“In the Middle Ages, it was an obligation of the bishops to provide houses of hospitality or hospices for the wayfarer,” quoth Peter Maurin.
At the beginning of this month, we stayed in a hotel, which, I have come to believe is a scandal to the Catholic Church.
In March, we published a report on the state of maternity leave in the Catholic Church. And, as part of that report, we noted the listed assets of each diocese. In all likelihood, the assets we listed for dioceses in the maternity leave campaign are primarily illiquid. Much of the Church’s wealth in the United States comes from its massive real estate holdings. The Church is land-rich, or as millennials call it, house poor.
If we know that the Church has property to spare, why doesn’t the Church put it to use for our mission?
The corporal works of mercy provide a blueprint for the Church’s mission, a program of action to show the pagans that we are Christian through our love for our neighbors and our enemies and strangers. One of the works of mercy is sheltering the homeless.
When Peter Maurin envisioned houses of hospitality, he did not imagine the communities that are today the cornerstone of the Catholic Worker movement. Rather, he imagined each bishop in a diocese offering hospitality to travelers and roamers. The recovery of the practice of hospitality might also lead to a ressourcement of the true role and function of a deacon.
Deacons are not miniature priests. They are not simply ministers who read the Gospel and can preach when the priest is tired of it. The diaconate is a ministry of hospitality and service: of the works of mercy. If the Church recovers its deacons, the Church can encourage Catholics to abandon capitalism. Rather than rely on money to provide for their own shelter, food, and clothing, Catholics could rely on one another.
And it is better to rely on a person than to rely on money. A person can love you back, but a bank account never can.
Rather than paying money for a hotel, imagine Catholics could travel, knowing that a diocese’s deacons could offer hospitality to them, like the first Christians did? Imagine a diocese who puts its old buildings to use, under the charge of deacons, as houses of hospitality and care for the stranger. Then the Church would be house poor, but charity rich.