Fr. Martin, Compassion, and Immigration

The world is full of violence wielded by revolutionaries struggling to overcome unjust structures of oppression in order to introduce a new world order and by conservatives upholding traditional values against forces of chaos and destruction. Wars, revolutions, purges, assassinations, and all sorts of deceit result from such conflicts. Additionally, in every society occur “small acts” of violence that rob, rape, maim, and kill others, acts that traumatize both the persons directly attacked and those who are attached to them. Aggressive language can also terrorize and demean spouses, children, ethnic groups, classes, and other nations, harbingers of further violence, signs that the cup of violence will soon spill over. Violence often hurts and displaces people too weak or unwilling to resist it. In the best scenarios they try to escape with their families to whatever regions or nations that will accept them. Like the barbarian invasions of the first Christian millennium, in which Asiatic nomads, like the Huns and Khazars, uprooted one tribe after another, driving them westward until the Germans and Slavs crashed into the Roman and Byzantine Empires and broke them down, modern migrations occur for reasons economic, religious, national, or tribal, sometimes even for pride of dominance. Peoples expelled from ancestral homelands seek shelter elsewhere. In Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, Latin America, and Europe, vast numbers are on the move or in refugee camps. The United States suffers a migrant problem as hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans seek to enter, if not the land of dreams, at least the place where nightmares are less common. Unfortunately the issue of immigration has become a political hot potato as politicians stream to border towns, accompanied by media crews, to make loud statement of principles and berate their opponents for imprisoning poor migrants in concentration camps. Then they troop back to Washington with their media retinues to stir the embers of another hot issue as their opponents, battened down in the nation’s capital, accuse the protestors of exaggeration, myopia, and political posturing.

With the nation so divided politically, the Church certainly can offer some wisdom from her long history. Besides, she preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Love incarnate who calls all to follow Him for their eternal salvation. Certainly the clerical-abuse scandals and the bishops’ dithering responses have diminished their moral authority in the eyes of the nation. Nonetheless, they should speak out and make their voice heard since a sane middle-ground should be offered without passion and prejudice even on such an issue as immigration when pictures of children separated from parents and placed in retention centers easily rouse emotions, whether sympathy for the children or anger at the media’s manipulation of images. Certainly the issue, which arouses deep feelings on both sides, is not a black-and-white matter. The Church can and should play a mediating role in society for the sake of the migrants and society itself. Even if she is not heard at the present time, her principled position may be remembered when the waves of passion have subsided. Then people seeking shelter in a storm may again appreciate the wisdom contained in her supernatural tradition.

Unfortunately, some minor churchmen have run to extreme positions on the migration issue. The Rev. James Martin, for one, has recently entered the political fray in the name of religion. Having won a name for urging the Catholic Church to show compassion to people with homosexual inclinations, Fr. Martin has recently proposed on a YouTube video promoted by America Magazine that migrants and refugees be welcomed hospitably into the United States.1 Paradoxically, he is like many post-Vatican II liberal moralists who emphasize the difficulties of imposing universal norms of behavior in sexual matters, yet exhibit little hesitancy in prescribing absolute and — to my thinking — simplistic solutions to the much more complicated, international problem of migrants. Compassion and soothing hurt feelings seems to be Fr. Martin’s principal norm in matters of sexuality, but when it comes to immigration policy he cites Scripture in proposing divine commands. The hurt feelings of those disagreeing with him are not addressed, much less are their reasons mentioned. Admittedly he was limited to a video. But all the more caution should be exercised lest religion seem to bless one-sided, extreme positions. Without doubt, preaching a religion of love, the Church may have an obligation to speak out on both issues. But, however much they affect each other, love and compassion are different realities. That can be shown in regard to sexual love and immigration questions.

Sexual Love

Marriage is, as St. John Paul II recognized, the primordial sacrament of creation, not only the fulcrum of society and its propagation but also the locus where sexual activity finds its proper expression in mutual love.2 Hence for the protection of love’s meaning the Church has a particular responsibility to uphold norms of sexual morality. Indeed, she has a direct command from our Lord forbidding divorce and remarriage (Mk 10:9–12). That command implicitly excludes fornication and all extra-matrimonial sexual copulations. For marriage is joined not by a justice’s pronouncement in a civil ceremony but by the shared will of the couple to love each other in conjugal relations. In the order of creation, the freely willed copulation of male and female consummates the bond of marriage. The Church long recognized as valid, even if illicit, clandestine marriages in which the marital bond was pledged freely by both parties in view of consummating a marital act (cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Suppl. q. 45, a. 5; q. 46, a. 2; q. 48, a. 1). But as society became more mobile, lest strife arise among families or a journeyman apprentice or anyone else pledge and consummate “love” to young woman before he decamp to the next town, denying his words and leaving the woman to hold the baby, the Church added some restrictions on the natural right to marriage in order to protect the individuals and the institution itself. For a marriage between Catholics to be recognized before God as valid, the Council of Trent insisted that the projected marriage be announced publicly beforehand and that it be witnessed by the parish priest or an ordained minister with the pastor’s or the ordinary’s permission, and by two or three other witnesses (DS 1814–16).3

From Jesus’s understanding of marriage, fornication clearly appears as the misuse of an expression of love to obtain pleasure or attain some lesser end. Love demands a pledge of self to the other without restrictions. Fornication also intends to frustrate marital love’s inherent teleology to expand beyond the couple into children because it does not provide for children’s proper education. Marriage was primarily established by God as creation’s natural sacrament to procure not mankind’s happiness, as many today are tempted to think, but holiness. Happiness may follow holiness when spouses learn to live for each other and their children, but such happiness results only through sacrifice and effort. Living with a person of the other sex is not always easy since men and women feel, perceive, and think differently and so cherish different expectations in marriage. Surely when a child screams for a parent’s nurturing at 3:00 A.M. no one considers sleeplessness happiness. Yet, paradoxically, only when we humans suffer for others do love’s roots penetrate our souls’ depths.4 Then the joy of loving and being loved can flourish in fertile ground. When I used to prepare couples for marriage, at the end of the sessions I would say, “Remember, no one gets to heaven without carrying a cross, and you just chose yours for life.” The couple would smile embarrassedly, as if not wanting to contradict Father, but two or three years later they would admit the truth of the statement. Marriage works only when husband and wife work at it, but when it works, joy flourishes. The Church would be negligent if she were not to proclaim the requirements of God’s love to the world.

Gay sex has recently emerged from the closet to claim for itself the public recognition of marriage. Thereby it contradicts a long Christian tradition rejecting it as sinful. Not only is sexual activity outside of marriage proscribed implicitly by Jesus’s view of marriage, but also St. Paul repeatedly made the prohibition of homosexual acts explicit, considering them the result of dishonorable passions enslaving their practitioners and depriving them of entrance into God kingdom (Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 6:9–10; 1 Tim 1:10). Yet it is legitimate to distinguish the person from the inclination.5 Made for union with God, no human being can wholly identify himself or herself with a sexual drive. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357–59, on the one hand, considers the homosexual act “a grave depravity . . . intrinsically disordered,” yet, on the other, insists that persons suffering this “objectively disordered inclination” be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and be subjected to no “sign of unjust discrimination.” For God calls them to fulfill His will in chastity so that through “self-mastery” they might gain “inner freedom” and thereby, assisted by “disinterested friendship, prayer, and sacramental grace they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” All human beings are called to overcome sin’s ravages in their lives, disorders bred into them by a selfish encompassing society, whether their basic temptations are in terms of sexual desire, lust for power, greed, anger, or fear. There is no salvation unless wounded people accept the cross and with free resolve follow Jesus. Life is a struggle against selfishness and pride for generosity, humility, and love. James Martin has sought to initiate a dialogue between the Church and persons with a homosexual inclinations, who, he finds, are alienated by the Church’s description of their inclinations as depraved and disordered. Instead he proposes that the Church employ a more compassionate strategy in reaching out to such people so that they will feel at home in the Church. This means apparently they should not be confronted with negative prescriptions condemning homosexual behavior. Never does Fr. Martin mention in his Building a Bridge that homosexual activity is sinful.

