Paradigms of Hospitality

Knocking at
Haven’s Door

Knocking at
Haven’s Door

Four Paradigms of Hospitality

by John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe
foreword by Abbot James A. Wiseman, OSB

Interim sketch of McGivney’s Guests

Cover: Flight into Egypt, Albrecht Durer. (Atheneum)

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Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

ISBN-13: 978-1724650764
ISBN-10: 1724650769

© 2018 John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe

I am a member of a proud class of an elite school run by an ancient community – the class of 1968 at St. Anselm’s Abbey School, run by English Benedictines. We were together for six formative years, and are still deeply influenced by each other.
The individual who has ensured that our education and shared experiences would be a source of on-going inspiration and strength was Charles L. Hamm. He has been a strong support in the background of nearly everything of value that I have done since 1968.
Thanks, Larry.



Foreword by Abbot James A. Wiseman, OSB

Toward the end of his book, John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe relates how, when he was a student in our school half a century ago, one of his teachers suggested that he learn to speak and write more softly and gently.  While admitting that there are times for that, John rightly notes that even at the highest levels of the Church we find examples of passionate exhortation, and he is certainly correct in thinking that the current plight of 65 million refugees throughout the world requires a spirited response by all persons of good will.  Pope Francis and the American bishops have been at the forefront of those calling for action, and it is in that spirit that John, an activist in the best sense of the word, is using his genial facility with words to elicit a generous response from his fellow Knights of Columbus.

Once you have read his book, you may not remember all the details of the four paradigms of hospitality that he has convincingly traced through the centuries—the national/ethnic, the personal, the ecclesial, and the global—but you will certainly come away with the conviction that hospitality is a crucial part of a genuinely Christian way of life.

John rightly notes that there was a gap in the third paradigm when, beginning with the Protestant Reformation, so many monasteries were closed.  Happily, monasteries such as mine continue to offer hospitality, and the importance of this is evident in the many letters we receive from former guests, some of whom affirm that their stay with us was actually life-changing.  But monasteries can no longer be the main providers of hospitality—it is up to all of us.  And even though no individual or group alone can do all that is needed by so many refugees and other strangers, Jesus’ words in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel about welcoming him in the person of any stranger is all the motivation any of us need to turn those words into action.  Ponder John’s book, ponder Matthew 25:31-46, and then “go and do likewise.”

James A. Wiseman, O.S.B.
Abbot, St. Anselm’s Abbey
Washington, DC 

Introduction: “Welcome strangers?”

This booklet is adapted from the Distinguished Alumnus Address, St. Anselm’s Abbey School, April 29, 2018, in which I tried to sketch the startling difficulty of the transition from the third paradigm of hospitality to the fourth.
I set out to answer five questions.

First, and most important: when Jesus spoke of “strangers,” what did that word mean? Welcome them, he said, and you will be welcomed into the kingdom of God; or don’t, and depart into regions of fire. That’s pretty clear, but what’s a “stranger”? A homeless man? Whoever knocks? An immigrant?  The answer to what Jesus meant when he spoke of strangers must be in the culture in which he spoke – in the Old Testament.
A: The teaching about strangers in the Old Testament is clear, forceful, and abundant. A stranger is whatever the Jews were when they were in Egypt. The word includes immigrants.

Second, if the teaching about welcoming strangers is clear, forceful, and abundant in the Old Testament, it must show up in the New Testament as well. If not, I was projecting my own ideas into Scripture. So: is it there?
A: The teaching about hospitality is indeed all over the New Testament. But much of it depends on a familiarity with the teaching in the Old Testament. For example, the Last Supper was foreshadowed by the First Feast, Abraham’s hospitality to celestial strangers at Mamre.

Third, if the teaching about hospitality is all over Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, it must be reflected in the life and teaching of the Church. If not, I was cherry-picking. So: is it there too?
A: Hospitality is indeed a central value in the life and teaching of the Church. The Fathers taught about it at length, drawing on the Old and New Testament. But there’s a fascinating shift in the general pattern of offering hospitality: while the Old Testament pattern was national and the New Testament pattern was personal, the pattern in the Church was ecclesial. Monks and nuns offered hospitality to strangers on behalf of the entire community.

Fourth, if the teaching and practice of hospitality to strangers was so clear in Scripture and prominent in the life of the Church, why is it so minor – sometimes reduced to the level of mere decoration – in our lives today?
A: The practice of hospitality for most of Christian history depended on monks. When monasteries were dispersed or suppressed, no one else stepped forward to fill the huge gap. Also, the teaching of Jesus about welcoming strangers (Matthew 25) was eclipsed by a popular teaching tool, the corporal works of mercy, which watered down the words of Jesus.

Fifth, what’s happening with hospitality now? What are we supposed to do now?
A: Today, Pope Francis asks the Church to respond to the plight of refugees and migrants and other displaced persons – totaling about 65 million people on the road. Because of the near-eclipse that lasted for generations, many Christians are ignorant of Church history regarding hospitality, and reach back to a few scraps of the Lord’s teaching. They are not confident that the Lord’s words about welcoming strangers mean that we must take care of 65 million foreigners. How about a homeless guy instead? The gap between the Pope’s intent and the laity’s response is deep and wide. To close the gap and energize the Church, we need a clear understanding of the teaching in Scripture and Tradition – and of the great eclipse that we must overcome.


A critical addendum …
One part of the resistance to a global response to the refugee and migration crisis comes from people with strong views on how to respond to any “social evil.” It seems to me that the opponents of a just and generous response to migration often misquote St. Thomas Aquinas. So I have added an extended exploration of what Aquinas said about hospitality.


On the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed for the unity of his church. That prayer means that: (1) unity is precious; and (2) it is difficult, almost impossible; and (3) it will come about. This includes unity with the leaders of the Church, and unity with people under the special protection of the Lord – including refugees and migrants. May it be so!

Five questions

  1. What did Jesus mean when he spoke about welcoming “strangers”?
  2. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout the Old Testament, what about the New?
  3. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout Scripture, what about Tradition?
  4. It there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout Scripture and Tradition, why is it unfamiliar today?
  5. What now? Can we help 65 million people?

Four paradigms

To understand the teaching and leadership offered by the Catholic Church today, we need a clear understanding of each of four paradigms of hospitality in the history of Judaism and Christianity, 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 period of several centuries when the Church was in a defensive posture, focused more on protecting the purity of the Good News than on sharing the wealth of it; and we did not have a systematic approach to welcoming strangers. 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. 1-2-3-woops-a-daisy-4.

The four:
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 is the second 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. There is a global need, requiring a global response, which the Church joins. 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.
The four patterns overlap; you don’t have to abandon one to embrace another. We can (and do) offer hospitality personally and nationally and ecclesially and globally.
There was a long gap between the third and the fourth, and understanding that gap matters as much as understanding the four paradigms.

Chapter 1: Hospitality in the Law and Prophets

the first of five questions

  1. What did Jesus mean when he spoke about welcoming “strangers”?
  2. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout the Old Testament, what about the New?
  3. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout Scripture, what about Tradition?
  4. It there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout in Scripture and Tradition, why is it unfamiliar today?
  5. What now? Can we help 65 million people?

The first question: what did Jesus mean? The answer should be in his culture, in his background, in the language he used – that is, in the Old Testament.

