirit, husband/wife and sacramental unity, host/guest and unifying hospitality.

5. As St. Thomas Aquinas noted with concern, the corporal works of mercy drifted away from their roots in Scripture. Over the centuries, this became a serious source of confusion.

6. During the Reformation and the division of the Lord’s church, Christians killed each other, instead of welcoming each other. When the killing stopped, the inhospitality remained.

7. Before they were suppressed or weakened, the monasteries in the name of the community – fulfilled the Lord’s command to welcome strangers. When the monasteries closed, no new pattern of hospitality emerged to replace the Patristic pattern.

8. Science fiction, shaped in large part by the eugenics movement, routinely painted the universe as a place of constant warfare. In the sci fi universe, Earth is surrounded by hostile forces. C.S. Lewis worked hard to change this pattern. The universe of mainstream sci fi is inhospitable: a detail of the stupendous damage wrought by the eugenics movement.

9. The Catholic Church was split in reaction to Vatican II. There are still millions of Catholics who have no idea what the Church teaches about social justice. The left-right split resembles the older split over the lessons from Sodom, but it’s deeper and more comprehensive.

10. In the 1960s – a time of sex and drugs and peace, man – rapists on the road changed the way Americans responded to strangers. In 1960, nearly every child in the country was taught: “Be polite to strangers.” One single decade later, nearly every child in the country was taught, “Don’t speak to strangers.” 

10 excuses for the loss of hospitality: #1

Here’s the first of ten excuses for inhospitality. (List of ten at bottom, in rough chronological order.)

What’s a GER?

The Hebrew word ger cannot be translated easily into Greek, nor Latin, nor English. Teaching that was precise and easy to follow in the Old Testament is blurred in translation. This is a problem that reaches back 17 centuries for sure, and maybe 20.

In Hebrew, the word “ger” is hard to mistake, because it is embedded within one of the most influential stories in world history, the story of the Exodus. God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, because the Egyptians turned away from the hospitality that Joseph had offered to his family, and enslaved the Hebrews. The key lesson of the event is about God who saves us. But the key moral lesson is about hospitality: remember what happened to us, and don’t be like an Egyptian. The word “ger” means “stranger,” but a stranger like the Hebrews in Egypt. It refers, primarily, to people who live in one land, but have unmistakable roots elsewhere – immigrants. It also refers more generally to guests, and sometimes to travelers passing by.

In Hebrew, it’s easy to distinguish between a ger and a zuwr, which means enemy. It’s easy to understand the difference between a ger and someone who is nokri, or foreign and perhaps a little weird. But in English, all three words are often translated as stranger. What was clear in Hebrew is smudged in English (and Greek and Latin). The teaching about strangers/enemies and strangers/weirdos is not the same as the teaching about strangers/immigrants/pilgrims/guests. If you blur these words, you can lose track of the fierce and determined teaching throughout the Hebrew Bible about welcoming people whose situation resembles the Hebrews in Egypt.

A fundamental teaching in Hebrew is often smudged in other languages.
The list of ten excuses

1. GER, NOKRI, ZUWR: guest, weirdo, enemy. The teaching about strangers in Hebrew was clear; Greek and Latin and English do not have the same clarity.

2. The story of Sodom has been mangled, and the hospitality triptych has disappeared.

3. In the Patristic era, St. John Chrysostom and other Fathers disagreed about who we are commanded to serve. Who is the least of the brothers: people in need, or Christians in need?

4. The shamrock image of the Trinity (attributed to St. Patrick) is a dead end for thought. We are not accustomed to exploring images of the Trinity, including three found all over our teaching: Father/Son and Spirit, husband/wife and sacramental unity, host/guest and unifying hospitality.

5. As St. Thomas Aquinas noted with concern, the corporal works of mercy drifted away from their roots in Scripture. Over the centuries, this became a serious source of confusion.

6. During the Reformation and the division of the Lord’s church, Christians killed each other, instead of welcoming each other. When the killing stopped, the inhospitality remained.

7. Before they were suppressed or weakened, the monasteries in the name of the community – fulfilled the Lord’s command to welcome strangers. When the monasteries closed, no new pattern of hospitality emerged to replace the Patristic pattern.

8. Science fiction, shaped in large part by the eugenics movement, routinely painted the universe as a place of constant warfare. In the sci fi universe, Earth is surrounded by hostile forces. C.S. Lewis worked hard to change this pattern. The universe of mainstream sci fi is inhospitable: a detail of the stupendous damage wrought by the eugenics movement.

9. The Catholic Church was split in reaction to Vatican II. There are still millions of Catholics who have no idea what the Church teaches about social justice. The left-right split resembles the older split over the lessons from Sodom, but it’s deeper and more comprehensive.

10. In the 1960s – a time of sex and drugs and peace, man – rapists on the road changed the way Americans responded to strangers. In 1960, nearly every child in the country was taught: “Be polite to strangers.” One single decade later, nearly every child in the country was taught, “Don’t speak to strangers.” 

10 excuses for the loss of hospitality

Western civilization has its roots in the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. In general, we can find our fundamental values explained and exemplified in these two cultures. Recalling our roots is one way to lift our minds away from the cramped fixations of day-to-day life; it is also a way to notice the unmoored drift of our society, away from ancient assumptions. Like hospitality. Today in America, we tend to think of hospitality as a decorative phenomenon, good manners, the tie to go with a tux – not a bad thing, but definitely not a serious thing. The Greeks saw it differently: Apollo, the protector of truth and justice, was also the defender of hospitality. And few moral teachings were more fundamental for the Hebrews than Moses’ words about hospitality, a rock-solid touchstone value: “Welcome strangers, because – remember! – you too once were a stranger in a strange land.”

So what happened? Where did hospitality go? How did this cultural assumption and habit erode?

Part of the problem is plain old sin – selfishness and greed and racism and suchlike. But I think it’s possible to identify some developments and challenges that are more specific. Seeing what happened does not automatically reverse the damage, but it helps.

So here are ten excuses for inhospitality, in rough chronological order.

1. GER, NOKRI, ZUWR: guest, weirdo, enemy. The teaching about strangers in Hebrew was clear; Greek and Latin and English do not have the same clarity.

2. The story of Sodom has been mangled, and the hospitality triptych has disappeared.

3. In the Patristic era, St. John Chrysostom and other Fathers disagreed about who we are commanded to serve. Who is the least of the brothers: people in need, or Christians in need?

4. The shamrock image of the Trinity (attributed to St. Patrick) is a dead end for thought. We are not accustomed to exploring images of the Trinity, including three found all over our teaching: Father/Son and Spirit, husband/wife and sacramental unity, host/guest and unifying hospitality.

5. As St. Thomas Aquinas noted with concern, the corporal works of mercy drifted away from their roots in Scripture. Over the centuries, this became a serious source of confusion.

6. During the Reformation and the division of the Lord’s church, Christians killed each other, instead of welcoming each other. When the killing stopped, the inhospitality remained.

7. Before they were suppressed or weakened, the monasteries in the name of the community – fulfilled the Lord’s command to welcome strangers. When the monasteries closed, no new pattern of hospitality emerged to replace the Patristic pattern.