A friend of mine recently asked why the Church is always stressing prohibitions of sexual behavior instead of emphasizing more positive virtues and a wider view of social morality. Actually, the Church does have a strong tradition of social morality and has fought for it so well that many of its prescriptions are taken for granted today, e.g., the right of working people to join labor unions, a living family wage, eradication of racial or ethnic discrimination in the workplace, not to mention conditions of a just war, and regulations concerning the use of violence in achieving good ends. She also supports a strong pro-life agenda, for which the secular media attacks her. Unfortunately, the Church has to stress her sexual ethic because sexual restraint is precisely the point under attack by secular ideologies — the abortion battle came to the fore due to the breakdown in sexual mores — and the mass media emphasize the prohibitions rather than the positive values from which the prohibitions derive. A German proverb rightly notes, “The Yes to a great goal demands many Noes.” (Das Ja zu einem grossen Ziel verlangt viele Nein.) If marriage and family life are threatened by modern sexual licentiousness, the Church’s duty, her fidelity to Christ, entails calling a spade a spade. Certainly she can do a better job at presenting the Christian vision of married life with the joys that result from living authentic values. The post-Vatican II theological babble of pluralistic confusion has hobbled her witness, but her principles and rules have not changed. The nominalism embraced by clerks, the educated elite, may allow them to revel in their shrewdness, evading rules with subtle subterfuges, but the hierarchical Church, entrusted with authority, remains consistent with her tradition, knowing that universal rules reflect the structure of moral reality and are necessary for establishing ecclesial unity in love. Admittedly, men’s final judgment depends on God, who alone knows the human heart, but in the meantime men need His love to be mediated through moral commands and prohibitions.

Without impugning Fr. Martin’s good intentions in seeking the salvation of people troubled by homosexual inclinations, the Church’s mission is oriented to salvation. She must call everyone to conversion. Even when Jesus embraced sinners and accepted their hospitality, He knew that they were sick, in need of healing: “The sick, not the healthy, need a doctor. I have come to call sinners, not the just” (Mk 2:17). If she were to follow Fr. Martin’s recommendations, one wonders how long the Church must hold off informing such people of the Gospel’s prohibition of homosexual acts. Even more one fears lest silence be taken to imply consent. Young people especially will be exposed to great dangers in our sensualist society if they are deprived of the complete Gospel message, which is a message of freedom and self-mastery under grace.

While the group Courage encourages people with homosexual inclinations to support each other in living chaste lives, the organization Dignity, claiming to be Catholic, unfortunately does not insist on the need to avoid homosexual acts in order to receive the Eucharist. The Church was not founded to make people comfortable with themselves and society. Much less is she required to adapt herself to this world’s standards. St. Paul commands the opposite: “Do not be conformed to this world (aion: age), but be transformed for your mind’s renewal in order that you approve what is God’s will, good, acceptable, and perfect” (Rom 12:2). Anyone receiving the Eucharist unworthily “will be guilty of the Lord’s Body and Blood . . . and eats judgment to himself” (1 Cor 11:27–29). For her part, if the Church does not preach and live Christ’s liberating message of love to all human beings who are “by birth children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), she fails in her duty and will be judged by her Lord and Savior. Original sin affects all men profoundly and its effects are intensified by personal sins. For that reason, Christ’s message of love commences with a call to conversion: “The time has been fulfilled, God’s kingdom has come close. Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). Since Jesus is the content as well as the preacher of the Gospel (Mk 1:1.14), believing the Gospel entails following Him in “the way of the Lord” which leads to the cross and resurrection (Mk 1:3, 16–20). Doubtless Mark knew that “the way” was the Church’s first self-designation (Acts 9:2; 19, 23; 22:4). She still is the Lord’s way making known the demands of the cross in order that men attain with Jesus resurrected glory. Simply put, the Church is the place of the cross where Christians bear with each other in fulfilling Jesus’s demand of selfless love. Precisely because God is Love and His love entails self-sacrifice to the end (Jn 15:13; 1 Jn 3:16; 4:8.16), His life communicated in baptism commits all believers to “crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24; Col 2:11—14.23; Rom 6:6; 7:4-6).

While “flesh” in the New Testament signifies the aspect of man resisting the spirit of God — a resistance that is primarily spiritual (Rom 8:7; Gal 5:19–26) — Paul aptly chooses it not only because it recalls Old Testament usage describing what is inherently weak and mortal (Gen 6:3; Is 40:6–7), sometimes with the connotation of sinfulness (Jer 12:12; 45:5; Ezek 21:4, 9–10), but also because in man’s flesh his weaknesses, his strivings for self-fulfillment, self-exaltation, and self-self-justification are most apparent (Gal 5:19–14; Col 2:11, 18). Instead of boasting in God, sinful man boasts in the flesh (2 Cor 11:18). As E. Schweizer notes, “Flesh is for Paul everything human and earthly, which includes legal righteousness.”6 The flesh also represents man’s sinfulness as contrasted to God’s Spirit working in the human spirit (Rom 7:14–20; 8:4–17), and it certainly includes bodily passions. Paul urges his audience to “abolish the body of sin” and to “put to death by Spirit the deeds of the body” (Rom 6:6; 8:13). The list of fleshly sins includes fornication, sexual impurity, sensual debauchery, drunkenness, and carousing (Gal 5:19–21). Especially in our era of unleashed sensuality, the truth of the Gospel’s call to conversion should resound from the Church’s ministers. For such warning belongs to the essence of their vocation. Otherwise sinners will not be helped to recognize the grounds of their deep dissatisfaction and will remain in their guilt.7 However much Fr. Martin emphasizes compassion, it should be clear that compassion cannot consist in approving sinful behavior. That would only confirm people in their misery and not let them recognize that the homosexual lifestyle is the very reason for their distress. True compassion involves suffering with Christ, crucifying one’s own flesh and bearing recriminations and scorn from those who do not want now to be converted in the prayerful hope that one’s witness to the truth will ultimately be accepted by one’s enemies. Christian compassion entails suffering with Jesus crucified for the sake of converting others from sin for their salvation (Col 1:24).8


The question of immigration and its solution obviously involves compassion since people, the migrants and refugees, are often suffering, having been dispossessed of their homes and material conditions. While being willing to suffer themselves, Christians have an obligation to share in and mitigate the sufferings of others until those others are strengthened to bear their sufferings and help others in turn. So they follow in the footsteps of Jesus who went before them, leaving them an example of love. Nonetheless, the conditions of migrants and those called to succor them are not so easily judged as is a single homosexual act. There are conditions from both sides involved in helping immigrants. But addressing first the argument of Fr. Martin can illuminate more clearly the problem’s complexity.

Unfortunately, Fr. Martin’s position is rather simplistic. Neither a biblical scholar nor a theologian, as a journalist he uses whatever arguments are at hand to advance his position, and the press of politics scarcely encourages profound thought on issues of the moment. At first hearing, Fr. Martin seems to have an argument. The Bible (RSV) does urge Jews to love the resident alien or sojourner: “[The Lord] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Dt 10:18–19). Negatively expressed, Ex 23:9 reads: “You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Ancient texts can sometimes be difficult to understand, especially if they are composed in a different language. A brief comparison of several modern translations gives rise to a preliminary question about the identity of the person to be loved and not oppressed. Martin refers the Exodus quotation to “resident alien” and the Deuteronomic text to the “stranger.” Such are possible translations. Indeed the major English translations differ among themselves. In Exodus 23:9, RSV translates stranger, for which NRSV substitutes resident alien, while REB, NAB, and NJB prefer simply alien. For Deuteronomy 10:18–19, NRSV and NJB prefer stranger, RSV decides for sojourner, and REB and NAB settle on alien. Actually, one Hebrew word, ger, underlies all the attempts at translation. What the Hebrew intends is apparently not easily translated into modern English. Indeed, a closer examination of the word’s occurrence reveals that it does not designate the modern refugee, migrant, or stranger. In other parts of the Torah requirements are established for sojourners, as for natives Israelites:

You shall keep my statutes and ordinances and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. . . . For whoever shall do any of these abominations, the persons that do them shall be cut off from among their people. (Lev 18:26–29).