Hospitality in the Law and the Prophets

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” 2,000 years ago, 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 are 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 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? What’s a “stranger”?
Oddly, most serious Christians recall this list about the Last Judgment imperfectly – in fact, in a predictably spotty fashion. Most people remember food and drink and clothes, and then some visiting, but scramble around trying to recall that other one, 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 our time. Given that, you might expect Christians to be curious indeed about what Jesus meant when he talked about strangers. You might expect that, 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 anything about welcoming strangers. In the literature that Jesus read, in his culture and in his language, what does it say about strangers?
What I found shocked me deeply. The teaching about welcoming strangers in the Old Testament was abundant and clear and forceful – and it was almost completely unfamiliar to me. (So I wrote a couple of short books about that I found, and perhaps you should read them.) In brief: the life of Abraham and the teaching of Moses insist that we should welcome people from another land who come into our midst and stay awhile. Jesus said what he said about strangers because he was a faithful Jew. Of course, the Word of God shaped the Jews, so we have to re-think the chronology a little bit; but one step at a time. Hospitality to strangers including especially immigrants is fundamental in the Old Testament.
Some examples:
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 entire Old Testament – in the Law, Prophets, Wisdom and history books. But one easy example: Moses had two sons, named (more or less) “God saves” and “welcome strangers” (Eliezer and Gershom). The sons are named with reference to the two great commandments, and the reference to love of neighbor is expressed in terms of welcome for strangers.
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.
Look at THE Prophet, Elijah. He is identified as a sojourner – or stranger – from Tishbe. And he began his public life depending on hospitality – first from a raven and then from a widow and orphan in Zarephath. We meet him as a stranger dependent on the hospitality of others.
It’s worth noting that the prophets throughout Scripture assert that God has a special concern for 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. Elijah in Zarephath is a stranger living with a widow and an orphan: the Biblical trio.
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, the Book of Ruth, which seems to be included in the Bible because Ruth was David’s beloved great-grandmother. And she’s an immigrant, 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. And 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. In the Old Testament, the teaching about hospitality is everywhere. Further, this ubiquitous teaching is shockingly forceful: on at least four major occasions – Sodom, Gibea, Exodus, and Babylon – Scripture describes God intervening in history, with immense determination and violence, to punish grave evils including injustice and idolatry and ingratitude and inhospitality.
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. A “stranger” is a member of a divinely protected category, with widows and orphans. The word might refer to a person you’ve never met before, but mostly the word refers to a political category – an immigrant.

Chapter 2: Hospitality in the New Testament

the second of five questions

  1. What did Jesus mean when he spoke about welcoming “strangers”?
  2. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout the Old Testament, what about the New?
  3. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout Scripture, what about Tradition?
  4. It there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout in Scripture and Tradition, why is it unfamiliar today?
  5. What now? Can we help 65 million people?

The second question: if it’s in the Old Testament, what about the New?

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.
Again, 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 – that is, shepherds – and strangers – that is, the magi.
Then when Herod believes that there’s a threat to his throne and turns to violence, Joseph takes his wife and son and flees to Egypt. The Holy Family becomes refugees.
Jesus, the newborn king, returns to the land that Moses knew as a place of inhospitality and slavery – in fact, 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. This early miracle in the life of Jesus is a healing response to inhospitality.
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 this 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 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. The disciples had been worried about the storm, but they were 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 people with a few loaves of bread? They stare at him, bug-eyed, completely baffled. And so do we. What’s the connection between multiplying bread and calming the sea? 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 tightly conjoined 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, you 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, says Jesus. 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 almost 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 the outsider’s experience. Moses says we should remember, and Jesus urges us to 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: “Blessed be the Lord – he’s here to set us free!” But that’s like skipping Christmas to get to Easter faster. The word “come” at the beginning is 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.” “Break in upon us like the dawn” – that’s episkeptomai! It’s explosive and transformative. Episkeptomai: come, break in. Perhaps God will come quietly, like the dawn slipping through the trees; but then, also like the dawn, this advent will be inexorable, 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 same verb shows up in two of the six precepts in Matthew 25, about Judgment Day: visit the sick, visit the imprisoned. Visit: episkeptomai. This “visit” does not mean we should show up to moan and groan in pity; we are asked to show up like the dawn, as the determined and unswerving and unstoppable agents of eternal renewal.

Three quick notes on 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, and then he can preach with authority. Evangelization and healing often 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 many other incidents, including the most fundamental events, like the Exodus and the Easter Triduum.
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. Similarly, 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.

Chapter 3: It has to be everywhere!

the third of five questions

  1. What did Jesus mean when he spoke about welcoming “strangers”?
  2. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout the Old Testament, what about the New?
  3. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout Scripture, what about Tradition?
  4. It there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout in Scripture and Tradition, why is it unfamiliar today?
  5. What now? Can we help 65 million people?

The third question: if hospitality is all over the Old and New Testaments, is it fundamental in the life and teaching of the Church – in our “Tradition”?

It has to be everywhere!

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. 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, focusing on (1) the Patristic era, and then (2) Thomas Aquinas. To make the task manageable, I focused on just eight Fathers – the eight who are 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 this 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 as well, or at minimum you make some careful 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 three strangers to his tent, he carried the fatted calf in for the feast in his own hands, and that Sarah made the bread that they served with her own hands. Those two details are not in Scripture; I think Jerome made them up, projecting them into Abraham’s life because he admired Abraham. These two details reflect Jerome’s ideal, not documented 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, which is the greatest epic of 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. Homer, Virgil, Dante: that’s an impressive group!) 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.” The quotation that Jerome considered well known and even over-used is from 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.” Athanasius  is credited with proposing the famous clarifying word “homoousion” (“consubstantial”), the hefty and ancient word that Pope Benedict XVI carefully replaced in the Creed that we recite on Sundays. And he is also the source of the oldest “canon,” the 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, at least in part. His explanation of how the Lord manifests himself draws on stories about caring for exiles and refugees. Some of his examples are familiar, like the stories of Abraham and Lot and Job; but he also uses one story that’s not standard in lists of hospitality texts, 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). The point is, although Athanasius didn’t talk about the theme of hospitality explicitly, when he talked about the Lord’s revelation of himself, the examples that came to his mind were examples of hospitality.

St. Basil
Basil (c 329-379) did for the Greek world what Jerome did for the Latin world. He was wealthy, and he poured out his wealth to build a community – a whole town, actually, called the Basilead – of monks and nuns and other Catholic-Worker types who devoted their lives to prayer and to serving the needy in deliberate and 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. (They may have visited prisoners too, but that detail isn’t part of common descriptions of the Basilead.) With regard to 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 pioneer. His establishment was free, and it served 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 also uses frequently as a kind of a touchstone: the story of Paul getting knocked off his horse, and Jesus asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The story of Saul isn’t similar to Lord’s description of the Last Judgment, but there is a key point that emerges from both passages. When Jesus spoke to Saul about persecuting his disciples, he asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” Me! That is, Jesus identified himself with his vulnerable followers.
Just one story. Augustine was an African, and served for 35 years as the bishop of Hippo, in northern Africa – present-day Algeria. 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 sacked Rome, and the Romans fled to Africa. 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 this 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 us a challenge. He was eloquent about the six precepts in Matthew, but he tacked on a twist. Jesus demanded that we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, etc. But the passage ends: “whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.” What does that mean? Most people think this sentence extends the call to service beyond the six specific items; the six are prime examples of a more general invitation. For example, ransoming captives is certainly a response to the spirit of the six precepts, whether it’s in the list or not. John Chrysostom had a very different understanding of that last line. He said that it clarifies the 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 was 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 it is embraced by some – and it has ancient and respectable 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. They 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 built communities 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 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 of his communities, 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.