8. Science fiction, shaped in large part by the eugenics movement, routinely painted the universe as a place of constant warfare. In the sci fi universe, Earth is surrounded by hostile forces. C.S. Lewis worked hard to change this pattern. The universe of mainstream sci fi is inhospitable: a detail of the stupendous damage wrought by the eugenics movement.

9. The Catholic Church was split in reaction to Vatican II. There are still millions of Catholics who have no idea what the Church teaches about social justice. The left-right split resembles the older split over the lessons from Sodom, but it’s deeper and more comprehensive.

10.   In the 1960s – a time of sex and drugs and peace, man – rapists on the road changed the way Americans responded to strangers. In 1960, nearly every child in the country was taught: “Be polite to strangers.” One single decade later, nearly every child in the country was taught, “Don’t speak to strangers.”

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

open letter to Cardinal Burke on social sin

+++ open letter +++

Dear Cardinal Burke,

I have a question, with an explanation I’ll try to keep short. It includes a question about Amoris Laetitia, but only tangentially.

The question: after the teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II on Penance and Reconciliation, which includes a revolutionary section on social sin, is the Church going to re-think and re-shape the way we go about celebrating this Sacrament, to incorporate his ideas into our life? For example, what does it look like to see the sin of inhospitality in our lives, and to repent and turn away from it, toward freedom to worship without fear?

I want to write about this for 10,000 words or so. I won’t! I’ll be as brief as I can be, and hope it’s still clear, not too gnomic.

1.       John Paul II wrote: “Whenever the church speaks of situations of sin or when the condemns as social sins certain situations or the collective behavior of certain social groups, big or small, or even of whole nations and blocs of nations, she knows and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of higher order. The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals.” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 16) This is a careful description of the interface between social sin and personal sin. That is, when I see that my society is in sin, what do I look for in my own life? Here, I think, is an answer.

2.       I have never heard of anyone going to confession and asking God for forgiveness for gravely evil silence or indifference. That is, I don’t think that JPII’s teaching has affected the way we celebrate this Sacrament – at least not yet.

3.       I note that there are many lists of sins floating around, with much attention recently given to the “non-negotiable” sins (from Catholic Answers??). This list of “non-negotiables” includes euthanasia, which definitely is has blurry and negotiable edges – but that’s a distraction. The real problem here is that Jesus had a list too, in Matthew 25; and his list is not a part of the way we prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That’s a serious problem. If he has a list, and you have a list, and his list isn’t on your list, then your list is complete garbage.

4.       His list is about sins of omission, like: you didn’t welcome strangers. St. Thomas Aquinas stated firmly that the sins of omission in Matthew 25 are indeed, in the categories of scholastic teaching, mortal sins. It seems to me that JPII’s list above does resemble the Lord’s list  – not point by point, but in approach.

5.       I note with great interest the reaction of the woman at the well to her celebration of reconciliation with Jesus. She danced off hollering, inviting people to check it out. It wasn’t just that she was free from shame, stepping away from something; she was free to love, racing towards something (someone). This does indeed look like the thing that Zechariah prophesied: “Blessed be the Lord, who has come to us and set us FREE … FREE to worship without fear!” That’s not about keeping cops away from the doors of our churches; that’s about drawing close to God as our Father, not as an angry and vengeful Judge.

6.       I understand the guy in the back of the church beating his breast, bowed over in shame. He’s a model, contrasted with the holy-holy braggart who stands erect. Got it. But I think there’s a before and an after, and I think the dancing whore turned exuberant story-teller is the after-shot. We aren’t supposed to come out of an encounter with God feeling clean; that’s good too, but it’s not the point. We’re supposed to come out ready to change the world. Not just erect, but dancing. Free to worship, which means – true worship, that is, in the teaching of the prophets, means – caring for the poor, because we like them, because they look like God who is an extraordinarily beautiful person (to understate it, which is the only way we can state it).

7.       It seems to me that the Sacrament of penance and reconciliation is indeed supposed to send us out ready to change the world. JPII said that it is sinful to “take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world.” So freedom from social sins should mean – in part, among other things – the freedom to embark on serious efforts to change the world.

8.       I think that the whole tribunal apparatus, addressing sexual sins with a social machine that goes from parish to diocese to Rome, looks stupid in the absence of a similar social machine addressing social sins like inhospitality and war and racism. For sure, family life is fundamental. But American immigration policies since we brought the Chinese here to build our railroads has been deliberately shaped to smash families. America said to them: “Build our railroads through the mountains; but don’t bring your wife, here’s a whore; now we’re done with the work and with you, get out.” It’s ludicrous to separate family life from employment. Family life is fundamental to social life and spiritual life – fundamental, but not the whole story. Living with a second partner after a divorce may be “living in sin,” but so is institutional racism. So is a defense posture based on a gravely immoral determination to use weapons of mass destruction if “necessary.” Further, sexual sins may indeed be scandalous, but not uniquely so; other sins that include scandal are flirting with nukes, and treating whole groups of people with contempt.

9.       If there’s a tribunal examining abuses of human sexuality, why not other socially relevant sins? I’m not eager to re-institute the Inquisition! But if we don’t have a social machine wrestling with the problems of SAC and the nuclear triad, of walls, of renewed Crusades, why do we have a complex social machine to wrestle with sex? The tribunals focus on problems that are not on Jesus’ list! If we can leave questions about repentance and turning away regarding structures of evil and social sins in the hands of parish priests, why can’t we leave marriage issues there too?

10.   It seems to me – anecdotal evidence, no more than that – it seems to me that the people who care most about the work of the marriage tribunals and divorce and communion are often extraordinarily careless about social sins. I think this imbalance and division is an emergency in the life of the Church.

Do you expect that the teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II in Paenitentia et Reconciliatio, particularly  the teaching on social sin, will lead to large and systematic changes in the way we understand and celebrate this sacrament? If so, will this change – possibly end – the whole marriage tribunal apparatus?

Respectfully yours in one Lord,

John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cardinal Burke and immigration

In an interview applauding the election of Donald Trump, Cardinal Burke spoke about immigration.

National Catholic Register: What about immigration, where his views diverge with the common position taken by U.S. bishops? Pope Francis also said, in comments perceived as criticism of Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican-U.S. border to keep out illegal immigrants, that we should build bridges rather than walls.

Cardinal Burke: I don’t think the new president will be inspired by hatred in his treatment of the issue of immigration. These are prudential questions — of how much immigration a country can responsibly sustain, also what is the meaning of immigration, and if the immigrants are coming from one country — questions that principally address that country’s responsibility for its own citizens. Those are all questions that have to be addressed, and, certainly, the bishops of the United States have addressed them consistently, and I’m sure they will with him, too. He has these Catholic advisers; and at least some of them, I know, are very well aware of these questions, and I can’t imagine that they’re not speaking up.

[Cardinal Burke continued]
A Christian cannot close his heart to a true refugee, this is an absolute principle, there’s no question about it, but it should be done with prudence and true charity. Charity is always intelligent; it demands to know: Exactly who are these immigrants? Are they really refugees, and what communities can sustain them?