Similarly, Leviticus 24:16 and 22:

He who blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him; the sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. . . . You shall have one law for the sojourner and for the native: for I am the Lord your God.

The same penalty applies to the Israelite as to the ger if either sacrifices a child to Moloch (Lev 20:2). Moses even includes the ger in the covenant by which Yahweh established Israel as His people (Dt 29:10–15). He is bound to various prescriptions of the Law, e.g., to keep the Sabbath rest (Ex 20:10; Dt 5:14), to avoid eating blood (Lev 17:10–13), and to participate in major religious feasts, Weeks, Booths, and Day of Atonement (Dt 16:10–14; Lev 16:29–30).9 Any unwitting transgression of the covenant requires a sacrifice of atonement for the whole people, including the ger (Num 15:22–29), yet an arrogant sin by a native or ger requires that “he be cut off from among his people” (Num 16:30–31). Likewise, at Passover he is not to eat leavened bread lest “he be cut off from the congregation of Israel” (Ex 12:19). Nonetheless, the distinction remains: the ger is not allowed to consume the Paschal sacrifice unless he is circumcised (Ex 12:48). Clearly the ger is not simply someone fleeing persecution or seeking a better life in Israel. He is already included in Israel’s religious and social life. He could not be cut off from the people unless he somehow belonged to the people. He is likewise subject to respecting Israel’s religion: blasphemy results in death. Yet he is not fully a member of any tribe. D. Kelllerman describes the ger’s position thus: “The ger occupies an intermediate position between a native (‘ezrach) and a foreigner (nokhri). He lives among people who are not his blood relatives, and thus he lacks the protection and the privileges which usually come from blood relationship and place of birth.”10 H. Kuhn spells that role out in greater detail:

He stands under a patron or the tribe within which he resides. The protection of the patron guarantees the necessary legal security of tenure but also lays upon him an obligation of dependence and service. In distinction from the slave, however, he preserves personal freedom and can work his way up. Yet he has no independent property nor can he ever attain this. He is also exposed to the caprice of his patron.

Kuhn attributes the ger’s inferior position to religious discrimination: he lacks election by Yahweh, i.e., belonging to the chosen people. Even when special charitative provisions are made for the ger, e.g., sharing in tithe of the third year’s harvest, he is listed with the widow and the orphan, the most defenseless (Dt 26:12–13; also 16:11–14; 24:17–22; Ps 94:6; Jer 22:3; Zech 7:10). His lot is hard. With time, however, the ger is ever more accepted into greater fellowship with Israel, as we shall see.11

Origins of the Gerim

Who are the gerim (plural of ger) and what are their origins? Since the term occurs rather frequently, it must denote more than an occasional wanderer or displaced person. Gerim do not include the foreign mercenaries whom King David hired as his royal guard (2 Sam 8:18; 15:18–22; 20:7, 23) or the Syrian merchants who established bazaars in Samaria (1 Kgs 20:34). A good number of laws regulate relations of gerim with Israelites. In that way they are at least partially absorbed legally into Israel. Given the number of laws, J. Pedersen argues persuasively that gerim designates “a great class of fellow citizens who are not born Israelite, but attach themselves to the Israelitic community.” Generally poor, they occupy “an intermediate position between the free Israelitic burghers and the slaves.” They are day-laborers or paid workmen who are allowed to gather the remnants of crops in fields and vineyards (Lev 19:10; 23:22; Dt 24:10). Whence do they come? Most probably they are at first the native Canaanites who possessed the land before Israel arrived. Rather than being immigrants or refugees in the modern sense, they were the native inhabitants whom the new-comers, the armed Jewish migrants, overcame and subjugated.12 Kellermann notes that famine, war, bloodguilt, and individual distress also account for someone becoming a ger. Refugees from the Northern Kingdom, no longer possessing tribal land, might also be counted among the gerim (2 Chr 15:9–10).13

One sees how modern presuppositions are overturned. The conquering Israelites, aliens in the modern sense, did not treat the original inhabitants kindly, even though Abraham had dwelt there in peace as a ger (Gen. 17:7; Ex 6:4). Precisely because the land belonged to Yahweh who bestowed it upon them (Ex 6:8; Lev 25:23, 38), Jews could consider the previous inhabitants aliens. In fact, Israel repeatedly wiped out the original “residents” of the land of Israel, men, women, and children (Jos 6:17–21; 8:8, 24–29; 10:28–43; 11:10–23). All this is done by the will of Yahweh, who did not want His people to intermingle with other peoples (Jos 11:20; 23:5–13; 24:8–13).

Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land wither you go, lest it become a snare in the midst of you. You shall tear down their altars. . . Ex 34:11–17

Some indigenous tribes the Jews did not utterly drive out but reduced to forced labor (Jud 1:27–35). Such actions do not accord with Christian charity for the “resident alien.” Yet the Books of Joshua and Judges obviously employ hyperbole in describing the slaughter of the natives. Precisely because the Israelites repeatedly went whoring after the false fertility gods of the Canaanites, one must assume that enough of the native Canaanite population survived to teach the Jews their errant ways. The histories of the invasion and conquest were written well after the events, when the sacred authors recognized the Israelites’ frequent backslidings and portrayed a better day when their original heroes, Moses and Joshua, did not compromise the purity of Yahweh worship.14

Solomon’s Attitude to the Gerim

Even under the monarchy the position of the gerim did not improve much. David employed them as stonecutters (1 Chr 22:2) and when Solomon took a census and found 153,600 gerim, “seventy thousand of them he assigned to bear burdens, eighty thousand to quarry in the hill country, and three thousand six hundred as overseers to make the people work” (2 Chr 2:17–18). This does not quite accord with Fr. Martin’s idyllic presentation of Solomon’s regard for the foreigner. While the screen on the video refers to 1 Kgs 8:43, Fr. Martin offers his paraphrastic rendition of Solomon’s words:

Pay attention to the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land. And what are we to do? Solomon says, Do according to all that the foreigner calls you to. In other words, answer any needs which the migrant or refugee has.

When one compares the original text in its context with Fr. Martin’s exegesis, substantial discrepancies result. Here is the original:

When a foreigner [nokri], who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for thy name’s sake (for they shall hear of thy great name, and thy mighty hand, and of thy outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to thee; in order that all the people of the earth may know thy name and fear thee, as do thy people Israel, and that they may know that his house which I have built is called by thy name (1 Kgs 8:41–43; RSV).

The comparison shows that Fr. Martin not only confounds nokri, an occasional visitor, with ger, but also conflates his own thoughts with Solomon’s.15 Indeed he reads Solomon’s alleged words out of context, confusing the addressees of the king’s request. Solomon is not commanding or counseling Israelites how to act. He is making a prayer to Yahweh at the Temple’s dedication. He asks God to grant the foreigner’s prayer when it is offered in the Temple in order that God’s name be feared and glorified and that Solomon’s Temple be recognized as Yahweh’s dwelling place. Such recognition with visits from rich foreigners, like the fabled Queen of Sheba, would contribute also to Solomon’s glory and treasury (1 Kgs 10:1–10). Hardly is Solomon concerned with the poor refugees or gerim. Instead he enslaved all the descendants of the peoples left after the Israelite conquest (1 Kgs 9:20–21).16

A Polyvalent Word

Besides misquoting Solomon, Fr. Martin fails to take account of the change in the meaning of words as society changes. As various scholars have pointed out, the word ger, which originally meant a resident alien not fully incorporated in Israelite society, gradually was extended to refer to people becoming more and more integrated into that society. So gerim are allowed, even required, to perform certain religious observances. Mauch draws attention to “the popular conception that close connection exists between a land and its tutelary deity, a connection which demands that whoever settles in a land must serve the national deity.” That encourages assimilation. Some gerim apparently do all that Jews do but are not circumcised. Allowance is made also for the third generation of Edomite and Egyptian gerim: they “may enter the assembly of the Lord” (Dt 23:7–8). Pedersen notes that as some Jews lose their properties and suffer poverty, distinctions between them and the original gerim dissolve. Gerim can not only enter the assembly but also offer sacrifices just as Israelites do: “One law and one ordinance shall be for you and for the ger who sojourns with you” (Num 15:14–16).17 In Ezekiel’s vision of restored Israel, gerim, who have begotten children among the Jews, will have equal status with the native-born sons of Israel in the distribution and possession of the land (cf., Ez 47:21–23).18 Thus many of the Scriptural words concerning the gerim positively affirm their position in Israel. They are not refugees.