What about the laity?
Emphatically, the role of the clergy in welcoming strangers did not mean that the laity had no responsibility. Rather, most of the time, most people discharged this solemn and unavoidable (and joyful) responsibility by delegating it, and supporting the agents who accepted this delegation of responsibility. That is, the “law of the Church” that the laity were morally required to support the clergy financially or in other practical ways was not invented by manipulative clerical thieves; it was, in part, a logical extension of the Lord’s fiery commands to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.

St. Thomas Aquinas
The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas has had an unparalleled impact on Christian thought for centuries. And with regard to hospitality to strangers, Aquinas made a casual remark that clarifies what happened to a whole body of Christian thought. He made a quiet observation about the corporal works of mercy that had little or no impact at that time, but which is – in retrospect – extraordinarily significant. He pointed out a problem that didn’t seem particularly serious then, but which metastasized over the centuries. Specifically, 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 so burials are not, strictly speaking, acts of mercy. So the corporal works were enumerated incorrectly, he said. They are based on the six precepts in Matthew 25, but they aren’t the same thing. 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.

[For more on Aquinas’ nuanced views, see the essay attached at the end.]

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. Responding to a need, the Church developed a new pattern, based firmly on Scripture.
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 explicitly 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?

Chapter 4: The Great Eclipse

the fourth of five questions

  1. What did Jesus mean when he spoke about welcoming “strangers”?
  2. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout the Old Testament, what about the New?
  3. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout Scripture, what about Tradition?
  4. It there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout in Scripture and Tradition, why is it unfamiliar today?
  5. What now? Can we help 65 million people?

The fourth question: if hospitality is all over the Old Testament, and the New, and the Fathers and the whole of our Tradition, where did it go?

The Great Eclipse

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. So Christians were on the mend when they weren’t killing each other. Amidst that, Christians didn’t welcome even Christian strangers, let alone all strangers regardless of religion.
The eclipse of hospitality didn’t mean that all virtue ceased. People were still kind and generous in many ways. But organized and deliberate hospitality as a fundamental aspect of society, as a conscious response to the Lord’s word – that stopped.

Beyond the scope
It would be interesting – but beyond the scope of this work – to examine how much the Lord’s words in Matthew 25 were used in debates about moral issues during the “age of discovery.” When Europeans in search of the wealth of Asia rounded the corner of west Africa and found their way to a whole continent south of the Sahara, and when Columbus bumped into two more continents en route to India, their response overall was characterized by greed on a global scale. It’s easy to see the horrors of what they did: genocide, grand theft, slavery. So maybe it’s silly to examine the sins of omission. It’s easy to notice that killing and stealing and raping aren’t the same thing as loving your neighbor. So maybe it’s silly to ask about the moral background of the proud Christian conquistadores. Beyond silly: maybe it’s nauseatingly pedantic, like reading intriguing treatises with a fiddle in the background while Rome burns.
Still, a detail of the age of discovery and plunder was a grievous sin of omission: somehow, the proud discoverers overlooked the central discovery of the universe, and did not see Jesus in the strangers they met. All the way across three continents, the Lord smiled at Europeans, face to face – and Christians responded with contempt and violence. How much did the sins of omission matter? Are “social sins” and “structures of evil” always founded firmly on personal sins of omission?
Maybe it’s irrelevant. Paranoid schizophrenics don’t see friends in their violent nightmares, and rapists don’t wash the feet of their prey. But was the command to welcome even a footnote in anyone’s moral calculus?
To see the Lord in the face of a stranger: is that for saints on pedestals and monks in their prayers? Or is it supposed to be normal, daily, pedestrian Christian life?
That’s speculation way beyond what’s necessary to make my point here, which is: the pattern of hospitality among Christians for centuries was ecclesial, and that seemed to work well enough – until the monasteries were smashed.
Perhaps it didn’t matter what the pattern is, if we get so attached to a pattern that we can’t imagine any other pattern. That’s where many Christians are today: stuck on a pattern of one-on-one service and reluctant to believe that the Lord might do things any other way. But in fact, the pattern we were stuck on was the monastic pattern; and when it didn’t work, we forgot what the Lord had asked of us.

The catastrophic gap, in theory
With the suppression of monasteries, the third paradigm was gone. But it wasn’t just the practice that was quenched. The theory was also misplaced, in an extraordinary fashion. St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out this 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. 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, 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 the command to welcome strangers was smeared, blurred, and lost.
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 was cut loose from Scripture.
This uprooted drift continued, eventually causing real trouble when there was a change in the reference to welcoming strangers. By 1885, when the American bishops published the Baltimore Catechism, the list of corporal works replaced “welcome strangers” with “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. That’s a little odd in 1885. And then there’s a note about harboring the harborless:

“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 in 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 “harbor the harborless” – which may be clear and to the point if you happen to own or control a harbor 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 harbor in Sicily.
So in 1885, the command to welcome strangers had effectively 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 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 an admirable but non-scriptural teaching tool, the corporal works of mercy.

Chapter 5: Called to Serve Millions

Fifth of five questions

  1. What did Jesus mean when he spoke about welcoming “strangers”?
  2. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout the Old Testament, what about the New?
  3. If there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout Scripture, what about Tradition?
  4. It there’s clear and forceful teaching about hospitality throughout in Scripture and Tradition, why is it unfamiliar today?
  5. What now? Can we help 65 million people?

The fifth question: if a fundamental aspect of Christian life seems to have been mislaid, what in the world are we supposed to do now?

Called to Serve Millions

The fourth paradigm of hospitality is global: we are indeed called to serve tens of millions – all, globally.

The transformation of the Church’s thinking about hospitality begins with Pope Leo, although he wrote about labor, not immigration. He was elected pope in 1878, following Pope Pius IX, who had responded to new developments in the world with vigorous denunciations of the grave threats to Christianity contained in modern life. Leo was similarly cautious, keenly 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.
Whatever his intent, Pope Leo XIII initiated a new body of thought within the Catholic Church. In 1891, he issued an extraordinarily influential encyclical, Rerum Novarum. In this carefully written document, he taught explicitly and unequivocally that workers have a right to organize.
It would, of course, be ideal if a worker and an owner could sit down together and forge agreements based on principles of justice and brotherhood; but that ideal was not realistic in the 19th century. Workers had become replaceable bits of machinery in large and complex systems.
Leo discussed strikes cautiously, and urged that workers try to enlist the aid of government when their rights were abused. He listed problems involved in a decision to strike. But he refused to condemn them. Cautiously, he left the door open. “Qui tacet consentire videtur” – silence gives consent.
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 all. So 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.” Pope Leo 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 unions “should become more numerous.”
It is true that Pope Leo did not state explicitly that there is a right to strike. It was another 90 years until Pope St. John Paul II spoke explicitly of the “right to strike.” However, Pope Leo supported unions, supported their key demands, and advised against some mistakes in strikes. In that context, the inference is fair: silence gives consent.
Rerum Novarum is about labor. But more generally, Pope Leo inserted the Church into matters of social justice. Justice is not outside the purview of the Church. The Church claims authority to weigh social issues in the light of the Gospel, whether or not the issues that the Church addresses were present in Scripture.
The Church is not the world’s expert on economic or political questions. But the Church does assert that societies must be based on principles of justice, that government and industry and indeed all social entities that include human beings should operate in accord with discernible principles of justice. And in matters of justice, the Church claims centuries of experience, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Pope Leo’s encyclical inaugurated a new era in Church history. Three encyclicals 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 which 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,” was collected at the request of Pope St. Hohn Paul II, in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published in 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 – among the 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.