Let me annotate his remarks.

“I don’t think the new president will be inspired by hatred …”
If people are fleeing from barrel bombs and you refuse to help them, I don’t really care much whether your heart of full of flowers and pretty things: that’s called hatred. It’s murderous. Refusing to notice that they are humans does not make your inaction better; it makes it worse. I note with interest that in Greek, phobia means hatred OR fear; it’s a single word. The fear of Muslims can be indistinguishable from hatred, and can be gravely evil.

“These are prudential questions …”
No, they are not, or not primarily. These are questions of justice. Unless you are afraid of ghosts, which is irrational and can be gravely evil, indistinguishable from hatred. In the middle of a campaign of genocide, “prudence” is likely to be a cover for cowardice.

“… how much immigration a country can responsibly sustain …”
If an empty continent which in justice should take about a quarter of the refugees offers instead to accept refugees at a rate of about 0.1% of the total refugee population, this is indefensible. Raising this question is at best gross ignorance. And I note that despite Cardinal Burke’s rosy prognostications, Trump has worked hard to reduce the rate from trickle to zero.

“ … questions that principally address that country’s responsibility for its own citizens …”
We are in the middle of re-definition of our nation. It’s not immigrants who are re-defining it; it’s nativists who are abandoning our traditional hospitality, driving us below ZPG, refusing to uphold human rights, turning their backs on the poor of God’s world, abandoning the heart and soul of our defining Declaration. This is the destruction of our nation, and a leader who refuses to protect the nation from such destruction is – to put it mildly – not meeting his responsibility to that nations citizens.

“A Christian cannot close his heart to a true refugee …”
Yes, he can, and Cardinal Burke has shown exactly how to do it. Raise the question, after 18 months of vetting: “Is this refugee a ‘true’ refugee?”

“ … it should be done with prudence and true charity. Charity is always intelligent …”
True charity. You know, the smart charity, that finds ways to exclude refugees and feel good about it. Where I come from, when people talk about true charity, I want to hear about people laying down their lives to protect the helpless.

I note further: charity doesn’t start until you have fulfilled the demands of justice. In international law, let alone God’s law, refugees have rights. A refugee from a civil war is defending his (and his family’s) right to life – an absolute right. It is gravely wrong, a sin against justice, to refuse to help a refugee. So, again, NO: this is not a matter of charity, neither true nor “true.” It’s about justice.

“Exactly who are these immigrants?”
Jesus. Exactly. Who are you to overlook this? How in hell do you do that?

“what communities can sustain them?”
Ask King Abdullah. He accepted refugees at a rate of 3% of his total population annually. Can we do half as well as a Muslim? Ask the Scandinavians, whose rate is half of the Jordanians’ rate. Can we do half as well as the post-Christians?

Who can sustain them? I dunno, maybe God and his people, the poor of Yahweh, whose love knows no bounds?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

chastity and hospitality

October 1, 2017

A few days ago, we marked the feastday of St. Jerome, one of the great Latin Fathers of the Church, and the Father of Christian Hospitality. And now I am re-reading McCullough’s biography of similar American figure, John Adams. Between the two, I feel a call to clarify and re-state my sense of where we are in history, and what I am supposed to do about it.

The nation is divided, left against right, with bitterness. And the Church is similarly divided, although it is difficult to delineate the divide.

In my thinking, the divide is captured by Trump. In my thinking, the role of the Church in this time of division is to unite, and this role is personified and exemplified by Pope Francis.

My own work in the midst of these tangles: I had a role in developing pro-life nonviolence, and I am now working to build/encourage/maintain a dialogue between pro-life activists and pro-immigration activists.

It strikes me as a cosmic joke that I should find myself talking about chastity (pro-life) and patience (pro-immigration) and civility (fostering dialogue). These are virtues I admire from a great distance. I understand lust and anger and sloppy laziness (the opposite of dialogue) from the inside. (For clarity, via contrast: I can denounce the pursuit of money and power with the best denunciators, but I know those sins from outside.) But wry jokes aside, I think I am working where I belong.

For example …

The problem with lust isn’t what you see (boobs, for example), but what you don’t see (brains, for example). I don’t know how to un-see beauty; you can’t decide and then go blind. But I do know how to decide firmly and effectively to see more beauty – in eyes, in actions, in loyalty, in courage. Solzhenitsyn set out to fight the Soviet empire – not with truth, which was hopeless, because his nation was choked with lies – nor with goodness, which was hopeless, because his nation had been brutalized – but with beauty – because the love of beauty can’t be stamped out. Okay: He wants to write about beauty. And then he writes “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” That’s not an obvious decision; Siberian prison camps are not generally the common vacation spot for devotees of beauty. Did Solzhenitsyn get distracted? No, not at all. The courage, simplicity, and loyalty of the prisoners was deeply beautiful.

So I know something about chastity. See more, not less.

Can Solzhenitsyn’s insight may help me understand how people can think they are following the teaching of the Church, truly think they are free of bigotry and racism – and yet feel free to slam the nation’s doors in the faces of refugees? I am not sure, but I think so.

I don’t find hospitality hard at all. I enjoy new faces, new customs, new approaches. When I meet a stranger, I am confident – unthinkingly helplessly innocently confident – that this will be delightful, sooner or later. So I don’t have an instinctive emotional handle on the difficulties that many people have when they meet strangers. But maybe I can sneak up on the problem, by analogy. I’m not blinded by tangled beards or dark skin, not repulsed by the smell of kimchi or unfamiliar body odors, not disturbed by eruptions of languages I don’t understand even when the speaker is shouting angrily. But I can be blinded – or distracted, at minimum – by boobs and buns, perfume, and sweet words. I do indeed know what it means to struggle to see the humanity of a child of God – although the struggle for chastity and the struggle for hospitality are superficially different.

I think I understand the struggle a little, and maybe I know a little about what works. I remember when I spoke to my spiritual director about watching people receive communion. It’s standard to quiet your heart and focus on the Lord’s entry into the heart of the heart at communion. But I was struggling with chastity and wanted to do something else – not instead, but as well. I wanted to watch people receive the Eucharist – watch, and let the Lord speak to me about their beauty, one by one, every single person who came up. I’m not saying that’s a great idea, or even a good idea for everyone – but that’s what I did, and I thought it was a good idea for me.

If we define our terms narrowly and legalistically, I have been faithful to my wife throughout our marriage. But Jesus said two shocking things about fidelity – not one, but two. He said that divorce and re-marriage is adultery: that statement has been dissected and argued and gnawed for centuries. But he also said that if you look at a woman with lust, you have already committed adultery with her “in your heart.” (Um: that’s Matthew 5:28.) Somehow, that statement doesn’t turn into extensive legal battles. What are the differences between the two stiff assertions?

