I only had to read the third word of St. Paul, and I completely identified. And a prisoner. All these things seem to have mellowed Paul as he writes the shortest letter in the New Testament to Philemon about the runaway slave Onesimus. “Onesimus” is Greek for “useful,” and so the word play is present in the rhetoric of the letter.

Among letters regarding slavery, an abomination in the human race, this is one of the most touching. Paul pleas for the slave, and more than that pleas for a change of the slave’s status.

Human trafficking is a modern atrocity. It has not gone away. It is embedded in the sinful idea that some humans are less than others. I”m appalled for one, when I think of just how many Catholics of my generation persist in these sinful patters of thinking and talking. It’s subtle, but that’s how Satan works.

First of all there’s not such thing as a pure white race, and at the end of the day, in light of its violent history, if there were such a thing, has little to commend itself. For example, much of the construct of the modern world is unsustainable in our attitudes toward the environment and economics.

Perhaps this Sunday, after Labor Day, the letter to Philemon opens an opportunity to reflect on issues of human trafficking, slavery, refugees, migrants, unjust wages, and to consider it in light of the Biblical truth of the unity of the human family and all that implies.

Alan Hartway

Theological Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago IL; Master of Fine Arts, Poetics, at Naropa University, Boulder CO 1996; Master of Arts, Greek Classics, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 2012; Taught at Naropa University from 1999 through 2015; Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies from 2007-2015; Member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Kansas City Province since 1974; Pastor at Guardian Angel Catholic Church, Mead, CO, ministry from 2007-2020 Currently Retired

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