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 of 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 Shea, a beloved teacher, 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 for moderation, to be sure; but apparently, in the view of Pope 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’s about: The Church in the Modern World. This revolutionary document embraces the Social Gospel firmly and completely. And 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: in 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. First, who are the people we are supposed to serve? ALL! That’s not a change, but the demand to universality is made explicit, authoritatively. Second, who’s supposed to serve? If the intent is to serve the needs of all, globally, that’s beyond the capabilities of the Church. But the Council was not troubled 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.
The new paradigm, the global paradigm, remains controversial.
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 been good. The Catholic Church is similarly committed to peace and reconciliation with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, and there has been great progress there too. And 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 on the brink of war with people whom we believe to be heretics headed rapidly to eternal perdition. And the Catholic Church is committed to a new and respectful relationship with Muslims, who worship the God of Abraham.
Jews, Orthodox, Protestants, Muslims: that’s an impressive list of relations on the mend. But in the midst of all this dramatic healing, a new division has opened. The Church is often seen to be ripped apart, 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 documents about peace, justice, labor, migration.
Indeed, the “right to migrate” is 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 not in practice. The drag of centuries of confusion remains.

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 doubt 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? Resistance to the new global pattern is widespread, deep, and articulate.
To make the fourth pattern work well, we need to show its relationship to the previous patterns. But the third pattern is largely forgotten, and this amnesia is ferociously destructive.
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 various 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 then, if you lose the first pattern, 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 tattered and shriveled, trivialized: 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.
Here’s the challenge. Can Pope Francis persuade the Church to care about 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?
Let me repeat that.

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. If we forget the teaching of Benedict, then Moses and Matthew seem to be in tension. And if the Gospel seems to differ in some ways from the teaching of Moses, we drop Moses. And if we drop Moses, then Matthew is almost incomprehensible. And then, can Pope Francis build a call to hospitality on a few incomprehensible scraps from the New Testament? Not likely.

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 can 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 using only folksy old methods.
If you can’t respond with old methods, one option is to give up, to abandon the effort to respond to the needs you see. But another option is to look for new 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. To be sure, massive aid agencies can be impersonal, nasty, and uncaring; but that’s not unique to modern life; your next-door neighbor can also be nasty and uncaring. 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.

The scope of the Second Vatican Council
The Council called by Pope St. John XXIII was magnificent – literally magnificent, doing great things. And the popes since the Council devoted their papacies to implementing that ambitious renewal. Pope Paul VI, of course, presided over most of the Council after John’s death. Pope John Paul I took their names joined together, to emphasize his intention to continue their work, and John Paul II did the same. Pope Benedict XVI, the last pope who was present at the Council, also worked to implement it. And Francis is obviously committed to ongoing reformation and renewal on an immense scale.
One piece of that work is a renewal of hospitality. When the monastic pattern was disrupted, hospitality was buried in the rubble. Welcoming strangers – serving God in the epiphany at the door, with joyful hope and confident expectancy – was fundamental in our lives for centuries and centuries. But somehow, it slipped sideways, and became a specialized work of specialized people – sweet but optional, like “sugar in your coffee, dear?” – a delightful decoration at the margins of sanctity.
The immense work of the Council includes a renewal of hospitality, recalling a fundamental aspect of the life of Abraham, whose hospitality foreshadowed God’s hospitality in the Eucharist.
Hospitality is not minor, not decorative, not optional. It’s a ray of divine light straight from the heart of the Trinity. It’s fundamental, and restoring it to its proper place in our lives is a part of the work of the Council. The Council, embracing and proclaiming the Social Gospel, opens the door to a new culture of life and civilization of love. By God’s grace, we will embrace widows and orphans and strangers.

The Good Samaritan, revisited
Let’s look again at the pivotal New Testament 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 deals with each of us, now and forever: his love is intense and personal, direct and unfiltered – one-on-one. He doesn’t rely on any massive agencies or impersonal bureaucracies; he doesn’t build a governmental program; he doesn’t tax the people. In fact, looking back, the closest Jesus came to having a bureaucrat handling the requests of the poor was Judas. And if that’s the way Jesus 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: remember and welcome. 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. Open your heart, and then act.
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 compassion: to understand what a neighbor is, you have to see the question from the perspective 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.
In the second interpretation, the point is not one-on-one service, but rather adopting the perspective of the person in need as the starting point.
These two interpretations of the parable of the Good Samaritan 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 in one way – and only in this one way, and you want to imitate Jesus in that one way – 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, the personal model, versus the Church’s modern version of a fourth model of hospitality, the global model.
All four paradigms of hospitality are responses to the command of the Lord – all four! God is not just a generous guy with a beard and an open heart; sometimes he comes among us as Paraclete, as Advocate.

In sum
One – two – three – skip a bit – four. There have been four paradigms of hospitality: national, personal, ecclesial – then a great eclipse – then global.
Hospitality is fundamental in the teaching of the Old Testament: welcome strangers, because – remember! – you too once were a stranger in a strange land. It’s re-asserted in the New Testament, commanded by the Lord in his description of the Last Judgment. It was taught and practiced by the Fathers, and became a standard part of the architecture of monasteries. But then it was smeared and bleared and shoved aside by religious wars and a drift away from Scripture, a great eclipse lasting several centuries. But for the past century, the leaders of the Church have been working hard to re-establish hospitality – with a new paradigm in mind. The paradigms of hospitality have been national in the Old Testament, personal in the New Testament, ecclesial in the Patristic era and for centuries afterwards; the new paradigm is global. But this great work cannot succeed without a clear understanding of our history.

Gaudium et spes! The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of immigrants: these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in our hearts.
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 – national and personal and ecclesial and global – that work is now in our hands.

Addendum: Aquinas on hospitality

As the Catholic Church in America struggles to re-assert and defend a right to migrate, some of the opponents of this drive for justice claim that St. Thomas Aquinas is their ally. This is wrong-headed. The views of Aquinas are nuanced, and deserve careful treatment.

Four brief remarks about the teaching of Aquinas
First, Aquinas’ view is 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. He does not have these two ideas tied together neatly, but they are both in his teaching, and this same balance is key to the teaching of the Church today. To assert a right to migrate without asserting a right to control borders, or to assert a right to control borders without asserting a right to migrate – either one – is contrary to the teaching of Aquinas, and also contrary to the teaching of the Church. Justice requires a balance of rights that are in tension.
Second, the Fathers of the Church agreed that welcoming strangers was fundamental, but were divided on the question of what a “stranger” is. St. Jerome said we were commanded to welcome all people – all. St. John Chrysostom, on the other hand, said that the phrase “least of the brothers” limits the command to Christian brothers (and sisters). In practice, the matter was settled by St. Benedict and St. Basil and their followers: for centuries, monks and nuns followed their teaching and example, and welcomed all. And since the Church delegated the duty of hospitality to monks and nuns, what they did was what the Church was doing. That’s the practice; but the teaching remained fuzzy. Aquinas weighed in on that controversy: his view was that the command to welcome strangers applies to all, but especially Christians.
Third, Aquinas made an observation that over time proved to be extraordinarily significant. He asserted that the corporal works of mercy were somewhat adrift, cut loose from their origin in the words of the Lord recorded in Matthew 25. Aquinas embraced both Scripture and the corporal works of mercy firmly – but noticed the differences, and was concerned about them.
And fourth, his understanding of a poignant detail from the Last Supper is explosive, pregnant with meaning, connecting hospitality and salvation the same way that Moses connected them.
Some commentators today assert blandly that Aquinas defended border security over hospitality. This is misleading.