One difference is that many people feel confident that in the first situation, the data is objective and observable, so we can judge rightly without reference to the one who alone can judge the heart. Since the sin is observable (mostly – at least, you can see who’s living with whom, without being a peeping Tom), it seems possible to claim some knowledge about who is living in sin – and who should therefore not receive communion. The second, by contrast, is out of sight – is explicitly a matter that occurs in the heart.

But what’s the sin? Adultery or scandal? Why does it make any difference whether the sin is visible (not public, mind you, just more or less maybe perhaps visible)?

It seems to me that people over on the left, who are deeply concerned about social sins like war and discrimination and inhospitality think about reconciliation in ways that are not restricted to legal definitions and strict innocence and guilt. The route to freedom from massive social evils is solidarity with the victims of the evil. One reason (one, just one) to struggle toward solidarity with oppressed people is that it’s an expression of contrition. But this contrition is not a morbid sense of shame; it’s a longing for freedom.

Lawyers have latched onto the Lord’s words about divorce and remarriage. Much of what these lawyers say baffles me. One piece of my bafflement arises from the Lord’s other remark, about sins in the heart. My response to those words is not captured in a way I recognize by the lawyers; it’s not about guilt. Yes, there’s sin, and yes, I plead guilty. True true, I guess, but this guilt issue is so far off center it’s almost unrecognizable. I long for freedom, and I ask for the Lord for the gift of freedom. I don’t want to see less skin; I want to see more heart.

So I find myself responding to personal sins in the same way social justice Catholics respond to social evils. I long for freedom. You don’t have to sell me on freedom; I’m sold. Tell me how to get there!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Pat Buchanan and Vatican II

John Walton asked me about my response to a book by Pat Buchanan. I have not read that specific book, but I want to respond to the ideas that John sketched from the book.

1.       A picture of the Catholic Church.
I was delighted to take part in World Youth Day 2000, the last one that Pope John Paul II sponsored and attended. About 2.3 million young men and women from around the world gathered in Rome for a week of prayer and praise and teaching and meeting. It was glorious. In Rome, the age of the Church is visible and tangible; you can pick a century and go take a look at something from that time. I loved San Clemente, where there’s a church built on top of a church built on top of a temple – approx. dates reaching back 400 years, 15 centuries, and 21 centuries. The canon of the Mass begins with a Roman declaration praising God always and everywhere: “It is right and just.” When my father was at Harvard, the chaplain of the Harvard Catholic Student Association (Fr. Feeney, actually, THE Fr. Feeney, if the name means anything to you) taught that this declaration is from the cult of Mithras, the temple under San Clemente. Adherents to that cult of martial honor may have included men such as Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Cicero. Anyway, in Rome, the unity of the Church through time – through the past 20 centuries, anyway – is visible, tangible.

The unity of the Church throughout the world was similarly visible and tangible, a living reality. During the week, celebrations of the Mass often included readings in English, French, German, Polish, Tagalog, Swahili, Chinese, etc. There were bits of Hebrew and ancient Greek, of course. And there was enough Latin to tie everything together. The music was similarly polyglot, with styles imported from everywhere on earth. This wasn’t just a clever show; the reason for all the languages was that there were people there from all over the world.

I loved it. I thought it was a foretaste of heaven. AND ALSO: I thought it was a foretaste of the new culture and new civilization that Pope John Paul II talked about so often. The Church is global, and is called to be unified globally, and is called to strive for global unity in the Church and outside the Church. This respectful mixture of cultures is a significant element of the future of the Church.

2.       Blessed Sacrament parish.

I grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. In the 1950s, that was a white enclave. But the archbishop of Washington was Patrick O’Boyle, who was deeply committed to integration. When O’Boyle became the first archbishop of the newly independent archdiocese (no longer part of Baltimore), he set out to end segregation there – quietly, with steely determination. He thought that press attention was polarizing, and avoided it when he could. Quietly, without fanfare, he got blacks and whites eating breakfast in each other’s homes after Mass. After a couple of years of that, he re-drew parish boundaries, and declared that segregation was over in the Catholic Church in Washington. There were no confrontations; he made it work quietly.

In my parish, all the blacks who lived within the parish boundaries were welcome. All none of them. It was a white enclave, and we didn’t bus anyone in. So what did integration mean there? It was mostly an idea on the horizon, not a lived reality. Still, there were people for it, and people against it.

My father worked at Army Map Service in the 1950s. He hired the first blacks there – not janitors, but mathematicians. He gave a test (on quadratic equations, mostly), and hired the people who did best on the test. The people who did best were blacks, not because blacks had a superior math gene, but because they had been passed over by other agencies and companies for so long. A color-blind test located qualified applicants who had been passed over due to racist policies. My father thought it was important to be just (“Dignum et justum est”), and in the short run he thought that he should act as if he didn’t see color. He had not hired blacks; he had hired mathematicians. But he did see color, and he did see how the men he had hired were shunned and snubbed – and at home, he talked about their courage, and he wept.

One evening, probably in 1961 or 1962, there was a knock on the front door. A black man was collecting signatures on a fair housing petition. Father brought him, and chatted for a while. The man had come down Thornapple Street from Connecticut, knocking on doors. How many signatures? None. My father signed, but also asked if it would be okay if he went with, for the rest of the street. So they went together – and everyone they asked, signed. My father declined to go back to the houses where people had refused to sign; he thought it would be rude.

What I want to say is, in Chevy Chase, in Blessed Sacrament, in the Archdiocese of Washington, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a change underway. The Church could lead, and people could follow. Change was possible.

The reason for explaining all this is to respond to Pat Buchanan. He grew up in O’Boyle’s Washington. He grew up in Chevy Chase (the DC side). His little brother Bucky was a classmate of mine; we were confirmed together; I took the name Isaac, and Bucky took the name Jogues. Pat’s a little older than me; he was born in 1938; Bucky and I were born in 1950. I know the house where Pat grew up, with the long curved driveway, behind St. John’s College High School, home of the Johnny-mops. I know some of the forces in his life.

3.       Vatican II and Blessed Sacrament
I was in grade school when Pope John XXIII called for an ecumenical council. Pat was in college, and was perhaps less touched by events within his childhood parish. Perhaps.

The nuns talked a lot at school about the Vatican Council. I didn’t understand much of what they said, but it was still interesting. One of my classmates, Julianna Work, was very proud of her father who was always going down to the airport to get a plane to Rome, where he was something incomprehensible – the only layman who was an active participant in the Council? He was a lay representative, and helped draft documents. I didn’t know what the laity was, and was unclear about what drafting was. Airports I understood. So I didn’t have a firm grasp on what the fuss was about. But the fuss in Rome was not something a million miles away. I met this tall and gentle man, Martin Work. And I liked him. And he was a part of the fuss in Rome.

My parish – Pat Buchanan’s family’s parish – was full of people who were wealthy and/or powerful and/or influential. And even the grade school kids were aware of Vatican II.

