The Church, as is her custom, does not offer us a program for harboring the harborless, any more than it writes us a recipe book to buttress her command to feed the hungry. It’s pretty much up to us how we are to live out the ideal. So, for instance, some people start — and many people support — homeless shelters, shelters for runaways and shelters for battered women and drug addicts, etc. Others (with more courage than most of us, including me) take homeless people into their homes. This is radical charity. It is also quite dangerous, as a woman I know discovered when her grateful guests fled the premises with her wallet and embarked on a campaign of identity theft.
This brings us to a point many well-meaning people discover in painful ways: Just because somebody is a victim doesn’t mean they can’t be bad too. Hitler, after all, was homeless once. It’s easy, in the flush of excitement over conversion, to leap into a Franciscan zeal for the homeless, only to discover that the homeless guy you want to help is homeless not because he’s one of the wretched of the earth whom fate has dealt a bad hand, but because he’s a violent, unstable person who bites the hand that feeds him.
Sometimes, the bum suffers, not from bum luck, but from sitting on his sinful bum. Sometimes, it really is better for professionals to handle things than to assume that your sanctity will melt the heart of the guy who, if you but knew it, is wanted in three states.
Yet, all that said, we are still commanded to harbor the harborless. And there are ways to do it both with personal involvement and via financial support — without compromising our own safety and well-being.
For instance, in the 1980s, a small nondenominational church in Seattle started sponsoring refugees. I remember it well because it was my church. Our pastor arranged with a relief agency to help a Vietnamese family who had walked through Pol Pot’s Killing Fields in Cambodia and seen corpses stacked like cord wood. We also sponsored families from communist Romania and Poland.
That’s not just an evangelical thing. Catholics can do it too, especially Catholic parishes that pool their considerable resources.
Of course, in keeping with G.K. Chesterton’s famous remark that Catholics agree about everything and only disagree about everything else, it’s worth noting that the question of just how to harbor the harborless has no one-size-fits-all approach.
The American episcopacy (and many priests and lay Catholics) are all over the map concerning how the Church should respond to illegal immigrants. Some of the confusion is due to the fact that the question of how the Church should respond is not the same as the question of how Caesar should respond.
A priest in Los Angeles is not bound by the question of whether the human being at his door is legal. He is bound by the fact that the human being at his door is Jesus Christ.
At the same time, foolish things have been said to the effect that America is like Nazi Germany for so much as having an immigration policy. This is silly. Every state needs a way of screening out dangers to the common good. So trying to create a system of legal immigration that works is just common sense. Laws should be respected.
No nation on earth has been as welcoming of the stranger as the United States has — a testimony to the penetration of this particular corporal work of mercy into the American psyche. How this particular struggle to live out this corporal work of mercy will play out, I do not know.
But if we follow our historical pattern, we can hope that the stranger from the south will find a welcome as did the stranger from Ireland, elsewhere in Europe and Asia.
An excellent piece, perhaps answering some of the great questions raised in the comments of this earlier post.
Do read the whole thing and consider reading Mark's other contributions to the series (links found at the bottom of the post).
I believe it'd be time well spent.