Thursday, October 16, 2008

Let Your Hospitality and Good Works Abound


Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio was the keynote speaker at the Missouri Catholic Conference Annual Assembly held Oct. 4 in the State Capitol. Kevin Kelley wrote about it in The Catholic Key.

The full text of his speech tracing the history of the Christian imperative to welcome the stranger and its implication today was too long to print in The Key or post on the blog, but it is now available on google sites.

Excerpt:

Julian came to be known for all time as “Julian the Apostate.” He got that notorious label because, although he had been baptized and raised a Christian, he abandoned his faith immediately upon becoming emperor. Julian then used his “bully pulpit” as emperor to scorn the Church and Christianity and to promote devotion to the pagan gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome—Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, and the rest.

Julian called the Christians “Galileans.” It was a kind of ethnic and class slur. And he wrote a big book against the Church. He said his aim was to strip that “new-fangled Galilean god” of “the divinity falsely ascribed to him” (Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 177).

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.” (Macmullen and Lane, Paganism and Christianity, 100–425 C.E.: A Sourcebook, 271–272).

You see he’s embarrassed. Ashamed. The Christians are so generous that they’re helping the poor Romans and that exposes how the Romans themselves don’t take care of their poor.

My friends, my point in this little history lesson is this: From the beginning there was something very different about Christians. Something even their enemies, like Julian, couldn’t help but notice—and admire, no matter how reluctantly.