The complexities of source criticism do not always permit every verse to be attributed to a definite author. Yet differences in theological emphasis let certain tensions appear. For example, the Yahwehist author has the angel of the Lord seek out and address Sarai on earth (Gen 16:7–13), whereas the Elohist author, stressing God’s transcendence, has the angel address Sarah from heaven (cf., Gen 21:17–19). The Torah, while containing some very ancient laws, grows to accommodate new situations with new applications; later additions bring the Law “up-to-date.”19 For example, where Leviticus 23:42 specifies that every “native” (‘ezrach) shall dwell in booths for the feast of Booths, Deuteronomy 16:13–15 orders that the gerim also take part. Similarly, to eat the Passover, Exodus 12:48 demands the ger’s circumcision, while Numbers 9:14 does not.20 On the whole the Old Testament becomes ever more accepting of gerim. So the Deuteronomist, editing and composing his text in the seventh century, entreats fellow Jews to love gerim. Hospitality would encourage gerim to be circumcised and enter fully the people of Israel. The Book of Ruth, generally considered a post-exilic composition, exemplifies how an individual non-Jew can be accepted into Jewish society, graduating from foreigner status (nokri: Ruth 2:10–11) to receiving Boaz’s protection like a ger (2:15–16) to being recognized as a relative (3:9–13) and finally marrying him and bearing Obed, David’s grandfather (cf. Ruth 4:4:10, 13, 17). Efforts are made in the Law and by the prophets to treat gerim fairly, ever more like pure-blooded tribal Jews. Ultimately gerim is understood to indicate converts to Judaism. In the Septuagint translation gerim is regularly translated as Greek proselytos whence is derived the English “proselyte.” The prophet Zechariah joyfully looks forward to the day when the Philistines “shall be like a clan in Judah” (Zec 9:6–7). The proselyte is treated as an Israelite because he has entered into the full covenant with Yahweh.21

Supporting the movement to admit the gerim to full religious status was a growing tendency to monotheistic universalism. Already in Genesis 22:18, Yahweh promised Abraham that “by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves.” In the eight century the prophet Isaiah foresaw the day when all the nations would stream to Zion to learn of God’s law and receive His judgments of peace (2:2–4). In the next century, Micah (4:1–4) and Jeremiah (16:19) reecho Isaiah’s oracle on the nations ascending to Jerusalem. But only in exile did the implications of their monotheism break in upon the Jews irresistibly: if Yahweh is the one true God, He must be God of all the earth and is concerned even for non-Israelites. Consequently, Deutro-Isaiah proclaims that God’s servant is to be a light to the nations as he establishes justice on the earth (42:1–7). He also foresees God using Cyrus, the Persian, as His anointed (messiah) to bring His righteousness to the earth so that all nations from the earth’s ends will acknowledge the one saving God of Israel (45). Trito-Isaiah goes further: though one oracle promises Zion’s restoration when gerim will tend Israel’s flock and nekrim work the land, while Israelites are priests (Is 61:5–6), elsewhere the prophet reverses field. God is coming to unite the foreigner to His people so that His house will become a “house of prayer for all peoples” (Is 56:3–8), and He will choose from the nations priests and Levites so that “all flesh will come to worship before me” (Is 66:18–23). Jonah 3–4 likewise teaches God’s merciful concern for sinful heathens, and Zachariah heralds the day when all surviving nations will convert and “worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and keep the feast of Booths” (8:22–23; 14:16). Esther 8:17 recounts how many became Jews after Haman’s fall. Tobit, too, welcomes the coming day when the Gentiles will convert to the Lord in fear and praise (14:6–7). Daniel recounts how King Nebuchadnezzar worshiped the Jewish King of heaven (Dan 2:47; 3:28–29; 4:34–37). Jews willingly sought converts, especially in the Diaspora (Mt 23:15), where the full demands of circumcision were not always enforced, but many attended synagogue as “God-fearers.” By this time ger, having lost its sociological meaning, confers only a religious designation.22

As gerim are being fully incorporated into Israelite society, a contrary movement excluding all that is foreign gradually dominates Jewish thinking. It is a reaction against assimilation, a two-way street, under the monarchy. Solomon and Ahab introduced syncretism in Israel, constructing temples for the gods of foreign wives (1 Kgs 11:7–8; 16:31–33), and their evil ways are followed by Manasseh and Amon, doubtless under Assyrian pressure (2 Kings 21).23 In reaction, Asa’s reform rejects the assimilation introduced or permitted by earlier monarchs, and Hezekiah and Josiah support the Deuteronomic reform (2 Chr 15, 29–31, 34).24 Already in Deuteronomy 14:21 and 15:3, H. Ringgren sees the distinction between gerim, those “receptive of the religion of Yahweh,” and nokrim, foreigners who are not receptive. Nokrim are prohibited from eating the Passover (Ex 12:43). After the Babylonian Exile, which the Jews blame on their own sins, the returning exiles institute a strict reading of the Torah and reject all compromise with foreigners. Ezra 9–10 dissolves all mixed marriages, compelling Jews to leave their non-Jewish wives and children. Nehemiah approves that divorce and, further, encourages total separation from “the peoples of the land” (Neh 9:2; 10:28–31). The Law henceforth proscribes Ammonites and Moabites from ever entering the Lord’s assembly and separates all Israelites from those of mixed race. At the end Nehemiah boasts, “Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign (nokri)” (Neh 13:1–3, 23–30). From that period on it is truly said, “The attitude of the Bible to all that is foreign in religion is one of outright rejection.”25 In the Hellenistic period the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes’ sacrilege intensifies Jewish religious nationalism and rejection of foreigners. The nokrim are kept at a distance from Israel’s worship: they may enter the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple area, but a further intrusion into the Temple’s interior entails a lethal penalty (Josephus, BJ 6:2, 4).26 Indeed hostility to foreigners went so far as to refuse any offerings from them, an act of rejection that initiated the disastrous war against Rome (Josephus, BJ 2:17, 2).

Methodological Reflection on the Old Testament

Cherry-picking quotations from the Old Testament on any issue usually distorts the meaning of revelation. It runs the risk of oversimplifying complex issues and implying that God has simplistic answers. Such Catholic biblical fundamentalism must result in scorn heaped upon the Church from both sides and rejection of the Bible as a source of truth. Revelation cannot be sliced and diced to come up with ready-made answers to problems of the twenty-first century. It has to be understood as a whole, and it culminates in Jesus Christ. Everything else must be read in terms of Him. God chose a rude, crude people and, wishing to prepare them for His Son’s Incarnation, He revealed Himself gradually in a history constituted by divine omnipotence and human freedom. The Old Testament tells the story of that preparation. Naturally, the preparation takes time. Israel is always underway to Jesus, who comes as Savior. To appreciate Him, the Jews need the historical experience of sin and frustration as well as of God’s mercy and salvation. God at times hands them over to their own sinfulness, and at other times rouses up saviors and prophets like Moses, Joshua, the judges, etc., who speak to them in words that they can understand. Had any Old Testament prophet preached the full revelation of God’s self-sacrificial love, he would have been hopelessly misunderstood and scorned. This world’s wisdom is not ready to accept the wisdom of the cross. Indeed, if Old Testament revelation were perfect, Jesus would have been superfluous. Even Jesus’s disciples were incapable of grasping what He was about in His lifetime. He had to live love as only God can in order to convert their hearts and heads. He did so not with words alone but also with deeds, primarily His Passion and resurrection.