Welcome strangers …
Aquinas’ reflections on the Lord’s command to welcome strangers are found especially in his sermons on Matthew 25 and John 13.
In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Aquinas reviews the six precepts in 25:31-46. He separates them into groups: internal needs, external needs, and special needs. That is, food and drink are internal; clothing and shelter are external; visits to the sick and imprisoned are special needs. With regard to hospitality, he explains it by reference to a passage in Hebrews. He says:

There are exterior needs, two of them – one separate from the body and the other touching the body. The Lord says about needs that aren’t physically touching us, “I was a stranger, and you took me in.” Elsewhere, we read, “Do not forget hospitality; for by this, some people – although they were unaware of it – have entertained angels [Heb 13:2]. With regard to a need that touches the body, the Lord says, “I was naked, and you covered me.” Elsewhere we read, “Have I despised a man who was dying because he didn’t have the clothes he needed, or the poor man with nothing to warm his body? Didn’t that man bless me, warmed by the fleece of my sheep?” [Job 31:20]. And again: “When you see someone naked, cover him!” [Isaiah 58:7].

That is, Aquinas embraced the view that the call to welcome strangers is an invitation to perennial epiphany, continual revelation.
Also in the commentary on Matthew 25, Aquinas asserts that the Lord explained why some people are excluded from the kingdom of God, and notes that some are excluded for interior sins, and others for exterior sins. Matthew 25 has two parables before the Lord’s description of the Last Judgment and the six precepts. One of these parables is about virgins greeting the bridegroom when he arrives. The wise virgins prepare, and have oil in their lamps; the foolish virgins know what’s coming, but don’t prepare, and have no oil in their lamps. Aquinas says that they were excluded from the celebration because of an interior defect. By contrast, says Aquinas, the parable of the servants who were given different amounts of talents – some invested, but one didn’t – shows that some people are excluded from the kingdom of God because of their neglect of exterior works (“propter negligentiam exterioris operationis”). In other words, Aquinas asserts that the Lord speaks about damnation because of negligence, or sins of omission. And immediately after this parable about negligence, the Lord turns to his list of six precepts. What follows the parable about negligence is the description of the Last Judgment, with a list of exterior works that some people perform and others neglect – feeding, giving water, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned. Those who serve people in need find that they have served the Lord, and they are welcome in the kingdom; others neglect these exterior works and are damned for it.
In his reflections on John 13, which is about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, Aquinas asserts that the passage includes a command: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” And Aquinas assets again that the precepts are binding, that neglecting them is a mortal sin. The precepts can be fulfilled in various ways; but in one way or another, we are commanded to serve. These binding precepts include welcoming strangers. Aquinas sees the Lord’s words at the Last Supper – to wash the feet of others as he had washed the feet of the apostles – as a reference to all forms of service, including feeding and clothing and welcoming those in need. That is, in Aquinas’ understanding, the six precepts in the Lord’s description of the Last Judgment are all commanded yet again in the Lord’s words at the Last Supper.

Protect borders …
Aquinas’ reflections on a nation’s right to control its borders are found in the Summa Theologica (in the second half of the first part, question 105, especially in Article 3). The passages has some problems.
Aquinas speculates about law, and about the Law in the Old Testament. He explores a list of questions: are the precepts in the Old Testament binding on everyone, what are the differences among natural law and moral law and divine law, and such. He distinguishes among the specific commands, dividing them into three groups: ceremonial precepts, about worshiping God; moral precepts, like “thou shalt not steal”; and judicial precepts, about justice. Then he divides the judicial precepts into four categories: relations between a ruler and subjects, relations between individuals, relations with foreigners, and relations within a family. With regard to foreigners – the passage that is pertinent here – his general intent is to defend the wisdom of God revealed in the Old Testament, and to sort out what is permanent and binding from what was specific to the Jews whom Moses led. So Question 105, article three, explores: were the judicial precepts in the Old Testament regarding foreigners “framed in a suitable manner”? (Or: “Utrum iudicialia praecepta sint convenienter tradita quantum ad extraneos.”) 
His approach is speculative. He’s arguing, not pontificating. One of the great puzzles about the way people use his work today is that his life-long approach to questions was so flexible and inventive and intelligent; but many of his admirers seize on his words – often speculations – and hold them rigidly. That is, his followers often discard his method and cling to his conclusions, which is completely contrary to his genius.
In his response to question 105, Aquinas runs into trouble almost immediately. He says that the Jews had three kinds of peaceful interaction with foreigners: when they are just passing through, when they come to stay, and when they want to become full members of the community. The distinctions he makes to get to these three categories are based on (1) a mistake in translation, and then (2) Aristotle in direct opposition to Scripture.
His first two categories are taken from two passages in Exodus, referring to advena in Exodus 22:20 and peregrinus in Exodus 23:9. Both are to be protected, kept free from molestation – but, he says, they are two different groups with different needs.
Aquinas referred to advena, or a new-comer, in Exodus 22:20: “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien [advena], for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.” And he referred to peregrinus in Exodus 23:9: “You shall not oppress a resident alien [peregrinus]; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” The problem is, there are indeed two separate words in the Latin text, the Vulgate; but there is only one word – proselutos – in the Greek text, the Septuagint; and more importantly, there is only one word – ger – in the original text, the Hebrew text.

Exodus 22:20: “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien [ger in Hebrew, proselutos in Greek, advena in Latin], for you were once aliens [ger in Hebrew, proselutos in Greek, advena in Latin], residing in the land of Egypt.”

Exodus 23:9: “You shall not oppress a resident alien [ger in Hebrew, proselutos in Greek, peregrinus in Latin]; you well know how it feels to be an alien [ger in Hebrew, proselutos in Greek, advena in Latin], since you were once aliens [ger in Hebrew, proselutos in Greek, peregrinus in Latin] yourselves in the land of Egypt.”

