All posts tagged: hospitable imagination

The Cure for a Throwaway Culture

Fr. Julián Carrón, leader of the Communion and Liberation movement, has a familiar refrain when asked about the Holy Father, “If you don’t think Pope Francis is the cure, you don’t grasp the disease.” The disease, already well-advanced in the developed West, is the “throwaway culture.” Francis describes those of us who have it as slaves to mentality “in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable. This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive.” The inherent, irreducible value of inefficient human beings who are a net burden is ignored or even actively rejected by a throwaway culture which finds such value inconvenient. Francis obviously has direct killing as a primary concern here, but is also worried about the structural violence present in how we order ourselves. Francis insists that a commandment like Thou Shalt Not Kill applies very clearly to our “economy of exclusion.” In the Pope’s view, this economy “kills.” And the kind of exclusion with which Francis …

Human Dignity Was a Rarity Before Christianity

In my theological writings over the past twenty years, I have often (some might say tediously often) returned to two episodes from the gospels that never quite lose their power to startle me: that of Peter weeping in the early light of dawn over the realization that, contrary to his fervent protestations of the night just past, he has denied Christ before the world; and that of Christ’s confrontation with Pilate (especially as recounted in John’s gospel). After so much time, one might reasonably expect that the fascination would wane, or at least cease to have the quality of surprise. But nothing of the sort. Recently, as I was preparing my own translation of the New Testament for Yale University Press, I found myself drawn to both episodes yet again, with the same old familiar feeling that they contain something at once momentous and uncanny, something somehow out of place and out of time. Something is happening in these passages, homely as they may seem, that never happened before. We speak today very easily, if …

Ancient Israel’s Law of Defending the Weak

The command to remember is a common refrain in Deuteronomy (eg. Dt 5:15; 7:18 et al.).[1] What the Law requires of Israel is in some sense an extension of what God himself has done for her. The memory of that favor underscores Israel’s responsibility to do the same. This is nowhere more true, perhaps, than in the care for the vulnerable. “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge; but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this” (Dt 24:17-18). Israel is to identify with the weak and to extend what she herself has received. “You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (cf. Ex 22:21; 23:9; Lev 19:33-34; Dt 10:19; 23:7). This reception and extension of mercy is expressed beautifully in the life of Ruth, a Moabite and the widow …

Stewards Not Ravagers

If we consider the etymological roots of the word “ecology,” we can see in its Greek root the word oikos (meaning “household”). The word “ecology” itself thus already indicates to us a deep sense of radical relationality between human beings and the world, human beings, and one another. This means that care for the earth and care for persons (particularly the most fragile among us) are intimately bound, that environmental ecology and human ecology stand or fall together. We are one household, marked by an intricate web of relationships. When these relationships are conceived competitively rather than cooperatively, when nature or human beings are treated merely as instruments, both human dignity and the dignity of the created order are compromised. As Archbishop Wilton Gregory noted in a 2016 address, the divinely ordained task for human beings to be stewards of creation must begin with “the lofty dignity of the human person.” He noted that the created order was a good in itself because the act of creation bestowed “upon all of nature [is] an undeniable …

Human Dignity Can’t Be Separated from Ecological Awareness

In the Mojave Desert, palm trees flank Las Vegas’ Guardian Angel Cathedral, a smallish A-frame church that is almost all gray-brown segmented roof, reminiscent of a common backyard armor-plated roly-poly sow bug (actually an isopod terrestrial crustacean of the Armadillidiidae family) found in the dark moist environment underneath rocks. The cathedral is almost as inconspicuous, just a block east of The Strip of Las Vegas Boulevard and low lying compared to its 25 story casino-hotel neighbor across the street to the south. Some people chuckle in surprise to learn that Las Vegas is a diocese with a cathedral, somehow thinking Sin City’s constitutional vices of gambling, prostitution, strip clubs, and easy marriage and divorce are no place for the holiness of the Church. But where else should the Gospel be proclaimed? It is not for the righteous but for sinners. The light of Christ is to shine in the darkened interior of hearts and casinos in the sun-soaked desert. It is to open the eyes of these citizens to a true vision of God, the …

