Pope Francis Preaching at
Lampedusa, July 2013
In my next posting I will begin the story of Elizabeth I and her refashioning of the Ancient Church of England into what will become contemporary Anglicanism—though I don’t think good Queen Bess would recognize it or be particularly happy with it, Anglicanism today being in some respects “too Catholic” for her taste and in others respects being “too Protestant,” in such matters as the admission of women to the ministries of bishop and priest, the blessing of same sex marriages, or a determinative voice for the laity in Church governance. (Elizabeth’s objection to the laity having a determinative voice would be rooted in her opposition to democratic procedures in the Church which she believed—in considerable contention with Parliament—should by under the royal dictate. But as for what Anglicanism has become in the centuries since Elizabeth, be patient: it will take us a while to get there. In this posting I am going to return to the topic of Evangelical Catholicism and will probably alternate the two topics for a while.
We have looked at the foundations for what George Weigel calls “Evangelical Catholicism”: a Catholicism rooted in and drawing its strength from “Word and Sacrament.” Evangelical Catholicism cuts through both the Jesuitical sophistry of neo-Thomism and the sissified piety of nineteenth-century neo-gothic romanticism and returns to the Patristic sources of understanding the Christian life in terms of the Holy Scriptures and the Sacramental Practice of the Church. Such an evangelical Catholicism invites the faithful to—indeed demands of them—an intense commitment to Christian discipleship in which they mature into a deep and true spirituality as well as the moral capacity to make life-choices rooted in their zealous conviction that the Kingdom of God is not some future other-worldly picnic in the skies with Grandma and all our other lost loved ones, but a present, here-and-now this world reality for those who “listen to the Word of God and put it into practice.”
Let’s start unpacking this ideal by examining its implications for a real-life crisis in which we find ourselves today in America: the plight of the immigrants, particularly but not exclusively children, who are illegally crossing our borders each day. What should our attitude towards those migrants be?
Many people—including many Catholics—can only look at the issue simply in terms of “The Law.” They are breaking the law. They are illegal. Therefore, they have no rights and we have no responsibilities towards them. Like those whom I mentioned in the posting about Lawrence Kohlberg and the stages of moral development who are fixated on the idea of law—whether law qua law as some sort of unchanging and binding moral absolute or law as stabilizing social convention—many simply say because they are “illegal” we have no moral responsibility for them and they should simply be turned back, put on buses or trains, sent home to where they came from. But for the Evangelical Catholic, how would the word of God guide us in our moral response to the migrants? Pope Francis had much to say—and said it well—from an evangelical perspective in the homily he gave at Lampedusa last summer. Granted he was talking about migrants to Europe and not to the United States, but the moral principles he laid down are not confined to one particular situation. They are universally applicable.
God’s two questions echo even today, as forcefully as ever! How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.
"Where is your brother?" His blood cries out to me, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God! Once again I thank you, the people of Lampedusa, for your solidarity. … Yet God is asking each of us: "Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?" Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: "poor soul…!", and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!
"Adam, where are you?" "Where is your brother?" These are the two questions which God asks at the dawn of human history, and which he also asks each man and woman in our own day, which he also asks us. But I would like us to ask a third question: "Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it?" Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – "suffering with" others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep! In the Gospel we have heard the crying, the wailing, the great lamentation: "Rachel weeps for her children… because they are no more". Herod sowed death to protect his own comfort, his own soap bubble. And so it continues… Let us ask the Lord to remove the part of Herod that lurks in our hearts; let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this. "Has any one wept?" Today has anyone wept in our world?
What are the moral principles we can derive from the Holy Father’s homily at Lampedusa?
1. The migrants are our brothers and sisters, children of the same Father.
2. We have a moral responsibility for the lives and safety of our migrant brothers and sisters.
3. The goods God created in this world are not given to one nation or another but are created for the welfare of all God’s children regardless of nationality.
4. Much of the suffering that has driven the migrants to leave their homes to seek not only opportunity but safety has been caused by the economic and political factors of our seemingly developed societies.
5. Failure to respond to the humanitarian needs of our migrant brothers and sisters is grossly sinful, a narcissistic indifference to the plight of human suffering
6. The appropriate response to the tragedy facing migrant people today is a compassionate solidarity of championing their right to seek a better life, and certainly, at the minimum, to respond to their immediate need and give them safety, health care, food, and protection.
But Lampedusa was not Francis final word. He did, about two weeks ago, address a message particular to the situation we are facing on our southern border.
Many people who are forced into emigration suffer and often die tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be subjected to racist attitudes and xenophobia.Faced with this situation, I repeat what I stated in the Message for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees: “A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization — all typical of a ‘throwaway culture’ — towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world”.Furthermore, I am keen to call attention to the tens of thousands of children who emigrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape from poverty and violence: this is a class of migrants who, from Central America and from Mexico, cross the border with the United States of America in extreme conditions, in search of a hope that that most of the time is in vain. They increase day by day. Such a humanitarian emergency demands, first of all, urgent intervention, such that these minors are received and protected. Such measures, however, will not suffice, where they are not accompanied by information policies concerning the dangers of such a journey and, above all, which foster development in their Countries of origin. Finally, to face this challenge, it is necessary to draw the attention of the entire International Community in order that new forms of legal and safe migration be adopted.
Francis calls the response of those who feel no obligation to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters for what it is: racist attitudes and xenophobia. We need to move away from the fear, the indifference, the zeal to protect for ourselves what we have, rather than be willing to share what we have been given, and the tendency to ostracize those who are different from us. We need to move towards a culture of what John Paul II called “Solidarity”—the realization that God’s plan for the human family is a vulnerable and trusting interdependency. In the long term we need to eliminate the need for people to flee their homes in order to be safe from gangs or to achieve an economic sufficiency, but while we heal the wound we need the Band-Aid as well. The immediate needs of the people at our borders for safety, for food and shelter, and above all for dignity and respect must be met. I am not extolling Francis’ admonition on the matter of refugees because it is Francis’ but because it is consistent with the Scriptures and reflections a course of action based on moral principles. It is not simply the Catholic response, but reflects an evangelical Catholic response. Those who opt otherwise are no more authentic in their Catholic faith than are those who claim that they can be both truly Catholic and favor abortion, or the death penalty, or any undermining the culture of life.