Sorry, let me repeat that one more time:

Ex 22:20
Ex 22:20
Ex 23:9
Ex 23:9
Ex 23:9

Scholars debate whether Aquinas was fluent in Greek, but there seems to be agreement that he didn’t read Hebrew. In this case, at least, it’s clear that Aquinas used only the Latin text, not the older Greek text, nor the original Hebrew text. So his first distinction – strangers who are passing through versus strangers who come to stay – is based on a misunderstanding. The text does not have two words; it has one. Why did Jerome, or someone working with Jerome to produce the Vulgate Bible, use two different words to translate a single word in the original? Who knows? Perhaps it sounded a little better than repeating a word three times in a sentence of just 13 words. I don’t see how it did any harm – until someone assumed that the two words referred to two different categories of stranger.
So far, Aquinas’ distinction is innocent. It’s not Scripture, but it’s harmless: there are strangers who pass through, as pilgrims; and there are strangers who stay a bit, as new-comers. But his description of a third category – settlers – opens the door to a variety of immense abuses.
For his third category, Aquinas finds the idea in Aristotle, without any reference to Scripture. The distinctions he makes are sensible, rational, useful, provocative – but they have nothing to do with Scripture. He suggests that immigrants should go through a long period of testing and training, building relationships and learning the culture – for decades or even generations. Slowly, over time, they should be incorporated or assimilated into their new culture. That’s not a foolish idea, but it’s Aristotle, not Scripture.
If the approach that Aquinas proposes is understood to be Scriptural, that’s an error, and the error is not trivial. Aquinas, following Aristotle, suggests that immigrants be treated differently from citizens – excluded from the rights and privileges of citizens for years or even for generations. Neither of these two great men can be dismissed casually. But this proposal is directly contrary to the clear teaching in the Old Testament that Aquinas is discussing! The question of how to treat immigrants – and specifically what the differences in treatment should be between native-born citizens and immigrants – comes up at least 52 times in the Old Testament. Of these, there are 29 assertions that the treatment of Hebrews and immigrants should be the same. There are 20 references to preferential treatment or extra protections for immigrants. There are three references to circumstances in which Hebrews should be treated better than immigrants.

References to equal treatment (29):
1.    Ex 12:19
2.    Ex 12:48
3.    Ex 12:49
4.    Ex 20:10
5.    Ex 23:12
6.    Lev 16:29
7.    Lev 17:8
8.    Lev 17:10
9.    Lev 17:12
10.                        Lev 17:13
11.                        Lev 17:15
12.                        Lev 18:26
13.                        Lev 20:2
14.                        Lev 22:18
15.                        Lev 24:16
16.                        Lev 24:22
17.                        Lev 25:35
18.                        Num 9:14
19.                        Num15: 14
20.                        Num 15:26
21.                        Num 19:10
22.                        Num 35:15
23.                        Dt 1:16
24.                        Dt 24:14
25.                        Jos 8:33
26.                        Jos 8:35
27.                        Jos 20:9
28.                        Ez 14:7
29.                        Ez 47:22

References to preferential treatment of immigrants over Hebrews (20):
1.    Lev 19:10
2.    Lev 23:22
3.    Dt 10:17
4.    Dt 14:29
5.    Dt 16:11
6.    Dt 16:14
7.    Dt 24:17
8.    Dt 24:19
9.    Dt 24:20
10.                        Dt 24:21
11.                        Dt 26:12
12.                        Dt 27:19
13.                        Ps 94:6
14.                        Ps 146:9
15.                        Jer 7:6
16.                        Jer 22:3
17.                        Ez 22:7
18.                        Ez 22:29
19.                        Zech 7:10
20.                        Mal 3:5

References to preferential treatment of Hebrews over immigrants (3):
1.    Lev 25:45
2.    Lev 25:47
3.    Dt 14:21

Teaching in the Old Testament about equality or preferential treatment of immigrants is not absolute and rigid, but it is clear and overwhelming – 49 to 3 clear.

Greek balance versus Old Testament balance
It’s worthwhile comparing the Greek approach to hospitality, and the Hebrew (Old Testament) approach. Both the ancient Greeks and the Hebrews considered hospitality to be fundamental to civilization. Both were especially careful about three protected classes – widows and orphans and strangers. Both considered violations of hospitality to be heinous crimes, even capital crimes in some cases. Both had a balanced approach to hospitality. But the way they understood this balance was radically different.
The Greeks were careful about balancing the rights and responsibilities of hosts on one hand, and guests on the other. In the Odyssey, for example, the themes that Homer explores include courage and loyalty – and also hospitality. There are numerous visits and welcoming feasts throughout the epic, in Ithaca and in the travels of Odysseus and Telemachus; at each, the rules and expectations are clear for both host and guest. The issue of hospitality is central as events unfold in Odysseus’ kingdom and palace. The suitors abuse Penelope, although they believe – mistakenly – that she is a widow. They abuse Telemachus, although they believe – mistakenly – that he is an orphan. And then they abuse Odysseus, believing – mistakenly – that he is a stranger, a mere beggar at the door. Their abuse of Penelope and Telemachus is a long string of violations of the duties of a guest: they eat her food and consume her wealth carelessly, heedlessly, without gratitude. But their abuse of Odysseus is a little different. When he shows up, the suitors arrogantly assume the role of the host, deciding who is welcome and who is not – and then they violate the sacred duties of a host. This abuse of a helpless and hungry stranger – apparently helpless – is the last straw. Their abuse of Penelope shows them to be bad guests, and unworthy of marrying her. But their abuse of Odysseus shows them to be bad hosts, and unworthy of ruling Ithaca. So they are all executed, and their blood splashes up the walls of the banquet hall.
The story looks at the rights and duties of hosts and guests with severity. But note the balance.
The Greeks balanced the rights and duties of host and guest. In Scripture, there is a balance – but it is worlds away from the Greek balance. Literally worlds away: the Hebrews balance our duties of hospitality with God’s generosity to us. The Greek balance is familiar and sensible: I give to you and you give to me. The Hebrew balance depends on faith: I give to you, and God gives to us both.
The Hebrew sense of balance does not propose rules and roles for host contrasted with guest, balanced carefully. The Hebrew approach doesn’t even distinguish carefully between the two parties, let alone balance them. At the First Feast in Scripture, Abraham begins as host, welcoming three strangers to his tent under the trees at Mamre; but by the end of the day, it is God who is host, pouring out gifts to his friend as they converse under the sky. The balance is: you welcome a stranger, and God will welcome you.
The lesson from Abraham, repeated by the Prophets for centuries, is that welcoming strangers matters greatly, because the guest might be God. The lesson from Jesus is similar, but stronger: welcoming strangers matters, because the guest is God. When you welcome a stranger, you welcome me, says the Lord – not maybe, not sometimes – but definitely albeit mysteriously, and always.
When Aquinas offers ideas about immigration, and draws on Aristotle, that’s rational and reasonable – but wrong. The Old Testament isn’t Greek; it’s Jewish.

The antisemitism of the Catholic Church
In 1986, Pope St. John Paul II visited a synagogue in Rome. He quoted a document from the Second Vatican Council asserting that the Catholic Church is committed to a new and peaceful relationship with Jews (and others). He said, “With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”

