[“Not walls but bridges”; hat-tip to Oakes Spalding at Mahound’s Paradise]
27 mar 2017
“It is the greatest tragedy since that of the second world war”: this is how Pope Francis a few days ago defined the phenomenon of migration, which is extraordinarily close to his heart and on which he comments nonstop.
Welcome is his dogma, albeit in proportion to the “capacities” of each country to “integrate” the newcomers. And “not walls but bridges” is the watchword that he repeats often, as an admonition to the Church and to states.
But how much is this image worth, as evocative as it is? The monk Giulio Meiattini, of the order of Saint Benedict, maintains that another image, that of the door, would be more appropriate, to better express what should be done about migrants.
He has published his reflections in the latest issue of the magazine “La Scala,” a quarterly on spirituality from the Abbey of La Madonna della Scala, in Noci, to which he belongs.
Dom Meiattini is also a professor at the theological faculty of Puglia and at the pontifical atheneum of Sant Anselm in Rome. Readers of Settimo Cielo will remember him for his critical analysis of the first of the four postulates that Pope Francis says he uses as his inspiration: the one according to which “time is greater than space”:
Here is an extract from his article in “La Scala,” which is three times longer.
WE NEED DOORS! REGARDING WELCOME
by Giulio Meiattini, OSB
1. A false dichotomy
It has become a refrain: “Not walls, but bridges!” It sounds good as a slogan, and it expresses effectively a healthy reaction to excessive instincts of defense that risk concealing selfishness and indifference. But my impression is that switching from “walls” to “bridges” is to want to avoid one excess while falling into another.
In order to inhabit the world, man has felt the primary necessity of a “home.” Now, the home is made of walls, but at the same time of doors. Through the door one can exit and enter. It is through the door that the stranger or the guest can pass, provided that he asks for this and permission is granted, or he is invited with welcome. The door, in a home, is the symbol of discretion, and therefore of discernment, in the style of welcome. There is a time to open and a time to close, as we could say paraphrasing the biblical book of Qoheleth.
2. The door and the wall
The door refers by its nature to a separation of different spaces. The first delimiter and creator of boundaries, it is good to remember this, was God himself, in the work of creation. God separates the light from the darkness, the heavens from the earth, the land from the waters (Gen 1:4-8). This act marks the passage from chaos to cosmos, from disorder to proportion and beauty: “And God saw that it was good/beautiful” (Gen 1:10 passim).
At the same time, however, God guarantees the unity and communication between these great areas, without thereby bringing their distinction into question. Between heaven and earth God builds passageways (Jacob’s ladder: Gen 28:12; or the door that opens in heaven to let in the seer of Revelation: Rev 4:1), to the point of making his Son the reconciler of the beings that are in heaven and those that are on earth (Col 1:20).
So there is no door without a wall, there is no access without obstacle. The divine action shows that one lives only in the alternation of unity and distinction, of insuppressible differences and virtuous communication. If the wall represents the need for articulation and distinction, the door recalls and actuates the link between inside and outside, mine and yours, this and that. The wall without a door is division, the opening without a boundary wall is chaos. All welcoming needs this art of “distinguishing in order to unite,” which corresponds to the fundamental principle of the Christology of the Council of Chalcedon. The mutual welcome between humanity and divinity in Jesus is an important indicator of method for every other form of welcome.
3. Here and hereafter
To forget that there exist doors that are guarded and to be guarded, and that in turn do guarding of their own, is to wipe out identities. Anyone who approaches the “home” of another must be made aware by the doors that he is entering a world that is not his own, but of others, into a place already inhabited, not into a no man’s land. Because of this, crossing a threshold requires a transformation, and also produces it. One does not behave in the same manner whatever the place. The door enjoins a change of behavior, it calls for a conversion to respect the inhabitants of that home. If this is lacking, there is lacking one of the essential conditions of welcome: respect. Anyone who from the outside may enter into a home through the door must conform to the customs of that home. The kindness of the one who opens the door demands, on the other side, respect from the one who knocks.
4. Open door, closed door
There is also a closing of the door that indicates a full welcome: this happens when, after the newcomer is brought inside, the door is closed behind him so as to bring him into our world, instead of keeping him standing at the entrance to the home.
The alternation of opening and closing refers us once again to the door by antonomasia, which is Jesus Christ. He too is the opening to the Father and entrance to the Kingdom, the possibility of the infinite offered to man. But he is also the door that in the end, for some, inexorably closes: “Now, while those maidens were going to buy oil, the bridegroom came and the maidens who were ready entered with him to the wedding, and the door was closed. Later the other maidens also came and began to say: ‘Lord, lord, open for us!’ But he responded: ‘Truly, I say to you: I do not know you’” (Mt 25:10-12).
Healthy welcoming cannot do without this rhythm, this discernment between closing and opening. To absolutize one of the two actions means not having an adequate and correct vision of welcome, in personal relationships as in the relationships between peoples and cultures.
5. Possibility and necessity
Between these two extremes, possibility and necessity, there stands human freedom. We could say that possibility and necessity are the doorposts and freedom is the lintel that is set above them.
The first doorpost, that of possibility, says: “you may pass through here.” But the other doorpost speaks otherwise. The door designed in with the wall obliges one to pass through there and not through other spots, and it demands obedience. The door is law, it is “nomos.”It says: “you must enter through here.”
Precisely as possibility and obedience together, the door reflects the paradox of the breadth and of the limitation of human freedom. It above all expresses the communal aspect of freedom. A door is a shared passage, through which each one agrees, together with the others, to pass. It is shared law, an implicit pact. Once a home is built and the door is fixed, every legitimate passage will take place through there. There is a de facto accord, a submission to the common norm. “He who enters by another way is a thief or a brigand” (Jn 10:1).
This principle must also apply to those who cross our borders: “Remember that here there are laws, there is a history and a tradition that have forged them; through these you must pass, if you also want to enjoy the possibilities that our common home grants to you; for this you should give thanks!” One does not pass through just any spot and as one wishes. This applies to the inhabitants of the home, so it also applies to the guests who aspire to become more like part of the family. This is, in essence, the great problem of integration. Too much carelessness on our part does not benefit us or those who arrive.
6. Neither bridges nor walls…
So let’s leave aside the slogans, which are as poor and threadbare as they are easy. We cannot pacify or delude ourselves by saying that bridges are enough. Without taking anything away from this beautiful image, one must go on to think that human beings, once they have crossed, need dwellings and homes in which to live.
And the life of a home is sustained by common balances and alliances, norms and languages. Our European countries, subjected to exceptional challenges of demographics and immigration, cannot trivialize with reductive formulas – of the right or of the left – the meaning of welcome and its politics. The wall is comfortable and simplistic. The bridge is banal and demagogic. The spirituality of the door is discrete and complex, intricate and intelligent.