A God Passionately Interested in Human Beings

Deus Caritas Est is in my opinion one of the greatest encyclicals ever written. It is both foundational and regulative for all of Benedict XVI’s encyclicals. This is no less true of Caritas in Veritate than it is of Spe Salvi.* If one had to summarize Deus Caritas Est, one would have to say at least the following. The God of Christian faith is the God witnessed to by Scripture and definitively disclosed in the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. This is God as the God of Love. This is the God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies, and who mysteriously desires fellowship with us. In line with the Gospel of John, in terms of Love this is God of pure agape, that is, the God of purely disinterested love. God does not make a profit in and through his relations to the world and human being. Certainly, God does not become more God in and through relations that he establishes with the world and with us as the Idealists would imagine. At the …

The Hospitality of Adoption

“I hope that you’ll have one of your own one day.” Anyone who has adopted a child has heard this statement more than once. As an adopting parent of two children, I’ve learned to grit my teeth and smile, offering this gentle retort, “Well, I happen to see my children as my own. But thank you.” The simmering anger that normally accompanied my response has dissipated over the years. I’ve replaced the rage with a reasonable question: why is my well-intentioned questioner so concerned about having a child who is biologically one’s own? Biological parenthood, of course, is a good. The human race does need to be propagated. The wonder of sexual union (in addition to it often being fun) is the possibility of a new life coming into existence. From the mutual affection of man and woman, from self-gift, a child may be born. The child takes on characteristics from the mother and father, reflecting back to husband and wife the gift of their union. From the result of the love of two, a third …

Welcoming the Child: Foundations of the Hospitable Imagination

Bearing and bringing life into the world is the primordial act of hospitality, the universal experience of co-creating with God and welcoming the stranger, essentially the “first” work of mercy. Many will argue the political nuances of life issues and prioritizing who deserves the loudest voice in a world clamoring for one’s conscience and one’s action. But when we draw a collective breath and the dust settles, we must acknowledge the most basic reality of human life. We have all come into this world as tiny, vulnerable, powerless children dependent on our mother’s bodily hospitality and a warm and nourishing landing spot after birth. All of us. Without exception.   I definitely didn’t “get” this until I was pregnant with my first child and went through the miraculous, traumatic, transformative experience of pregnancy and birth. A lot of things came into focus after that pivotal moment in my life as a woman. I understood for the first time what it meant to literally give your life for another (though I did not actually die). I …

School as Personalist Community

Education is power. I’ve heard this many times, and I don’t disagree. However, our educational system is in crisis. Our diocesan schools are in crisis, and the solutions coming from the top don’t really seem to be helping. Parish schools continue to close. Test scores don’t actually measure the health of a school or the quality of the learning taking place there. More parents are seeking other options, choosing to homeschool or find alternative models. There is less and less faith in institutional schools, and as families pull out, the sense of community in these institutions falters. As a parent, I totally get it. I too find it difficult to trust the education of my children to a large scale operation that often seems bureaucratic and distant. I like to think outside the box, something many “old-school” schools aren’t comfortable with. I would like to offer, however, that the solution is perhaps simpler than a complete overhaul of the system. I would like to offer that a school can become a place of joyful learning …

St. Francis of Assisi: Icon of the Hospitable Imagination

In the First Life of Saint Francis, Thomas of Celano (c. 1185–1265), relates a detail about the seraphic saint that could easily pass by a reader’s attention as simply a charming embellishment adorning the life of St. Francis. The saint of Assisi was so transformed by the burning fire of God’s love that he even saw the dignity of worms: “Even for worms he [Francis] had a warm love,” writes Celano, “since he had read this text about the Savior: I am a worm and not a man. That is why he used to pick them up from the road and put them in a safe place so that they would not be crushed by the footsteps of passersby.”[1] We live in a culture obsessed with individualism, efficiency, consumerism, and power. It is a culture which effectively erodes what it means to be human, a culture in which statements about the uselessness and stupidity of human dignity can go unchecked and unchallenged. It is a culture in which political parties and market analytics decide whose …