Obviously, these words of Pope John Paul II are different from many things said by Christians over the centuries. For 18 centuries, the history of the Church has been marked by antisemitism. An incident of failure to love and respect our older brothers and sisters in the faith – and a failure to understand and cherish their insights – is troubling but not isolated, and not surprising. The Pope was deliberately turning away from ancient sins that afflicted many Christians through the centuries – including Aquinas.
In his defense of the wisdom of the teaching that he finds in Scripture, Aquinas explores six specific questions. One is, did the teaching in the Old Testament do wrong in permitting the Hebrews to mistreat foreigners – by engaging in usurious practices with them but not with each other. There are several problems with Aquinas’ response to this objection. First, just as he took a single Hebrew word and split it in two, so now he takes two Hebrew words and combines them to make one. Hebrew does not distinguish between pilgrims passing through and migrants come to stay. But Hebrew does distinguish between immigrants who are settling in the land of Israel and foreigners who live elsewhere. The Old Testament does permit Hebrews to charge interest when they loan money to a foreigner in another land – but does not permit interest on loans to other Hebrews, nor on loans to immigrants. But Aquinas didn’t read Hebrew.
That confusion doesn’t change the question at hand: does Scripture endorse an evil practice. But it does give reason to worry about Aquinas’ understanding of what the Hebrews were doing. The question remains, did God permit the Hebrews to engage in a pattern of evil in their dealings with strangers. Whether they are inside the country as immigrants or outside as plain foreigners doesn’t really alter that challenge.
There’s another bit of confusion here to address before looking at exactly what Aquinas said. Aquinas considered it to be wrong to charge interest or ask for any kind of bank fee. In his time, any fee or interest charge was considered to be usury. Jews then – and everyone today – would make a distinction between asking for reasonable interest for a loan versus charging a high interest rate to a person in desperate need. The latter was and is evil, although the line between the two practices may be hard to draw sharply. But Aquinas, considering it to be evil to charge any interest on any loan, wonders why the Old Testament permits it – even with strangers.
And here we get to the real problem. His answer is bluntly antisemitic: Aquinas says that God accommodated the hard hearts of the Jews, who are “prone to avarice” (propter pronitatem Judaeorum ad avaritiam). This kind of rank antisemitism is gravely wrong. And this casual embrace of antisemitism in a passage which some people now hold up as clear-minded insight into the problems of immigration is problematic indeed. Obviously, it’s anachronistic to demand that Aquinas understand the lethal effect of antisemitism in twentieth century immigration laws. But in our time, it’s foolish – or perhaps deeply evil – to overlook antisemitism in immigration laws!
To say that America’s anti-immigration laws contributed to the horrors of the Nazi holocaust is not speculation, and not exaggeration. At the Holocaust Museum in Washington, you can get a list of the hundreds of Jews who fled from Hitler, crossed the Atlantic on the infamous voyage of the St. Louis, saw the lights of Miami, were turned away, returned to Germany, and died in concentration camps. You can’t blame that on Aquinas. On the other hand, a passage about immigration that is tainted by antisemitism cannot be used authoritatively in our time.
Antisemitism has a long history in the Church. At the first council of all the leaders of the Church – the Council of Jerusalem, described in the Acts of the Apostles – the question they were wrestling with was whether you had to become a Jew in order to follow Jesus. Jesus followed the Law of Moses; if you want to follow Jesus, must you follow Moses? The answer was no: Greeks could follow Jesus without being circumcised. But it took a meeting of all the apostles, and an argument between Peter and Paul, to get to that answer firmly. However, a few generations later, the matter was turned on its head. It wasn’t necessary to be a Jew to become a Christian: in fact, it was prohibited. Most people who wanted to become Christian went through a catechetical program, and then got baptized. But Jews had to go through the same program – and then abjure Judaism! – and then get baptized.
The Gospels can be read by an ignorant person to say that the Jews crucified Jesus. For example, Matthew writes that when Pilate said he was innocent of the blood of Jesus, the people (Jews) responded, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” (Mt 27:25) But when he wrote that, Matthew was a Jew, and most of his audience was Jewish. His words might have been clearer if he had said, “Look, friends, at what we did!” But in post-Jewish Christianity, words about the Jews were read as a reference to them, not to us – in fact, as a reference to a despised bunch of them. Read out of context, the words of the Gospels seem to justify hatred – and indeed they were used to justify hatred and rejection, for centuries.
The Second Vatican Council explicitly and forcefully rejected this excuse and any other excuses for antisemitism. In “Nostra Aetate,” the pope and bishops together declared that the sacred synod “remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock.” The document continues:

“The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. …

“Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues. …

“Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

The Church doesn’t deny that we were involved in evil; but we have understood it, and we have turned away from it. Aquinas, of course, wrote centuries before the Second Vatican Council, during the time when antisemitism was deeply entrenched in Christian life. But he was unquestionably loyal to the teaching of the Church. It is unthinkable that he would have seen the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and rejected it. It is twisted to enlist him as a proponent of ideas that the Church has rejected.
It is twisted to erect Aquinas as a voice of reason opposing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council – regarding either prejudice against Jews or unjust restrictions on immigration. Aquinas’ antisemitism was a real problem, but we do not have to speculate about whether he – given the teaching of our day – would have turned away from it. Of course he would have! And his views about immigration are similarly problematic – but again we need not speculate about what he would have done, given the teaching of our day. He was completely and permanently committed to the Church.

Aquinas combines hospitality and salvation
Aquinas made mistakes, but justice demands that we remember his wisdom and insight. Look again at his commentary on the Gospel of St. John.
Throughout Scripture, hospitality and salvation are intertwined. Moses took two great lessons from the Exodus: God saves us from slavery, and asks us to welcome strangers. Moses had two sons, whom he named Eliezer and Gershom – approximately, “God saves” and “welcome strangers.” In the Easter Triduum, we recall and celebrate the Last Supper, God and man at table together, an act of world-changing hospitality that was foreshadowed by Abraham’s hospitality at Mamre; then we recall the sacrifice on Calvary that saves us. The prayer that Jesus taught includes asking for our daily bread and for forgiveness – hospitality and salvation. Christmas and Easter: this is hospitality and salvation.
There’s a fascinating insight into this intertwining of God’s works in Aquinas. In his Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, in his third lecture on chapter 13, Aquinas talks about washing feet. At the Last Supper, which parallels the First Feast at Mamre, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, imitating Abraham’s care of his visitors. Washing feet – or at least providing water to wash – is a standard detail of Biblical hospitality. But Aquinas, examining the passage, focuses on forgiveness instead.
Aquinas says that the Lord’s actions at the Last Supper leave us with a serious obligation to wash each other’s feet; in fact, he argues, it is a grave evil not to do so (qui negligit praeceptum peccat mortaliter). It’s best to do it physically, literally, he says – but if we can’t do it physically, we can and must do it in our hearts. In his view, this metaphorical wash means washing away sin – by forgiveness and prayer (which anyone can do, and all must do), and by the sacrament of Reconciliation (a priest’s role).
Aquinas asserts that when the Lord washed the disciples’ feet, he was gesturing toward all the works of mercy – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming visitors.
Aquinas sees the act of washing feet, at least metaphorically or spiritually, as a grave obligation. And he sees this act of hospitality as an act of forgiveness.
St. Thomas Aquinas has an understanding of this gesture of washing feet – at minimum a detail of the annual celebration of Holy Week, but at maximum a way to refer to all the works of mercy taken together – that intertwines hospitality and salvation. Amidst the challenges of his wonderful Aristotle project, he develops an approach that looks like the teaching of Moses: God saves his people, and asks us to welcome each other, including strangers – especially strangers. Aquinas, like Moses, conjoins salvation and hospitality.

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            The current volume, Knocking at Haven’s Door, is written in the middle of a longer project, McGivney’s Guests. McGivney’s Guests is a work in progress exploring immigration and the Knights of Columbus (KOC). The KOC is a Catholic fraternal and service organization, founded in 1882 in Connecticut by Fr. Michael J. McGivney, to serve the poor – at that time, mostly immigrants.
The whole work (which this booklet supports) explores:

·         the clear and forceful and abundant teaching about hospitality in the Old Testament,
·         the rich and powerful teaching about hospitality in the New Testament,
·         the insights and the labor of monks and nuns for centuries, providing hospitality,
·         the American experience,
·         the extraordinary document “Strangers No Longer” written jointly by the American and Mexican bishops in 2003,
·         the experience of the Knights of Columbus throughout the past century, and
·         essays on justice.

