In this week’s readings, we see the meaning of hospitality. In the story from Genesis, Abraham drops everything and welcomes three strangers into home, while his wife Sarah prepares an elaborate meal for them. The Gospel tells how Mary of Bethany sat at the feet of the Lord, clinging to His every word while her sister Martha occupies her time being the perfect hostess- with a little resentment towards her sister thrown in for good measure.
Understanding and practicing hospitality is more important than ever at this unique time in our nation’s history.
Hospitality is more than just a natural virtue or good manners. There is a heroic hospitality that goes to the very depth of our relationship with God and each other. Heroic hospitality values each person simply because of their value as a child of God. When we accept ourselves as valued in God’s eyes not because of who we are but what we are – made in God’s image – then we are ready to accept others with the only valid response to the human person – welcome, acceptance, and love. In heroic hospitality we make room for the other because of the value of the other, not to fulfill our own needs.
The understanding of hospitality as the appreciation of the intrinsic value of each individual is a big part of what we refer to as the culture of life. The culture of life values and respects persons at all stages of life. We have been given an opportunity in this country to start to rebuild the culture of life after decades of treating some of us – millions of us – as valueless.
As Catholics, we rejoice alongside many others that in many parts of the country, abortion is or will be banned. But so long as other states offer the procedure to any woman who can travel here we know that abortions will continue. If we really want to see substantial reductions in the number of abortions in the United States, we will need to address the root causes of abortion as we work to bring about the culture of life.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly noted the close correlation between poverty and abortion. Women are more likely than men to be poor, and women who are poor are more likely to have abortions; three fourths of all abortions are performed on women living at or below the poverty line. The best way to reduce the abortion rate, according to the bishops, is to fight poverty.
To transform our culture towards a culture of life, we need a comprehensive strategy of life that sees poverty and health care as matters of justice – as they have always been seen by the Church – and frame these issues as a defense of the dignity of human life. This will go far to strike at the root causes of abortion.
This means advocating for policies and programs that seek the preservation and flourishing of all human life – including the lives of mothers who are struggling to access affordable health care or who do not know how they will find the resources to care for their children. The United States is far behind most countries in support for families with children, including paid parental leave, subsidized day care so parents can work, and childcare credits.
A culture of life means that the needs of the women and men who are faced with unexpected or unwanted pregnancy are identified and addressed so that they are guaranteed the financial and social assistance they are due. Pregnancy crisis centers play a vital role here by bringing together public, private, and faith-based resources and offering hope, acceptance and support. Heroic hospitality means that no woman feels so alone that abortion seems her only alternative and that no man so trapped or fearful that he believes there is no other answer.
In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our Catholic faith instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first. To support a culture of life means to create conditions for marginalized voices to be heard, to defend the defenseless, and to assess policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor.
The Church has been a ceaseless champion for the institution of marriage. Sociologists tell us that marriage and intact families are a major antidote to poverty and a boost to family financial stability. From a public policy point of view, it no longer makes sense to ignore the social and economic benefits of strengthening marriage. To support a culture of life is to work for government policies that support the family as the most basic and most essential component of society.
If we ask a pregnant woman to respect the dignity of her child, let us demand of ourselves at least a small share of the heroism we ask of her. Let the heroic hospitality of Abraham and Sara, hospitality that led to not only in a son but the foundational story for God’s beneficial relationship with humanity, be our model. Heroic hospitality challenges us as a nation to work together to build up communities of support for all women and all pregnancies. To begin the vital work of transforming our society to embrace a culture of life we will have to heroically live out our Catholic values, values that have informed and guided the Church and given life to our institutions since the beginning. The dignity of all persons; the preferential option for the poor; support for families- these are the building blocks for a culture of life that will, someday soon, by God’s grace bring about the end of abortion.