Before the Incarnation, God’s strategy was to encourage and reprehend His people. He enriched and saved them from adversaries but also rebuked and punished them for their sins. There was a rude justice in play, yet also an awareness of God’s gratuitous love for His people. Both aspects are found in the Old Testament. An excessive emphasis on law and justice might lead to self-justification or despair. Yet stressing overmuch God’s unmerited love might end in self-indulgence or presumption. Maintaining the sane balance, which is clearly recognized only within a Christian perspective, overtaxes the abilities of fallen mankind. Jewish messianic expectations provide an obvious example. Since God promised to save them in history, Jews look forward to a Davidic savior-figure. Jesus arrives on the scene as the expected Messiah. Yet He is not quite what His contemporaries hope for. It takes Jesus’s disciples half of Mark’s Gospel to recognize Him as the Christ. Immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus starts predicting the Son of Man’s sufferings. Peter rebukes Jesus, who has the story wrong (Mk 8:29–33). The Son of Man is to rule gloriously (Dan 7:13–14), and no Old Testament prophet foresaw a suffering Messiah. Hence Jesus turns and rebukes Peter as Satan and orders him to take his place as a disciple, behind his master, who is walking to Calvary and calling disciples to follow Him. Although no one should lose his life to gain the world (cosmos), disciples are called to give (destroy) their lives for Jesus and Gospel and so save themselves (Mk 8:34–38). Such a challenge implies Jesus’s divinity. Next, the Father’s voice from on high commands Peter, James, and John to listen to Jesus’s words as He explicitly reveals Jesus’s ultimate identity as God’s only Son (Mk 9:7). Thus occurs an historical analogy: Old Testament expectations are affirmed, denied (corrected), and transcended through a divine intervention. Thus the basis is laid for the Gentile centurion’s confession of Jesus as God’s Son in the moment of His death, when Old Testament revelation is completed with the tearing of the Temple’s veil (Mk 15:37–39).

The Old Testament manifests a double attitude to the gerim: hospitable acceptance and rejection. On the one hand, God created all men and loves them; on the other, true worship must be protected from human corruption and depravity through strict adherence to Mosaic legislation and prophetic revelation. The tension between the universality of God’s offer of salvation and the insistence on belonging to faithful Israel is heightened in the New Testament. On the one hand, God “wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”; on the other, “there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:4–5). The tension between the universality of God’s call and the particularity of Jesus, who is the narrow way and gate to the Father (Mt 7:13–14; Jn. 10:7; 14:6), not only grounds the Christian mission but also reflects the ontological structure of Jesus Himself, infinite God and finite man. Indeed it is the very structure of love which unites unlimited dedication to concrete commitment. Jesus is Love incarnate and wishes to draw all men into His love, but He insists that each and everyone one stop living selfishly and participate in His own self-sacrificial love.

The Difference between Then and Now

Perhaps the greatest difference between the Old Testament and modernity-post-modernity is the presupposition of the ancients that man is fundamentally part of a group defined by family, clan, nation, race, or religion. Whereas egalitarian individualism, sown in the Enlightenment, teaches all school children to acknowledge the equal rights of everyone in the world, the ancients did not live with such legal abstractions. A free-standing individual does not stand alone for long. Rugged individuals apart from the protection of the village either die, enslave themselves, join a band of brigands, or become mercenary soldiers. One does not just move independently from one place to another. That would betray bonds of kinship as well as expose wanderers to mortal danger. The lived reality of insertion into an encompassing community so underlies Israelite thought that scholars developed the notion of “corporate personality” to explain it. It means that the individual is a representative as well as a constitutive member of the group to which he belongs. What happens to one happens to all, and all are responsible. So God loves the Jews because of Abraham. So all suffer because of David’s sin or all profit because of the Suffering Servant’s sacrifice. Original sin is easily intelligible in such a mental universe: if my forefather bestowed life and other blessings upon me, I cannot cut myself off from him and his sins.27 We live together in weal and woe; otherwise we do not live.

Against such a background, which also colored the Hellenistic world of Jesus’s time, the class-shattering implications of conversion to Christ becomes obvious. Christ calls individuals out of their usual community structure to follow Him. He dares them to be free individuals. Simultaneously, however, He does not leave them orphans (Jn 14:18). Although believers are summoned to leave all behind to do God’s will in following Jesus, they enter thereby into a new family: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister, and mother” (Mk 3:35). But the sacrifice is rewarded: besides everlasting life the believer inherits already “in this age a hundredfold homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, and children” (Mk 10:30). In loving Jesus, who loved and called them first, disciples share His life of love, which He shares from the Father. He who calls God Abba teaches them to pray “Our Father.” “The Son” by nature gives believers “power to become children of God” by being “born of God” (Jn 1:12–13). Christians, reborn in baptism (Jn 3:3–6), share in Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom 6:3–5). Thereby they receive “adoptive sonship through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5; Gal 4:5). Jesus so communicates His love to them that they live selflessly as He lives (Jn 17:22–26). Something radically new entered the world at the Incarnation so as to recreate it by reconciling sinful men to God (2 Cor 5:14–21; Tit 3:5).

Obviously all men are not by nature, or birth, children of God. That dogma, preached by the Enlightenment, abstracted from historical mankind. Since it cannot not deal with sin, which is unintelligible, it ignores sin and spawns all sorts of egalitarian ideologies promising pie in the sky. With clearer vision, Christianity recognizes man’s fallen state, “by birth children of wrath” and “constituted sinners” (Rom 5:19), and liberates men by empowering them to a fundamental conversion, not by bureaucratically administered social programs. Without recognizing the difference between unredeemed and redeemed humanity, theologians misinterpret Scripture and reality.28 In their wake, Fr. Martin appeals to Matthew’s vision of the Son of Man and interprets as the norm of eschatological judgment the help offered or refused to strangers. When the Son of Man welcomes the blessed to their reward for having supplied His needs as hungry, thirst, naked, a stranger, imprisoned, they ask in surprise, “When?” He replies, “Amen, I say to you, insofar as you did it for one of the least of these my brothers, you did it for me” (Mt 25:40). What Fr. Martin overlooks is “my brothers.” Not all men are Jesus’s brothers. In Matthew’s Gospel, brother refers to members of the Church, as is clear in chapter 18, which legislates for common life in the Church: a sinning “brother” is to be corrected first privately, then before two or three witnesses, and finally by bringing the matter to the Church’s attention (Mt 18:15-17). Elsewhere the same ecclesial understanding of brother is presupposed (Mt 5:22–24, 47; 7:3–5; 12:50; 18:21, 35; 23:8; 28:10). In other words, those who do good to suffering members of the Church, Jesus’s brothers, will be rewarded.29

Of course Christian charity is not limited to fellow Christians. Christians are commanded to love their enemies (Mt 5:44; Rom 12:20–21). Christian charity and the faith that believes in God’s love are spread by deeds of love. All nations are called to convert and believe in Jesus (Mt 28:18–20; Lk. 24:46–48). Yet in urging all believers to love, St. Paul distinguishes: “Let us do good to all, especially to the members of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). Although love, rooted in God, has no bounds, its commitments are to those nearest to one. Unless love’s obligations are concretely lived — “bear one another’s burdens and fulfill Christ’s law” (Gal 6:3) — love is reduced to abstract philanthropic palaver. One has to love those whose life one shares in the communion with Christ and in natural kinship. Otherwise Christians do not bear witness to resurrected love so as to invite others to accept Christ’s love. This means living with all the inconveniences of natural and supernatural family life, where the members of one’s household are the most annoying precisely because they are the people one most cares about. They succeed so easily in getting under one’s skin because they are already there. The Protestant exegete G. Fee once commented “tongue in cheek,” but with obvious truth: “The reason Jesus said ‘no divorce’ is that he also said ‘love your enemies.’”30 As the prophet Micah (7:6) recognized, and Jesus repeated, “A man’s enemies are those of his own house” (Mt 10:36). Christians consequently have to manifest charity to fellow Christians so that the world may know that Jesus has been sent by the Father to unite all to Himself and the Father (Jn 17:20–26).