4.       Gaudium et Spes, JFK, and the Democrats
The Council was prolific. If you want to read the documents it issued, you have to settle down for a good long time. The best known document from the Council was “Gaudium et Spes,” with the English title “The Church in the Modern World.” It’s a thorough re-orientation of the Church, away from churchy issues toward human issues. And portions of it sound like the Democratic Party platform. It condemns abortion, but also takes a stand against nukes, the arms race, torture, inequality, injustice, sexism …

An excerpt: “whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.” (GS, 27)

John Kennedy and the Vatican Council pushed Catholicism and the Democratic Party closer and closer together. The Catholic Church did not adopt positions to please the Democrats in America, of course. But there was a confluence of ideas.

5.       Here’s my point. Buchanan resisted, at every step.
Buchanan worked for Nixon, and at some point, he went to work to explain to his boss how to maintain the strength of the Republican Party in the face of Kennedy, Johnson, and John XXIII. Last year, I tried to for a few days to find the memo (or string of memos) that Buchanan wrote, and I failed. So, if you like, you can discredit everything I say here – until a competent researcher finds the documentation. It’s not hidden. Buchanan explained, in brief, that the Catholic Church was drifting to the left, because of Vatican II. The way to fight back was to emphasize abortion, to seize the issue and make it a Republican issue. If Republicans failed to make abortion their own issue, then the Democrats would be the party of conscience, and Catholics would all drift out of the GOP.

Buchanan did not embrace Vatican II; he rejected it, and thought about how to push back against it. And he did not oppose abortion because he wanted to protect children; he opposed abortion to save the GOP from oblivion.

It baffles me when so many Catholics who oppose immigration in politics also oppose Pope Francis on religious issues. There’s no logical reason for these two phenomena to overlap. But it seems to me that there is extensive overlap. Views on immigration are not a perfect predictor of views on divorce/re-marriage/communion – not perfect, but pretty good. Views on divorce/re-marriage/communion are not a perfect predictor of views on immigration – not perfect, but pretty good. That’s not logical, not at all logical. And, to be sure, I may be wrong about it; the predictive overlap that I think I see could be a mirage. But I think it’s there.

And – to answer your question, John – I think that Pat Buchanan is a large piece of the link. When the Archdiocese of Washington embraced racial integration, Pat Buchanan did not. When Blessed Sacrament embraced integration, Pat Buchanan did not. When Vatican II embraced civil rights other leftist views, Pat Buchanan resisted. When the Church called for a global perspective, Pat Buchanan rebelled. And when the GOP was on the brink of becoming the anti-conscience party, Pat Buchanan devised a strategy to defeat the Church and save the party – not to protect children, but to save the party.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Juli Loesch and the Seamless Garment

The seamless garment idea has roots. In the mid-1980s, Juli Loesch build an organization she called Prolifers for Survival. “P.S.”: may I add a thought. She traveled across the country by bus, and built chapters in every part of the country. P.S. was small, but it was everywhere. Most of the people involved in the leadership of the organization were also involved in prolife nonviolent action (later called rescues). Juli was later the press liaison for Operation Rescue in Atlanta. I edited the P.S. newsletter, and I helped start prolife nonviolent action in 50 states plus Australia and Korea and Latin America and Europe. Harry Hand moved from New York to live with my family – and to help build two groups, P.S. and the Prolife Nonviolent Action Project. Carol Crossed gave generously to build P.S., organized conferences for it – and organized the sit-in at which Dan Berrigan was arrested at the door of an abortion clinic. Mary Rider, P.S. coordinator for years, was also active in the rescue movement.

Juli did that. Before Cardinal Bernardin spoke about the seamless garment.

While she was working on press relations during Operation Rescue in Atlanta, Juli Loesch met Don Wiley (Don the Baptist) and they got married. She’s been a creative and amazing and proud mom for decades.

Juli was scrupulous about keeping a balance, talking to pro-lifers about war half the time, and to peace activists about abortion half the time. He was a challenge and a delight and an itch in equal proportions on both sides.

The name “Prolifers for Survival” came from a peace initiative, the Mobilization for Survival. The Mobe opposed war, opposed nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and supported governmental responses to human needs. Juli spent months working to persuade the Mobe to make opposition to the violence of abortion part of their mission statement. Within the Mobe, she made many friends, and many enemies; she made allies, and stirred deep opposition; in general, she caused a ruckus. In the end, at one national meeting, the Mobe adopted a position of abortion neutrality and then at 2 AM when only the crazies were still debating and voting, adopted a pro-abortion stance.

At the other end, Eagle Forum went after Juli with great passion. They voted to give her the Benedict Arnold award, or some such. I don’t remember exactly what she got; I may have gotten the Benedict Arnold Award, and she got the Judas Award. Anyway, Phyllis Schlafly had a lot to say about Juli Loesch. Schlafly was definitely not interested in keeping the pro-life movement focused on abortion; she wanted the movement to protect women from abortion and from the Equal Rights Amendment and all that dangerous feminist stuff; and she also wanted the pro-life movement to be patriotic, by which she meant pro-bomb. Forgive my slight confusion about the Eagle Forum awards, but at least one of the awards presented (in absentia) to Juli or me or my wife (Betsy got a pleasant award) was presented by a pro-nuke general who was an officer of some kind within Eagle Forum, and also a director of the American Eugenics Society.

There’s a detail of Juli’s life that still lies across my heart as a scorching wire. P.S. had an annual budget of about 42 cents. That’s probably not quite right, but P.S. money was hard to find and easy to lose. So after a couple of years of full-time organization and poverty, Juli took a job working for the bishops in Washington, in their old office on Massachusetts Avenue. She is a brilliant thinker, a delightful speaker and writer, a capable and creative organizer. But her Boss was penniless and homeless on the road for some time, and Juli was too. She went to work for the bishops as a part-time typist, and she said thanks. She said thanks, and she meant it, and I still think of Fr. Edward Bryce with great gratitude because he did what he could for her.

And then, after all that – AFTER – one of the bishops picked up Juli’s idea and moved forward with it. He was not as careful as she had been about addressing two sides equally. But Cardinal Bernardin made the idea far more visible.

If you want to talk about the “seamless garment,” and you don’t know who Juli Loesch Wiley is, it’s probably best if you learn a little more. Please.

Opponents of the seamless garment shriek about the importance of staying focused. What a silly myth! You can built bridges to the left, or build bridges to the right, or both – but a movement can’t refrain from building bridges. Some pro-lifers build bridges to feminists, others to anti-feminists. Some build bridges to the Republican Party and the Tea Party, others (not quite so many of, but some) build bridges to Democrats. Some march with Fascists with roots in Brazil; others cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But the idea of a movement without alliances and bridges and friends is silly. It’s juvenile science fiction.  Movements without bridges don’t move.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Annapolis rally

This is a retrospective piece, a flyer that I distributed at a rally in October 2016.

