On Caring for the Poor and the Stranger

28 11 2008


But there was something that Julian couldn’t shake about the Christians. Something he couldn’t get out of his mind. And that was the Christians’ virtue. Their charity. And especially their hospitality to those they didn’t even know. In fact, Julian once issued an order to try to get pagan believers to start imitating the Christians in what he called their “benevolence toward strangers.”

Here’s a quote from a letter he wrote, and you can tell he’s not very happy. He complains that Christians’ care for strangers and their holiness is contributing to the spread of “atheism.” (He called Christians “atheists” because they didn’t believe in the pagan gods.)

Here’s what Julian wrote: “Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers … and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done the most to increase atheism. … It is disgraceful that when … the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men should see how our people lack aid from us.”

-Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, via this blog

I am starting to think that any sort of political calculation among people who consider themselves Christians is toxic to their Christianity. I have read arguments of people saying that we have a Christian duty to take care of those in our own country before we can help the “stranger” in our midst. I have heard the rhetoric of the right-wing pundits who say that the Church is more concerned with immigration and the death penalty than with the pro-life cause. In the end, however, such “[white] America-first” bigotry only underminds the Gospel, just as the last gasp of paganism was delivered a death-blow by those Christians who loved without calculating the cost. Maybe it’s not viable, or maybe we have to “prioritize”, but such actions can at best only maintain what we have, they cannot grow the seed of the Church. The American cultural right, no matter how convinced it is of its own Christianity, is far less convincing to those outside of it regarding the virtues it claims to hold most sacred.



4 responses

1 12 2008

Hospitality to strangers is precisely the Gospel. Jesus loves those he does not know (or, perhaps better, who do not know him). This is not to say that the church should not first take care of her own, only that she must be promiscuous in caring for those who are not hers if she is to display or enact the Gospel.

But I get tired of the critics as well as of those they criticize. Words, words, and more words. Come into prison with me (or whatever), and then I’ll listen. Until then, the critic is just the image of the criticized.

1 12 2008

I haven’t seen it mentioned yet, but part of the reason American Catholic bishops earn so much ire for their position on immigration from south of the border is due to naivety/ignorance about the position of the Catholic Church in Latin America. Non-Latino Americans see Hispanics with their prominent rosaries or Mexicans with images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and mistakenly believe that Catholic clerics must have huge amounts of power and sway in all Latin American countries, and if they wanted to, could channel the people into revolution against corrupt governments or use their great influence and “people power” to at least shame the government and improve the lives of the citizen. (I have heard both scenarios proposed as serious suggestions.) The lack of a mass rally led by Mexican Catholic bishops against Felipe Calderon’s government is then seen as part of some collusion with American Catholic bishops to increase the numbers of Catholics in this country. Knowledge of the actual history between these governments and the Church and the people and the Church is typically way-off or non-existent.

I liked some parts of the article you linked to, as I think immigration presents a lot of issues that are a lot more nuanced than those typically presented: it’s not simply pro- or anti-. My objection, of course, is that we don’t have greater obligation to the state than we do to charity and social justice.

29 11 2008

One problem is that ever since the French Revolution, being a Christian, whether Catholic or Protestant, has had political overtones. In many formerly Catholic countries, being what we on the Internet would call an “orthodox Catholic” oftentimes means subscribing to certain reactionary beliefs. This is probably because the only other ideological choice usually involves some kind of technocratic socialism. In the case of France, for example, this ideological program seems to involve a sort of soft monarchism or a flirtation with an Action Française type of fascism. I’ve heard that the only French people who even go to to mass on a regular basis are the SSPX and their supporters. It probably wouldn’t occur to the “regular person” on the street to go to mass.

We can see this phenomenon in the United States as well. I think that when most Americans think about a Christian, they instinctively think of someone like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Giving these men the benefit of the doubt, they might have done a lot of private charity away from the cameras. But what they’re associated with is the kind of crude right-wing politics mentioned above. I think this association has created a knee-jerk reaction to Christianity of any sort for many people.

Moving to the Catholic context, there seems to be a common belief that you can’t be interested in issues like immigration or the death penalty and be an “orthodox Catholic” at the same time. I’m not entirely thrilled about the rhetoric surrounding the “seamless garment” argument, but I do think that it’s true that being pro-life needs to mean more than anti-abortion. I think that the pro-life case would be infinitely bolstered if pro-life doctors and counsellers embedded themselves in poor neighborhoods to change the culture (which is what pro-abortion activists do), as opposed to just saying, “Great that you didn’t have that abortion! Well, see ya!”

29 11 2008
F and R

I think the parable of the Good Samaritan can apply here perhaps.

Charity and loving your neigbhor like yourself and with your whole heart flows out of loving good with your whole heart and mind.

Faith without works is not enough to paraphrase the NT.
We should all do better to help the poor and the stranger even the unpopular for some immigrant.

Thank you for your blog and interesting posts.
Look forward to seeing you on the visual medium.

To badly paraphrase St. Francis DeSales something about cooking Truth in Charity until it is sweet. God is Love.

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