The Case of Immigrants

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a more balanced view of migrants than Fr. Martin. Help for immigrants is encouraged in various ways. First, in regard to personal charity, the Mass collection at the presider’s disposal should be shared with immigrants as well as orphans, widows, the sick, prisoners, and all in need (1351). Second, while governments are primarily responsible for the communal well-being of their citizens, in view of increasing human interdependence and in regard to the universal common good, the community of nations is urged to supply certain social needs as “alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families” (1911). Third, no unjust discrimination between natives and migrants should impede access to professions and employment (2433). Finally, one paragraph is dedicated principally to the situation of migrants:

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him. Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens (2241).

Clearly migrants possess no unlimited right to be accepted into any nation to which they wish to migrate. Prosperous nations are obliged to welcome migrants “to the extent that they are able”; moreover, public officials are responsible to the common good of their own nations before the obligation to accept migrants goes into force, and welcomed migrants are subject to “various juridical conditions,” otherwise unspecified. Obviously much flexibility is left to a host nation to create its own policy. What sort of policy might a Christian citizen or politician support?

While the requirements of Christian love can be varied according to circumstances, some norms should be recognized. First, love has to be concrete with concrete sacrifices, while laws are abstract, treating individuals only as instances of an abstract class. Laws almost invariably fall short of love, which human beings require to live humanly, and of which migrants are most in need since they are separated from familial relations which are necessary for their well-being and growth. Individuals are more than individuals; they are members of a society, indeed of various societies, and should be considered as such. Nonetheless, laws are necessary for a society that stretches beyond family and clan; a nation-state does not consist of interpersonal relations alone. Laws are even required for order within families, where justice as well as love must rule when children raise different demands for attention and preference.

If human beings are essentially relational, i.e., social animals, just as migrants should not be forcibly uprooted from their original society, likewise they should not be forced upon any society. Natives are rightly concerned with their cultural and religious values as well as with the financial stability of their families. Without respect for those values, tensions are bound to develop, since the new-comers may cherish traditions and values opposed to the community into which they are forcibly “integrated.” In fact they may never become integrated. After decades, the Turkish community in Berlin and the Algerian communities around Paris and Marseilles remain isolated and alienated from their neighbors. Both groups are harmed. That should not happen in the United States, where national unity is more fragile since it is based on ideological, not ethnic or religious, grounds. Ideologies are more susceptible to manipulation, as is seen in the appeal to identity politics. There has also been opposition to migrants insofar as they receive rights to public assistance benefits without contributing to the community’s well-being. They seem to be “sponging” on the common good. While this reluctance to share can be derided as selfishness, it must also be recognized that an underlying sense of justice is involved. Not everyone is being treated the same: those who have not contributed to community well-being are profiting from it. And it must be admitted that, given our fallen nature, some will take advantage of help offered by the government or private charity. Before immigrants are added to a community, the community should be prepared to accept them. Otherwise tensions, rejections, and hatreds may arise.

In previous centuries the vast American frontier allowed immigrants, especially Germans and Scandinavians, to be shuffled off to work the land in remote areas. Poorer groups like the Irish, who had no money to buy land and less skills in land management, generally settled in cities, where their labor was often exploited and poor health conditions led to high mortality rates.31 Even then, before social services were guaranteed to immigrants, Knownothingism and the KKK flourished. Good politicians and administrators must always deal with the limits of the possible. To affront a reluctant or opposed population with demands for conformity based on abstract notions of justice can easily result in a more fervent and destructive opposition. Immigrants implanted in an unwilling community may suffer violence, and community life become embittered and divided. Compromises must sometimes be made. For example, although Philip II of Spain opposed Indian slavery and exploitation, he allowed it due to circumstances. On the one hand, he needed American gold and silver to uphold his ancestral rule and the faith in Europe and, on the other, the conquistadores threatened a revolt, which he could not be sure of suppressing, a revolt which would exacerbate the condition of the Indians.32 On the whole the Spanish crown was relatively successful in mitigating exploitation of Latin America’s natives. They were better treated and survived better than the indigenous inhabitants of the United States due to the Catholic Spanish crown’s concern for justice.33

Degrees of Responsibility

Not all migrants are equal. United States immigration policy favors people possessing professional skills that are needed by the country. Their educational level contributes to the nation’s economy and facilitates their integration into American society. But if they are sufficiently talented, will they exhibit the same gratitude to their hosts which was shown by millions of poor immigrants in previous centuries? Inversely, their departure from their native lands, where they received their education, impoverishes those lands. Is it an injustice to accept such people? After Albania’s communist dictatorship collapsed, thousands of Albanians rushed to cross the Adriatic Sea into Italy. They were intercepted by the Italian Navy and returned to their homeland because, allegedly, they represented the most daring and resourceful elements in their country, possessing exactly those qualities most require to build a prosperous, democratic Albania.

Other distinctions can be recognized on moral grounds. In recent decades, translators and others assisting American soldiers have a greater claim on support than others who remained on the sidelines in war zones. They and their families are subject to reprisals when Americans leave. They should be the very first to be granted asylum. Many South Vietnamese rightly received accelerated access to immigration portals, and it seems just that similar opportunities should be extended to Afghanis and Iraqis who supported American presence in their native countries. Analogously, groups who suffered because of American blunders are entitled to special consideration. The precipitous withdrawal of soldiers from Iraq led to the decimation and expulsion of non-Muslim religious minorities when ISIS exponentially expanded its power and persecuted them. Similarly, the rash decision to topple the Gaddafi regime — despite promises made upon the abandonment of his atomic weapons program — resulted in the arming of Islamic groups that penetrated into sub-Saharan Africa and persecuted non-Muslims. The American government seemingly owes some reparation to the refugees suffering for American ineptitude. How that debt can be paid might involve helping them to return to their homes or welcoming them into the United States.

Another question concerns the degree of responsibility for the chaotic situation in Central America that rests upon American consumers of illegal drugs who financially enable drug cartels to terrorize the poor in their home countries. Admittedly, this situation is not directly attributable to official government policy. But in response the Trump administration seeks to construct walls to prevent cartel members and other illegal immigrants from entering the United States. A wall need not be a bad thing. “Good fences make good neighbors” is a popular proverb quoted by Robert Frost. Otherwise the United States might be tempted to become the policeman of the Americas, as it acted in Pershing’s Mexico Expedition (1916–17), a reaction to Pancho Villa’s invasion of New Mexico. No one wants that. Areas of responsibility should be mapped out and recognized. Good Catholics are duty-bound to assist the homeless in the United States as well as migrants, but there are limits to hospitality. A husband may have the obligation to prevent homeless people from invading and occupying his house where his spouse and children live. Similarly the United States government should be responsible for the well-being of its citizens as well as cognizant of a duty to help migrants. The former responsibility is paramount, even though the second should not be neglected. Benedict XVI cited his predecessors John Paul II, Paul VI, and John XXIII to uphold the right of emigration, i.e., “the possibility to leave one’s country and the possibility to enter another country to look for better conditions of life.” Simultaneously he affirmed the right of nations “to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person.” He acknowledge the “challenge” of combining welcome with the need of sustaining “a dignified and peaceful life” for both immigrants and natives.34

Immigration should be regulated since every nation should be concerned with the good of the migrants and of its own citizens. Otherwise, migrants and citizens suffer. Open borders would allow cartel members to set up or strengthen distribution networks, enslaving Americans to drug addiction. Moreover, no country should be inundated by waves of immigrants lest its social assistance structures be overwhelmed and citizens suffer from lack of service. Care should also be taken lest the labor market become unbalanced and native workers be deprived of just wages due to competition from migrants. Further, if laws are enacted to regulate immigration, they should be enforced. However much compassion one feels for illegal refugees fleeing cartel violence in their homelands, illegal entry renders them subject to blackmail or other types of exploitation because they cannot appeal to law enforcement without manifesting their illegal status. Young illegal immigrants without familial ties, yet searching for acceptance, are liable to join criminal gangs like MS-13, a condition which degrades them and harms American society. The illegal immigrant finds himself trapped in a cycle of violence.