Knocking at Haven’s Door is a not a part of McGivney’s Guests. It is, rather, a pause along the way, to review and re-orient. It’s a short summary of the work to date, with a sketch of where the work is supposed to go.
It is my intention to support the work of the Catholic Church, welcoming strangers. The basic idea hasn’t changed since the time of Abraham and Moses, but some quite significant details of HOW we do this work have changed. There is a great deal of confusion about the approach of the Church during the past century, and I think I can dispel that confusion. Specifically, many serious Catholics are concerned that the Church’s current approach – working with others, including the United Nations, for example – to defend and serve over 65 million people, some Catholic, most not – does not seem to resemble the work of Jesus Christ, who cared for people one by one. I think that this concern dissipates, or even disappears, as soon as you understand that the Lord called Moses to one pattern of hospitality, the Apostles to a second pattern, the Church for most of its history to a third pattern, and people of good will today to a fourth pattern. The Old Testament pattern was national; the New Testament pattern was largely personal; the pattern of the Church for centuries was ecclesial; the pattern of our time is global. These patterns overlap, and all are genuine and necessary responses to the Lord’s command to welcome strangers.

During a time of confusion about hospitality, the USA is not acting as a nation of immigrants, welcoming refugees. When that changes, this nation will again work to incorporate millions of newcomers each year. That will require organization coordinated nationally but carried out in small communities – often, in churches. A national service project, helping immigrants, organized in every parish: that may require a new structure, or maybe a happy renewal of the Knights of Columbus. We’ll see.

This booklet, as well as the larger book McGivney’s Guests, grew out of conversations among KOC members; it is written by and principally for members. However, it is not an official publication of the Knights of Columbus.

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About the Author

John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe is best known for his work as an activist, building the nonviolent branch of the pro-life movement.  He has been called by “Father of the Rescue movement” by Time, NY Times Magazine, Joan Andrews, Joe Scheidler, and others. LA Times writer Jim Risen’s history of the rescue movement, Wrath of Angels, also uses this title.  Cavanaugh-O’Keefe notes that the title is odd, because the real leaders of the rescue movement were mostly women, including Jeanne Miller Gaetano, Dr. Lucy Hancock, Jo McGowan, Joan Andrews, Juli Loesch Wiley, Kathie O’Keefe, ChristyAnne Collins, Monica Migliorino Miller, and others.  Nonetheless, his writing – especially No Cheap Solutions and Emmanuel, Solidarity: God’s Act, Our Response – influenced activists in the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, all over Europe, Philippines, Korea, and Australia.
Cavanaugh-O’Keefe has been arrested 39 times for civil disobedience.  He was in the first group that was jailed for pro-life nonviolent action (in Connecticut, 1978).  He was among the three organizers of the “We Will Stand Up” campaign, the most successful event of the rescue movement, closing all the abortion clinics in eight of the nine cities that Pope John Paul II visited in 1987.  He initiated the Tobit Project, taking bodies out of dumpsters in the Washington area and providing respectful burials. 
He has written extensively about eugenics and population control; see especially The Roots of Racism and Abortion.  He participated in efforts to resist the population reduction campaigns, particularly in South Africa under the apartheid government, and in Bangladesh; see especially “Deadly Neocolonialism.”  He supported the work of the Information Project for Africa, which brought feminists and pro-lifers together to resist coercive depopulation measures at the UN population conference in Cairo.
He has written about eugenics and human cloning.  When President Clinton established his National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), Cavanaugh-O’Keefe helped form a grass-roots commission in response – the American Bioethics Advisory Commission (ABAC), and served as the ABAC’s first executive director.  The first policy question that the Clinton’s NBAC addressed was human cloning, and their report has sections on eugenics and dignity that were written in response to input from Cavanaugh-O’Keefe.  When the NBAC completed published a report supporting human cloning as long as the clone is destroyed in the embryonic or fetal stage, the ABAC worked with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against this “clone-and-kill” proposal.
He has written about eugenics and immigration; see especially The Sign of the Crossing and Welcome Date TBD – and the work in progress, McGivney’s Guests, which this booklet supports.
Throughout his life, Cavanaugh-O’Keefe has worked to cross-fertilize, and to maintain civil dialogue with opponents.  He worked with Pro-lifers for Survival, as editor of the group’s publication, P.S.  This ambitious organization brought peace activists and pro-life activists together; their challenging work was later taken over by Cardinal Bernardin.  Cavanaugh-O’Keefe was proud to be invited to contribute to the Women’s Studies Encyclopedia; crossing an ideological divide, he wrote their article explaining the pro-life movement.  He worked with a common ground group in the Washington area, bringing pro-life and pro-choice activists together – not to find compromises, but to encourage respect and understanding.
In 2012, Cavanaugh-O’Keefe began working to strengthen the unity of the Catholic Church by encouraging pro-life and pro-family activists to re-consider their positions on immigration, and encouraging pro-immigration activists to reconsider their positions on life and marriage.  See
He and his wife live in Maryland, where they raised six children and now enjoy 14 (plus) grandchildren.

Other books by this author

The Sign of the Crossing. This is a painstaking effort to sort out the words for “stranger” in the Bible. Not much of a plot: lots of vocabulary lists. But it does permanently destroy superficial anti-immigration arguments from careless Scripture scholars who support the work of FAIR and CIS.

McGivney’s Guests. Not published yet (2018). This is a work in progress, to facilitate a long discussion about immigration within a Catholic fraternal and service organization. Two parts of a projected seven are available; see below.

Strangers: 21 Claims in the Old Testament (McGivney’s Guests, part 1). The teaching in the Old Testament about hospitality is clear, abundant, forceful – but unfamiliar to most Christians today.

The Persistent Other (McGivney’s Guests, part 2). The teaching in the New Testament about hospitality is a hidden treasure. It’s everywhere, and it’s beautiful. And once you see it, you can’t un-see it.

The Roots of Racism and Abortion. This is an exploration of eugenics, the ideology of arrogance that affects the both the right and the left. Eugenics underlies the explosive growth of abortion, and also the persistence of racist anti-immigration policies.

Emmanuel, Solidarity: God’s Act, Our Response. This is about pro-life nonviolence, which is not obviously relevant to hospitality in Scripture and Tradition. However, the section on social sin is relevant and useful.

All these books are available through Amazon and Kindle.

Back cover

“… reasonable, nuanced, scholarly, factual, informed, and wide-ranging”
Peter Kreeft

Rarely has a book suddenly and decisively changed my mind on an important religious or moral issue. This one did. I was uncertain and “on the fence” regarding immigration, with almost equal sympathy for both “sides.” No Catholic faithful to the Church and no Christian faithful to Bible can be “on the fence” any more after reading this book. It is clear, compelling, and decisive. Yet it is reasonable, nuanced, scholarly, factual, informed, and wide-ranging. It appeals to principles and facts, not feelings, ideologies, or political partisanship. It is equally far from the “Right” and the “Left,” from fundamentalistic fanaticism and romantic naivete. For it is Catholic.

Peter Kreeft
Professor of Philosophy
Boston College