Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Works of Mercy: Harboring the Harborless

Happy Jubilee Year of Mercy! We are officially launched now, and so let’s keep going through the corporal works of mercy, as I have been doing on Wednesdays for some weeks now.

The next work of mercy is one that has a particular resonance in our world today: to harbor the harborless. As in, refugees. As in, pick up any newspaper, any day, and you will find a story about this. While all of the works of mercy are current and relevant these days, few of them are quite this relevant, quite this much the topic of the day.

I have only written a little bit on this topic on the blog so far, mostly because I’m a cautious fellow and don’t like the rush to judgment that is the norm of our post-modern life. But I did promise to come back to the topic eventually, and so here we are.

I think we have to be generous in welcoming these poor people into Canada and indeed wherever we can. I don’t know if we realize, always, what a rich country we have, how much an ordinary Canadian of no particular wealth has in comparison to the large majority of the world. Wealth is given to us to be used for love’s sake, and this is a great and beautiful good. Wealth clung to at the expense of love turns into a ball and chain that drags us down to hell, frankly.

No, there needs to be a massive effort made to resettle these people, as much as we can, as quickly as we can. Children are cold and hungry here, folks. People are living like animals – we have to act, and act fast. Ah, but I hear people's objections already...

Yes, yes, meanwhile ISIS needs to be dealt with. I am not a pacifist, and it is clear that a group like this needs to be met with military force and destroyed. It is fine to talk of dialogue and negotiation, but they don’t seem interested in that course of action, and in the meantime are slaughtering their own people wholesale and exporting their radical version of Islam everywhere.

Yes, yes, a few terrorists may slip into our country along with the refugees. So… what? We let a bunch of people starve and freeze to death because it is just possible that among the millions of them are a handful of bad guys? That’s a moral choice you are ready to live with? Really?

Yes, yes, it would be better if we could make things in Syria and Iraq such that they could simply return to their homes and resume their lives in peace. Yes, indeed – obviously that is the ideal. That’s not going to happen quickly, though, and in the meantime there is a humanitarian crisis happening. Sometimes the ideal solution is not attainable, and in the meantime we need to save people’s lives. It would be ideal if someone’s house didn’t burn down, but if the place is up in flames, perhaps we need to pull them out of the wreckage, and then talk about rebuilding and resettling.

But, but… they’re Muslims! And…? So…? I am not aware of any Christian starting point in theology or spirituality that terminates in our only extending mercy and love to those of our own faith. Those who are concerned about the risk of extremism and radicalization among that community should consider that allowing a bunch of women and children to starve to death is more likely to push people into extreme views, and that extending warm Christian hospitality is likely to foster the spread of a more moderate and peaceful version of Islam. 

Unless you are proposing an all out war of religion where we decide to kill them all (and if you are, I have nothing particularly to say to you except ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’!), then we have to build bridges of love and understanding with the Islamic world, and caring for their poorest and most desperate members seems like a good way to do that.

We have a responsibility to our own people, not to a bunch of foreigners! Again, this is a position that has no grounding in any kind of Christian theology. Yes, there is an  order of charity, and our immediate neighbors rank ahead of our more distant ones, but my point above about our relative wealth and comfort in Canada is relevant here – we are doing well enough that we don’t have to choose between caring for our own poor and caring for these poor people.

And finally, yes, yes… I know it is a complicated situation. Yes, indeed. So… we do nothing? Why don’t we do what we can, with the complexities and inherent messiness and imperfections that entails? We can use the complexity of a thing as a pretext for inaction, and if we do so, we have to answer to God for that.

Anyhow, that’s enough from me on this subject. There are many good groups doing immediate on the ground work in this area, and it behooves us to support them with our money. And it behooves us to work in our parishes and our communities to see about sponsoring and supporting families when they arrive.

It is the Year of Mercy, and this is a primary and basic work of mercy confronting all men and women of good will. Let us not neglect it, lest God refuse us the harbor our souls seek, since we refused Him in His need for harbor (cf Mt 25).

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