The concern to preserve a nation’s cultural integrity is much less urgent in the United States than in other parts of the world. For many diverse nationalities have contributed to American culture, which is very adaptable melting pot. Inversely, German and Italian ghettos in the past have spoken their native languages yet over time mastered English and integrated themselves into mainstream America. Hispanics are already assimilating. Though a large influx of Hispanics would retard that movement, assimilation will most probably result over time if politicians do not beat the drum of identity politics. People need a sense of identity which they receive through family and national groups, but that sense should not be fortified by stressing victimization and increasing antagonism to other cultural groups. When many Somali migrants in Minnesota wind up joining al-Shabaab or ISIS to fight against American interests or even against American soldiers, a change in strategy for assimilation must be considered. Not that all Somali refugees should excluded, but better care for them must be undertaken.35

To assist assimilation of immigrants, the government would do well to make use of subsidiary groups. In the past, aid to immigrants was provided principally through private charity. The Catholic Church built up an immense system of charitable institutions, including hospitals, orphanages, hostels, food banks, social centers, etc.36 If the immigrants have family members already living in the country, they could be encouraged, if not required, to live with or close to their relatives. When Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled to Egypt they surely did not rely upon Egyptian-Roman government subsidies to survive, but found their way to the large Jewish community already established there. Certainly, religious institutions, ethnic organizations, and other charitable groups should be invited to help settle new immigrants since connections in smaller communities can more easily mediate the transition from refugee to settler. Here the Catholic principle of subsidiarity finds a ready application. One has to live with others, as one should. If charity can be mediated by neighborhood representatives rather than government bureaucrats, much is gained. First, integration into the neighborhood is facilitated since from the beginning migrants are meeting people from the neighborhood who show concern for them. These people act principally for altruistic motives, not to earn a salary. A sense of gratitude is encouraged on the part of migrants, and gratitude gives birth to reciprocity. Second, the local mediator of charity knows migrants’ situation. Thus “gaming the system” will be discouraged, and personal relationships are established which last longer than the mere provision of basic necessities. Third, whoever thinks that he has a right to public assistance is tempted to take for granted whatever assistance is offered. In such cases not only is the government’s program frustrated insofar as it creates a permanent clientele class, but also the migrant’s dignity is diminished insofar as he accomplishes nothing for himself or others.37 Such exploitation of the assistance of others also puts into question his own eternal salvation.

Doubtless much more can be written about the duties of society and individuals to migrants and of migrants to societies. These lines are only intended to indicate that the question of the treatment of migrants cannot be solved by a simplistic citation of isolated Scriptural verses. The question is complex and care must be had, lest simplistic viewpoints only augment current antagonisms without any understanding, much less compassion for an opposed viewpoint. Fr. Martin’s video unfortunately not only misinterprets Scripture but also curtails authentic Catholic social teaching.