Pro-life friends, this rally is not about the Lord

Franklin Graham is visiting state capitals to argue that the Lord wants you to support an ignorant, racist, misogynist fraud for President, because the alternative is worse.
From my perspective, the most important detail in today’s very strange presentation is the claim that Trump will push back against abortion. About 1.2 million children die from surgical abortion annually in the USA, and their moms are deceived and exploited, and Hillary Clinton supports this violence.
But abortion is not on the ballot. Trump is. He wants your vote, and has made promises. But a bankruptcy is a list of broken promises! Sometimes you can’t help it; you can’t keep a promise; you have to ask creditors for patience and understanding. But six times? And now he’s rich but still doesn’t pay the people he stiffed? If he lies to people wholesale, not retail, why do you trust his promise to you?
But what does Trump offer? Let’s skip all the other issues, except to the extent that they affect abortion. Skip Russia, misogyny, racism, ignorance, the economy, the military, everything. With regard to abortion, what does he offer? Let’s just suppose he is elected, and keeps his word, and appoints three pro-life Supreme Court justices. Great! What happens?
Abortion goes back to the states, stops promptly some, is regulated in some, and stays in place in some. Net effect: any woman who wants an abortion in America can get it, but might have to drive several hours more. How many live will that save? We are not talking about saving 1.2 million annually; we’re talking about saving thousands. Maybe tens of thousands.
I’m all in favor of saving thousands. But if we get to that with Trump, what else do we get – sticking to abortion? Well, he encourages at least three significant causes of abortion.

1.       Trump gives license to abuse women. If there is a rise in abuse of women, how many more abortions will that cause? How many tens of thousands?

2.       Trump encourages eugenic attitudes. How many more abortions will that cause? How many thousands, or even tens of thousands?

3.       Trump will close borders. Immigration restrictions here support population control elsewhere. How many MILLIONS more abortions will that cause?

I do not agree that a Trump presidency will lower the number of abortions at all. I could be wrong, but it is my view that a Trump presidency would INCREASE ABORTION DRAMATICALLY. In the name of Jesus, I ask you to consider carefully! Don’t vote for a violent man who abuses women hoping that he will save lives. He won’t deliver on his promise.
John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tradition and innovation

I am still working on a short book about hospitality and immigration in the life and teaching of the Fathers of the Church. But I have done enough that I can see where I will end up. I draw three key lessons about hospitality from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

First, all the major Fathers of the Church did indeed take the lessons from Abraham at Mamre and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount very seriously. They were crystal clear that there is a serious obligation to care for those in need, including strangers. They were eloquent about the blessings attached to serving the poor – both the obviously intrinsic blessings and the less obviously attached rewards for obedience. They were forceful about the punishments attached to a failure to serve those in need, including strangers.

On the other hand, the Fathers did not agree about the identity of a “stranger.” St. Jerome’s opinion was emphatic: there is no limitation to this category: person whom you meet whom you don’t know is a stranger, and strangers have a list of needs, some easily identified such as food and water and rest. Other needs are less easily specified: protection, an intent ear, welcome. At the other extreme is St. John Chrysostom, who was equally emphatic: the list of people in need – including the hungry, thirsty, naked, and strangers – is carefully and deliberately limited by Jesus to the least of the “brethren,” which means followers of Jesus.

Second, the sharp and deep disagreement amongst the Fathers was eventually left in the hands of the monks, who provided hospitality in the name of the Church; and their view was clear. St. Benedict and the monastic tradition were unequivocally universal, following the teaching of St. Jerome. At least in theory, monks offered hospitality to all who knocked on their doors. Quite certainly, in practice, there were some limitations on this hospitality, but these limitations were seen as grave failures to fulfill a solemn obligation.

Third, the Fathers carved out a new pattern of hospitality, built explicitly on the model of Abraham, intent explicitly on obedience to the demands in the Sermon on the Mount – and yet significantly different from Mosaic and Apostolic hospitality. The law of Moses addresses a social responsibility: the people of Israel must offer hospitality to other peoples, recalling how the nation of Egypt treated the nation of Israel. The teaching of Jesus emphasizes individual responsibility: when I (singular) was hungry/thirsty/naked/stranger, you (singular) provided food/water/clothing/welcome. But in the life of the Church for over a thousand years, the emphasis is on the duty of the Church, generally monks. Seeing and understanding this third pattern is fundamental to understanding the crisis in our time, for at least two reasons.

For one thing, if religious communities carry out the tasks of hospitality, and then convents and monasteries are suppressed, who assumes the duty? When monasteries are suppressed, the remnants are more likely to focus on the needs of fugitive priests than the neglected duties of the porter. Good people will step forward to act with charity – but what’s the pattern, the model, the prompt and automatic response to the needs of strangers?

But there’s another point to draw from this third pattern of service that the early Church developed. If there’s a third pattern, following the spirit of Moses and Jesus but different in approach, then there can be a fourth pattern, or fifth, or tenth. To insist that everyone must always and everywhere offer hospitality precisely the way Jesus did it – to demand a single pattern of service – is to overlook and set aside the experience of the Church for centuries. So systematic attacks on the new patterns of service set forth by the Second Vatican Council are not just criticisms of modern innovations; they are also attacks on Patristic and medieval teaching, dismissing the universal practice of the Church up to the time of the Reformation.

Even as the Vatican makes peace with Luther, a new force comes forth, insisting that we return to the purity of the Gospel without any taint of monkish aberrations. Perhaps the fight against the Social Gospel – from Leo XIII up to and through Vatican II – somehow misses the point of Tradition. Tradition carves out abundant space for innovation.

Monday, August 7, 2017

re-committed to prayer and writing

August 7, 2017

A few days ago, a national Catholic organization held its annual convention, and issued a revealing and challenging pair of resolutions. (There were a dozen resolutions, actually, but two that belong together.) The group is intelligently and honestly committed to service to the Lord and to the Church, and actually sworn (!) to serve the Pope and bishops. But in a resolution about abortion, the organization reiterated its stance: we will defend children. Faced with a resolution on another issue of grave importance in the eyes of the Church’s leadership – immigration – the organization urged prayer for our country in a time of division and tension.

Prayer. I’m in favor of prayer. But I am wary of a call for prayer when there’s a need for action as well.  Suppose you ask the Lord to do XYZ, and he responds, “Good idea! I give you the power to make it happen!” And then you ask him again to do XYZ. That may not be prayer; it may be simple laziness, or simple disobedience. It could be prayer: maybe we all have to talk to the Lord – and listen! and LISTEN! – for a little longer. So maybe it’s prayer, and maybe it’s not; who am I to judge? For sure, I had better be serious about prayer.

I have tried to pray and listen, regarding welcoming strangers. And once again, before God, I commit myself to explaining carefully what I think the Lord has said.

I went to the Lord with seven questions, in sequence.

First. Jesus said, quite firmly, welcome strangers or make your own arrangements for eternity. Okay, but when Jesus talked about welcoming strangers, what did he mean? Who was he talking about? Who’s supposed to do the work? And who’s a stranger? To get at that, I tried to understand what “stranger” meant in Israel 2,000 years ago. That is, could I figure out what the teaching was about welcoming strangers in the Old Testament?

That was fun! I wrote a couple of short books about it. See “Strangers: 21 Claims from the Old Testament.”

Second. If I understood the shockingly abundant Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) teaching about welcoming strangers correctly, then it must also show up in the New Testament. Is it there?

That was fun too! See “The Persistent Other.”

