Home, Home Within Range

During his recent visit to St. Patrick Catholic Parish in Washington, D.C. Pope Francis spoke to a group of homeless men and women. “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.” If the Pope is right that there is no justification for homelessness—or to put the same thing differently, if the homeless have a right to a home—then there must be an obligation to provide them with homes.

The promotion of social justice requires creativity as well as healing. Our efforts to heal are often ad hoc and temporary—what we often call “charity”—not because of ill will but because we don’t know what else to do. But that’s where creativity must enter. I have noticed that Pope Francis has referred several times to the need for creativity in solving problems: at least 17 times in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and 22 times in Laudato Si, the encyclical on the environment and poverty. Here’s one example: “Human creativity cannot be suppressed. If an artist cannot be stopped from using his or her creativity, neither should those who possess particular gifts for the advancement of science and technology be prevented from using their God-given talents for the service of others” (Laudato Si # 131). Everyone is able in some degree to participate in social and economic life, but without a home, the capacity for that participation is severely reduced.

Thanks to a creative social scientist from New York University, there is a method for reducing homelessness that has already proven itself a practical success. As with many solutions, it is startlingly simple: give the homeless homes first—and then offer them free health care, counseling and an income.

The social scientist at NYU is the psychologist Sam Tsemberis. He introduced a new model for helping homeless people. The old model was essentially to prepare homeless people for housing. That meant getting them healthcare and needed treatment as well as leading them through the maze of red tape required to receive services in order to be home-ready. But many of the homeless have problems that make that preparatory phase for getting a home very difficult and so many do not get thorough the process. Tsemberis’ simple but creative idea was to reverse the sequence of events: give them a home first, then work on providing for their other needs. “Why not just give them a place to live and offer them free counseling and therapy, health care, and let them decide if they want to participate? Why not treat chronically homeless people as human beings and members of our community who have a basic right to housing and health care?” Tsemberis recognized that “[g]oing from homelessness into a home changes a person’s psychological identity from outcast to member of the community….You actually need housing to achieve sobriety and stability, not the other way around.”

It worked. Tsemberis tested his hypothesis with 242 individuals and after five years, 88% were still in their homes. In fact, it worked so well that several cities adopted this “Housing First” approach and found significant success. With the help of the Mormons, the state of Utah adopted the model and in the process provided relief for strained social service resources. All of the communities across the nation that have adopted this model have saved money on publically financed social services by providing homeless people homes.

Creative projects such as “Housing First” are not one-way streets, the advantaged helping the disadvantaged. To be itself, to continually constitute itself anew in history, the Church must seek out and embrace intelligent solutions wherever they are to be found, while encouraging the larger society of which it is a part to do the same. Pope Francis again: “Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk” (Evangelii Gaudium 207). All communities risk breakdown if they do not bring their best research and thinking to bear on the needs of their fellow citizens.

Moral decision-making and action require more than good will; we all know how the surface on the road to hell is paved. Promotion of the common good requires intelligent and creative solutions. Wherever intelligent solutions are to be found, well-intentioned Christians should seek them out and cooperate with those who are already implementing them.

David Hammond teaches theology and church history for Saint Joseph’s College.

Faith and Reason

Worth Revisiting Wednesday! This post originally appeared on May 4, 2014.

The belief that faith and reason are complementary ways of coming to know the truth, rather than antagonistic rivals or competitors for one’s allegiance, has its foundation in the NT itself and, ultimately, in a person rather than a text.

Photo by Leland Francisco

Photo by Leland Francisco

When the earliest of Christian writers were searching for ways in which to articulate the meaning of what we might call the “Jesus Event,” i.e., the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, one of the first associations they made was between Jesus and the ‘wisdom’ [σοφία] or ‘reason’ [λόγος] of God. Drawing from the book of Wisdom, St. Paul refers to Christ as “the wisdom [σοφίαν] of God” (1 Cor 1:24). “All things were created through him and for him,” the Apostle states elsewhere, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17).

These latter remarks about Jesus, the identification of him with God’s divine wisdom, NT scholars agree pre-date St. Paul himself. They were, most likely, part of a hymn to Christ which the early Christian community used in their liturgical services. Thus, from the very beginning of Christianity, before the composition of the NT, Christians understood Jesus as the incarnation, the en-fleshment, of God’s divine wisdom; the wisdom by which God created, governs and sustains the natural world. The living embodiment of the ‘plan’ (ratio) according to which the cosmos was designed and functions.

A bit later in Christian history, around the year 90, this belief was given its classic expression in the prologue to St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word [λόγος], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:1-3).

The Greek term for ‘Word’ [λόγος] in this translation can have many meanings: word, speech, language, an account or narrative, or an explanation. It can also mean, most importantly, ‘reason’ or ‘thought.’ So if we exchange translations, we can read the same passage as: “In the beginning was Reason and Reason was with God, and Reason was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” With his obvious linguistic allusion to Genesis 1:1 [i.e., “In the beginning…”], the author of the prologue is affirming the divine nature of God’s reason and wisdom. A few verses later, of course, the author takes the further step of associating this Reason with the person of Jesus: “And the Word [Reason] became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14).

For the Catholic, then, as true now as was for these early Christian authors, it is in God, and especially through the person of His Son Jesus Christ, that Wisdom, Reason and Truth have their being. As Jesus said: “I am the way the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6) and “for this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice” (Jn 18:37).

Understanding that the world was created according to divine reason, and that the seeds of reason are to be found in the entire created order, the Catholic tradition has long affirmed the human capacity, and supported the human effort, to discover truth in the natural world by the light of human reason. It is true that the early Christian theologian Tertullian famously asked the question: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (De praescr. haeret. 7). But on that matter, and quite a few others, Tertullian was departing from the established Christian thought of his time. The Catholic tradition, on the other hand, acknowledges that since truth cannot be opposed to itself, the truths of the faith cannot contradict those of science or reason (cf. Aquinas SCG 1.7). Faith and reason are not competitors, but the two complementary ways in which humankind might come to know the truth.

This point has been articulated throughout the Catholic intellectual tradition and, more recently, the Second Vatican Council stated that “methodical research, in all realms of knowledge, if it respects […] moral norms, will never be genuinely opposed to faith: the reality of the world and of faith have their origin in the same God” (GS § 36). Likewise, Pope St. John Paul II stated that faith and reason are two complimentary ways of coming to the truth because “the unity of truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear” (FR § 34).

The mutual necessity of both faith and reason is nowhere more evident than in the discipline of theology. In examining the application of reason to matters of faith, St. Augustine once wrote: intellege ut credas, crede ut intellegas (‘to understand so that you might believe, to believe so that you might understand’) (s. 43.9). More than half a millennium later, the Benedictine archbishop of Canterbury, St. Anselm, meditating on St. Augustine’s thought, would famously define theology as fides quaerens intellectum  (‘faith seeking understanding’) (Cf. Pros. 1-2).

In attempting to sum up this intellectual inheritance, this particularly Catholic way of viewing, inter alia, the relationship between faith and reason, many writers have taken to calling this hermeneutic

the Catholic “both/and.” As opposed to looking at the world and seeing a multitude of choices which demand an “either/or” decision, the Catholic “both/and,” being sensitive to false dichotomies, sees the value – and in many instances the necessity – of each choice: nature and grace, action and contemplation, freewill and providence, invisible grace and material signs, and, of course, faith and reason. From the Catholic perspective, therefore, the relationship between faith and reason has never been an antagonistic one. Rather, the Catholic sees the proper use of one’s intellect as an activity which draws us nearer to God by seeking His Wisdom.

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.