  1. Cf. America Films, “What does the Bible say about welcoming refugees and migrants?,” at
  2. John Paul II, The Theology of the Body (Boston: Pauline Books, 1997), 63–66, 333–36, 525–27. Cf. also J. McDermott, SJ, “Science, Sexual Morality, and Church Teaching: Another Look at Humanae Vitae,” Irish Theological Quarterly 70 (2005), 237–61.
  3. H. Jedin, Die Geschichte des Konzils von Trient, vol. 3 (Freiburg: Herder, 1970), 141–61; ——, vo. 4/2, 96–121, 156–62; E. Schillebeeckx, OP, Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery, trans. N. Smith (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 2:363–67.
  4. Even the pagan Aristotle, Nic. Eth. 9:7 1168a 21–25, noted that “all men love more what is gained by suffering” and “the more painful the birth, the more mothers love their children.”
  5. J. Martin, SJ, Building a Bridge (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), 46–47, objects to the Catechism’s qualification of the homosexual inclination as “objectively disordered”: “Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel.” In rejecting precise moral terminology, he confuses not only the inclination with the organ, but also the person who loves with the membrum virile, an organ shared with beasts of the field and the one least subject to reason. Concupiscence penetrates the whole human being, and is usually most manifest in sexual desire. Further, it is an error to identify the human person, called to actualize love, with any particular organ or proclivity. Finally, every organ can be misused: e.g., my tongue can lie; my hand can wound in unjust anger. For a proper understanding of “objectively disordered” cf. L. Melina, “Homosexual Inclination as an ‘Objective Disorder’: Reflections of Theological Anthropology,” in Living the Truth in Love, eds. J. Smith and P. Check (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2015), 130–33. Cf. also P. Mankowski, SJ, “Pontifex Minimus,” First Things 275 (August-September, 2017), 45–46, for a critical review of Martin’s book.
  6. E. Schweizer, “sarx,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), vol. 7, ed. G. Friedrich, trans. G. Bromley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 133; a good summary of the meanings of “flesh” in the Bible can be found in J. Mc Kenzie, SJ, Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1965), 280–82.
  7. Many surveys indicate that homosexuals experience percentage-wise much more alcohol and drug addiction, physical, emotional, and mental abuse, psychological disorders, and attempted suicides than heterosexuals. Cf. T. Lock, “Same-Sex Attractions as a Symptom of a Broken Heart,” in Living the Truth in Love, 265–70. “Two studies have been completed that show that in male same-sex couples, 82% to 100% have been unfaithful.” It is also noteworthy how homosexual groups, after pleading for toleration, are not willing to extend toleration to others who disagree with their positions. Was there only one bakeshop in Colorado? Especially revealing are the reproaches and protests directed at the Catholic Church. Since the Church does not persecute them, why are they so angry? One reason may lie in guilt inherent in homosexual copulation. If the feeling of guilt derives from the withdrawal of affection — so parents potty train their children lest we all be perpetually pooping in our pants — and the sense of guilt is interiorized, such guilt seems inherent in sodomy. Whereas heterosexual couples enjoy the chase or foreplay, the act, and after the act, homosexuals enjoy the chase or foreplay, but cannot enjoy the act nor what follows the act since the act causes pain, seeking to insert an organ where is does not fit. After promising themselves affection, homosexuals find themselves frustrated. When this occurs repeatedly, dissatisfaction and guilt must grow. Insofar as homosexuals, “liberated” from bourgeois norms of morality, refuse to acknowledge any wrong in their actions, their excuse lies near at hand: guilt is imposed by social institutions. Since the Catholic Church continues to condemn sodomy as deviant, sinful behavior and she is the most imposing institution opposed to sodomy, homosexuals easily take their frustrations out against the Church. Recently one Democratic presidential candidate proposed denying tax-exempt status to any religion that refused to accept gay marriage. Toleration only goes so far.
  8. Cf. J. McDermott, SJ, “The Biblical Notion of Koinonia,” Biblische Zeitschrift 1 (1975), 64–77, 219–33, esp. 75–77. For a wider, positive understanding of Christian suffering cf. McDermott, The Bible on Human Suffering (Middlegreen: St. Paul, 1990).
  9. D. Kellerman, “gus, ger, geruth, meghurim,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT), vol. 2, rev. ed., ed. G. Botterweck and H. Ringgren (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 446, argues that when “Lev 23:42 explicitly invites the native in Israel to celebrate the Fest of Booths,” the ger is excluded therefrom, probably because he was not there when “{Yahweh} made the people of Israel dwell in booths when {He} brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev 23:43). Obviously these different laws In Leviticus and Deuteronomy were codified at different times.
  10. Kellerman, 443.
  11. H. Kuhn, “proselytos,” in TDNT 6:728–30. It should be noted, however, that the ger or even the foreigner (nokri) might avail himself of a host’s hospitality and protection: Pedersen, 2:356–57; T. Mauch, “Soujourner,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. G. Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), 4:397–98; G. Stählin, “zenos,” in TDNT 5 (1967), 17–20.
  12. J. Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, vol. 1-2, trans. A. Moller (London: Geoffrey Cumberlege, Oxford U., 1926), 39–42; also Mauch, 4:398
  13. Kellermann, 444–45.
  14. On the conquest of Israel cf. M. Noth, The History of Israel, 2nd ed., trans. P. Ackroyd (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), 68–84, and J. Bright, A History of Israel, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981), 129–43; the former favors a gradual, peaceful taking possession while the latter sees a military conquest at work. Neither scenario takes the biblical account literally.
  15. M. Cogan, 1 Kings (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 286: “The non-Israelite is here the nokri, the occasional visitor to Israel or one who dwells abroad, in contrast to the ‘alien’ (Heb ger) who resides with the Israelites in their land.”
  16. Kellermann, 445.
  17. Kellermann, 447, surmises that the laws regarding sacrifices in Leviticus 1–7 make no mention of gerim because they “to some extent come from an early period when the ger, if he was was an immigrant foreigner, was not allowed to participate in the cult.” The sacrificial laws in Numbers 15:14–31, which include the ger, are therefore considered later additions.
  18. Pedersen, 42.
  19. Cf. M. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988) for an exhaustive study of the development of Mosaic law.
  20. F. Horst, “Fremde im AT,” in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3rd ed., ed. K. Galling (Tübingen: Mohr, 1957), 2:1126.
  21. Stählin, 10–14; Horst, 1126. Kellermann, 448, identifies Ezek 47:22–23 as the first occurrence of ger understood as “the proselyte who has joined the Yahweh community in Babylon, and is regarded as having equal rights with the Israelite.”
  22. Pedersen, 2:592–606; Kuhn 730–36; Horst 1126.
  23. Mauch, 398; Bright, 311–13; Noth, 269.
  24. Bright, 239–40, 316–24; M. Noth, The History of Israel, 2nd ed., trans. P. Ackroyd (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), 272–78; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. P. Ackroyd (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965), 171–76; Pedersen, 2:577–88.
  25. Stählin, 7, 11; Pedersen, 2:606–10.
  26. H. Ringgren, “nkr, nekar; nokri,” in TDOT, vol. 9 (1998), 429.
  27. Cf. H. W. Robinson, “The Hebrew Conception of Corporate Personality,” Zeitschrift für alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, Beiheft 66 (1936), 49–62; republished as Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980); J. de Fraine, SJ, Adam and the Family of Man, trans. D. Raible (Staten Island: Alba House, 1965).
  28. J. Thiel, God, Evil, and Innocent Suffering (New York: Crossroad, 2002), 6–8, 106, 112, 117, 121–25, 148, 164, 168–69, reduces “original sin” to “irresistible imitation,” despite Trent’s clear statement that original sin is “transmitted to all by propagation, not by imitation” (DS 1512–13, 1523). Thiel not only rejects explicitly St. Paul’s inspired teaching (107–08, 112–13) but also introduces other heresies, e.g., children “lack moral culpability of any sort” (16; cp. DS 223, 231, 1512–13), faith “is never free from doubt” (139; cp. DS 3014, 3036), Jesus’s suffering “in and of itself is not redemptive” (161; cp. DS 1523, 1529–30), and “God is eternally disappointed with” what he calls “the prevailing, random consequence of an evolutionary process that the omnipotent God risked” (137; DS 727, 3003). “Jesus, of course, cannot be imitated in his divinity, if the success of imitation entailed the believer’s becoming divine” (164; DS 1000, 1546). Thiel’s denial of original sin derives doubtless from modern theology’s one-sided interpretation of the Thomistic paradoxical doctrine of the natural desire for the beatific vision. If all men have direct access to God, what role can sin play? Why is Jesus needed?
  29. In noting that the parable was once entitled “The Judgment of the Nations,” Fr. Martin seems to imply that nations are held to the same standards as individuals. But it should be noted that neither Jesus nor Matthew so name it. Individuals, not nations, are sent to heaven or hell. Moral standards apply analogously to nations and individuals.
  30. G. Fee, Gospel and Spirit (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991), 49.
  31. J. Dolan, The Immigrant Church: New York’s Irish and German Catholics 1815–1865 (Notre Dame: U. of Notre Dame, 1983), 38–39, on the high rate of mortality among New York Irish. Poverty also caused great suffering among them (32–43). Assistance was given principally by private charitable organizations, not the government.
  32. H. Kamen, Philip of Spain (New Haven: Yale U., 1997), 59–61, 137, 150–51, 227, 232–36.
  33. Cf. L. Hanke, The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America (1949; rpt. Dallas: Southern Methodist U., 2002), 1, characterizes that struggle as “one of the greatest attempts the world has seen to make Christian precepts prevail in the relations between peoples.” “It is to Spain’s everlasting credit that she allowed men to insist that all her actions in America be just, and that at times she listened to these voices” (178).
  34. Benedict XVI, “Message for the 97th World Day of Migrants and Refugees” (Sept. 27, 2010), referring to John XXIII, Mater et Magistra 30; Paul VI, Octogesima adveniens 17; John Paul II, “Message for World Day of Migration 2001,” no. 3.
  35. The Irish were not always easily assimilated. Irishmen barely off the boat were drafted into the US Army for the Mexican-American War; many deserted and fought against the US Army for Catholic Mexico in the St. Patrick’s Brigade; New York Irish trashed the city during the Draft riots of 1863; and at least three Fenian invasions of Canada were undertaken from U.S. soil during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Bishop John Hughes also threatened to make New York a second Moscow if the nativist movement attacked any Catholic school, church, or orphanage in New York. Nonetheless, Catholic education stressed patriotic loyalty to the United States (Dolan, 118). The German American Bund, with heavy Nazi overtones, was powerful during the 1930s, but World War II and the arrest of its leaders dampened enthusiasm.
  36. M. Scanlan, “Catholic Charitable and Social Work in the United States,” in Catholic Builders of the Nation, ed. C. McGuire (Boston: Continental, 1923), 2:230–33; J. O’Grady, Catholic Charities in the United States: History and Problems (Washington: NCCC, 1931); J. Lennon, “Welfare and Welfare Services: 2. Private,” in NCE (1967), 14:589–90.
  37. Catholic moral theology only recently has begun to argue from rights. J. Maritain developed that perspective while composing the UN Declaration of Human Rights and K. Wojtyla appealed to individual rights in order to resist Marxism’s subjugation of the individual to the collective. Rights language is justified in a fallen world to prevent individual persons from being unjustly treated, but it harbors the danger that individuals forget what traditional Catholic morality taught: obligation to others is primary, rights only derivative. For love is the basis of moral behavior, and love cannot be demanded as a right; it must be freely given. Children receive it and thereby they are called to respond. For a good critique of rights language cf. M. Glendon, Rights Talk (New York: Free Press, 1991).
Fr. John M. McDermott, SJ About Fr. John M. McDermott, SJ

Fr. John M. McDermott, SJ, currently teaches theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He previously taught at Fordham University, the Gregorian University (Rome), and the Pontifical College Josephinum. He was also invited professor at St. Joseph's Seminary (Yonkers) and Seton Hall University. He served on the International Theological Commission, various Roman commissions, and as consultor to the USCCB Doctrine Committee. He has published two books, edited two others, and produced more than 150 articles on philosophy, dogmatic theology, Scripture, history, and spirituality.


  1. Avatar Peter kelly says:

    Thank you
    What an excellent and scholarly piece