Third. If it’s true that welcoming strangers is fundamental in the teaching of Moses the Prophets, and is central in the teaching of Jesus, then it must show up in the life and writing of the Church throughout the ages, beginning with the Fathers. Is it there?

And again: what a rich array of delights! The teaching is there, in abundance, and it has a fascinating twist that – I believe – makes it possible to explain the Social Gospel to resistant skeptics. In the Old Testament, the command to “remember that you too were once a stranger in a strange land” is addressed to the Hebrew people. The people, the nation, the society. In the New Testament, the command to welcome strangers (and feed the hungry and clothe the naked, etc) seems to be addressed to individuals. You – and individual, standing alone before the throne of God – must explain what you did. But in the life of the Church for centuries, the responsibility for welcoming strangers was delegated to the clergy – to monks when available, or to pastors. The responsibility was understood to be solemn and urgent, but what most people (the laity) did about it was to support the people who provided hospitality. (Book close to finished.)

Fourth.  If hospitality was key in the Old Testament, and the New Testament, and the life and teaching of the Church for centuries, what did it look like in American history? Another treasure trove! There’s Mary’s work at Guadalupe: she visits to be host, saying simply that she is here among us, praying with us. Her appearance shapes the Church in Latin America; will the norte-americano Catholics pay attention to the Mestiza Virgin? In the USA, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini are remembered as servants of immigrants. Their male counterpart, Fr. Michael J. McGivney, also served immigrants, but his followers are a little unsure what to make of that aspect of his ministry. (Book sketched.)

Fifth. I have a lot to say about welcoming strangers, and about immigration. But, hey, who am I? What does the Church say today about welcoming strangers? The Church has taught about immigration for over a century, with clarity and eloquence, and I embrace every syllable of that teaching. But also, I think I can help “conservative” and “traditional” Catholics who are truly committed to the Lord and his Church, but are nonetheless quite suspicious of Socialists and Commies and leftists who seem to have invaded the Church. To understand the Social Gospel and Vatican II, it might help to back up to the whole body of Patristic thought on welcoming strangers. One simple point: Moses saw hospitality as a social responsibility. Jesus spoke of it as a personal responsibility. The Fathers didn’t reject Moses to embrace Jesus; they were serious about listening to both – and developed a THIRD approach, hospitality as the responsibility of the Church. If there can be a third way, after Moses and Jesus, then there can be a FOURTH. Pope Leo and all the Popes following in his footsteps up through “The Church in the Modern World” developed a new pattern – inspired by Moses, obedient to Jesus, imitating the Fathers – but focusing on GLOBAL responses of GLOBAL challenges. (Book sketched.)

Sixth. Global, schmobal: what about us right here in the USA? What are we supposed to do here in this divided and worried nation? How do we apply the teaching from the Second Vatican Council and from a list of Popes right here? Well, actually, the American bishops cooperated with the bishops of Mexico to answer that question. They say: the right to migrate is a God-given right, but the right to control a border is also a real right, even a duty. These two rights must be balanced – justly. I had an entertaining scrap of a conversation with an educated Catholic who got that far and then almost – almost! – said, “Justice! What is justice?” I was reaching for a bowl of water for him to wash his hands, but he recovered his senses and bit his tongue. Justice is real, objective, achievable – and commanding and indispensable. It may be elusive, and it is often hard to implement. But before God, that’s the task, and we can do it. (Book sketched.)

Seventh and finally: How do we start? This is a workbook, to help people get past the paralysis of analysis. The work that needs to be done is already underway; how do we build? This is a series of essays and exercises – some complete, some roughed out.

God willing, I’ll finish this thing.

I am certain of this: the opposite of xenophobia is not tolerance. Tolerance may be a step up, but it’s not enough. The opposite of xenophobia must be far more robust and pro-active than tolerance. It’s love – if we can find any meaning in that word. If “love” is too over-worked to convey a thought, then try “solidarity.” John Paul II said that the word for love in our time is “solidarity,” a deliberate decision to act for justice. He stated firmly that the route to freedom from a massive social evil is solidarity with the victims of that evil.

Should we pray? Sure! Here’s what I asked, in prayer. And I will explain what I think I heard, in prayer. Real prayer will spill over into action, in due time.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Pro-life nonviolence recalled from afar

The reading at Mass today is – or should be – sobering for pro-life activists. Who’s obnoxious?

The reading is from a book that Catholics consider part of the Bible, but Protestants don’t. It’s from Wisdom, chapter 2.

“The wicked said among themselves, thinking not aright: ‘Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the LORD. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.’ These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, and they knew not the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent souls' reward.”

Oftentimes, the work of a local rescue squad is boring. Boring, boring. It can be like war: months of boredom, punctuated by periods of intense excitement.

It requires preparation. The job itself is pretty simple: park your butt in the way, and don’t move. Other people take over after a while, and they do the heavy lifting. And then you go to trial and jail and all that. But the actual physical task: park your butt. That’s pretty limited. So if you focus on that, you’re a jackass. Preparation: that’s where most of the time and energy goes.

A rescue – whether it’s the fire department or a team of pro-life nonviolent activists – has level after level of engagement. The physical action is exciting, briefly; and it is indispensable. But it is not the whole story.

The heart of the pro-life nonviolence is described in today’s reading. When you park your butt blocking access to an abortion clinic, many people find you obnoxious. This should not be a surprise; they have a point, and they may be right. Whatever you mean to say, they see you and hear you objecting to something they consider necessary and good, and in any case as their business, not yours. So after some thought, they come after you. And you get tested. This is predictable, necessary, and actually a very good thing – because what you want to communicate isn’t clear until you have been pounded for a while.

What we want to say is, this pregnancy thing is about a child. That child is my brother, or sister. I’m not condemning you, or even criticizing. I’m just staying with the child. I know full well that not everyone agrees that there’s a child there. But I think there is, and I have to stay with that child as well as I can. Maybe you will do what you planned to do, and at the end of the day the child will be dead, and the body will be trashed or burned or sent to a lab. But I’m staying here. So before you deport the child, you have to do something about me.

It’s legitimate to test that assertion. What happens if we arrest the fruitcake, and send him or her to jail? Will he shut up and go away? That’s a completely legitimate test. And in fact, it’s a good question, and we should answer it. But the answer, like the original act, should be physical, not verbal – or physical as well as verbal. Get arrested, and go to jail. Then it’s clear, at a minimum, that you might have meant what you said: this is my brother or sister. Or in any case, it’s clear that you meant something serious.

I am intensely grateful to the martyrs of the early Church. The idea that some obscure rabbi rose from the dead is not believable, unless we can test the proposition pretty carefully. But how to test it? No cameras, no forensic teams, no reporters and investigators. It was 2,000 years ago, 6,000 miles away, in a different culture that might use words in ways I don’t understand. What do we have? We have a number of accounts from various eye-witnesses; but I can’t cross-examine them. We also have the reactions of thousands of eye-witnesses, and their followers for several generations, who attested to the truth of their assertions even when their claims cost them their lives. To me, those deaths are convincing, offering more credibility than reporters and cameras would offer. (There’s more: the Gospels with the martyrs find an echo in my heart, or even a “voice,” that I would not interpret aright without the Gospels and martyrs, but which – with Gospels and martyrs – I find compelling.) The claim that Christians make was tested, should be tested, is tested.

And the same is true with our claim about children. It should be tested.

Nonviolence is a claim: we attest to a truth, and ask others to consider it.


With great pain, I have to say: I think that pro-lifers were tested in the 1980s and 1990s, and failed the test. Will we go to jail to clarify an incredible claim (or an unpopular claim, anyway)? Yes, for a while. But then we move on.

Why did we move on? It’s fair for outsiders to look at what we did, and draw conclusions: they didn’t think that unborn children were worth the fuss, and they tested us to see if we really meant it; and having tested us, they conclude that we didn’t mean it either.

Their conclusion is fair. But I think it’s wrong. The rescue movement did not stop because we didn’t mean it. The problem was, we didn’t know what we were doing. We were confused about the differences between a violent struggle, or even a political debate – and a campaign of nonviolence. We reverted to the familiar, and left nonviolence behind.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What's wrong with a merit-based immigration policy?

Among the many (many!) horrors of the revised executive order on demigration is its emphasis on a merit-based system. In this context, “merit” means “money.” The opposite is “family.” Be clear: a merit-based system is a deliberate decision to treat immigrants as economic animals, sources of cash – instead of treating them as members of a family. This is indeed a horror show.

The horror has deep roots. When the USA was building a transcontinental railroad, we imported Chinese workers for the western half. They were not permitted to bring their wives; the racing railroad provided whores instead. And when the work was done, the workers who didn’t run for it were rounded up and sent home. In other words, anti-Chinese sentiment was among the earliest examples of ethnic-specific campaigns of racist exclusion in our history. And note well: this racist policy was explicitly anti-family.

The stance of the Catholic Church is radically opposed to this de-humanization of immigrants. Since Pius XII’s letter on immigration in 1951, the Church has seen the Holy Family in its flight to Egypt as the prototype and patron and protector of all refugees and migrants. The Holy FAMILY. Joseph the Worker was really, truly, emphatically not supposed to move to Egypt without his FAMILY. And so it’s not surprising that when St. John Paul II wrote about the “right to migrate” (in Familiaris Consortio), he listed it among the rights of the FAMILY.

The reason for the current renewal and strengthening of an anti-family policy is explicit: Trump and comp want money, and so they prefer wealth-makers. The choice is deliberate and idolatrous. Further, it is yet another example of the blindly unjust pattern in much American thinking about immigrants. The Church teaches that clear thought about immigration begins with recognizing the right to migrate together with the right to control borders, then balancing them. But treating people as cogs in an economic machine reveals a total lack of interest in any effort to balance competing rights with justice and mercy.

The deep horror of the proposed policy is made even more-heart-breaking by the near-solid support of America’s pro-life / pro-FAMILY organizations. Friends, in the name of God, pay attention! A merit-based policy is a swap: you’re trading in your love of family – for money. It’s despicable, and hypocritical, and idolatrous.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

bright eyes: wise guy, wise man

The reading at Mass today is (in part) about identifying people. Jesus asks for some polling data: who do “people” say I am? Maybe a prophet, or Elijah, or John the Baptist returned from the dead. Okay, forget the polling data; here’s a different question: who do YOU say I am? Peter responds, explaining who he believes Jesus to be. And promptly, Jesus re-names Peter, and clarifies his – Peter’s – identity and role.

We don’t know who we are in a vacuum. We figure out who we are in a context, in some social matrix or other. I would argue that we know ourselves best when we see ourselves in a social context that includes the Person who created all Contexts.

But still – with or without a personal relationship with God, a relationship in which we know somebody and sense that this person knows us – we fill in details about our identity by moving in and out of a variety of social contexts.

Me: I like bright eyes. Bright, lively, dancing. I’m not always able to tell the difference between the brightness of mischief (say, Eddie Murphy) and the brightness of holiness (say, Mother Teresa). I have to watch what people do for a while to distinguish. At first appearance, the delight in their eyes attracts me. I like wise guys and wise men, and I’m slow to figure out which is which. That’s what I see, and I think that that’s a large part of what shapes me.

When we were six or seven, walking along, my friend Grant Mallett got in front of me and stopped to inspect my face. “You have wrinkles already,” he announced. I did. I had lines across my brow. He didn’t. His face was smooth and tranquil. I decided right then that if I was going to get wrinkles, I should get the right wrinkles. I wanted smile lines, out from my eyes, and around my mouth. That was 60 years ago; today, in general, I think I got what I wanted.

During the war in Vietnam, I did alternative service, working in hospitals, and I loved it. I remember going into the room of an old guy with a list of new and dangerous infections. They had put him in solitary confinement, with red warning signs all over the place. You had to put on masks and gloves and gowns and – I don’t recall what all, maybe you had to carry a flame-thrower to purify the air you breathed. I went in there, and the guy looked depressed and lonely. And I said, “God damn, man, there’s a lot of stuff between you and the rest of the world. Are you still a human being over there?” He looked up and met me eye to eye, and half-grinned: “You got that right! Shit!” Score.

In 2000, I went to a party with Pope John Paul II and 2.3 million of his closest friends – World Youth Day in Rome. Many wonderful things happened that week. But a detail from the vigil at a university outside Rome. 2.3 million kids and chaperones were camping all over the rolling hills there, and the Pope flew in by helicopter. We sang a while and prayed a while, then the Pope (his staff) set off fireworks for a while. There were jumbo screens all over the hills, so everyone could see the center stage. And there was this old guy with Parkinson’s, hunched over. When the fireworks were done, he looked up – Parkinson’s freezes your face and you couldn’t read expressions there, but his voice was clear – and he asked, “Vot should ve do now?” Well, 2.3 million kids wanted to laugh and scream and dance, so that’s vot ve did. The old guy didn’t dance, but he knew how to party. He couldn’t dance, but he could create a “ve” who could. Joy is stronger than old age.

I don’t feel good about laughter when others are suffering. Well, so what? Who cares whether John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe “feels good”? Fair question. Maybe not a lot of people, but I care. And I admit freely that that’s a part of the reason I want to visit some of the Syrian refugees who live in Baltimore. I want their permission to laugh. Ammar Jafar, the imam at the Germantown masjid and a friend, has bright bright eyes. Maybe he fasts until he’s crazy with bright eyes. Maybe he’s an accomplished liar with bright eyes. But I think he knows who he is because he knows his relationship with God, and he is happy with radiant bright eyes. His community serves a dozen refugee families. One day, when Ammar goes to Baltimore, I’ll go with, and maybe help a little. Maybe I can bring some bread; my bread is some of the best in the world. These refugees – their lives have encroached on my life; I’m not sure how or why, but I recognize the flat fact. I have tasted their pain, second hand, through Ammar. I need to see their hope and vitality and courage and joy, first hand. I know which is stronger, but I need to see it.

Joy. Find it in God. Find it in friends. And test its limits confidently, because there aren’t any.