Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Another great post from Michael: "Memorial Day and the religious syncretism of the state"

I've pasted below another great post from Michael. Would that more of our priests had such vision. His insights only confirm that celibacy should be recongnized as a charism and not mandated...

[[image from the website http://www.psalters.com/.]]

Memorial Day and the religious syncretism of the state

m General, Theology, Political, Church, War/Militarism Saturday, May 26th, 2007

During my high school and college years and beyond, I thought about becoming a Catholic priest and made an effort to discern and pray about it over the course of those years.[1] Eventually I discovered that part of my vocation was to marry — Emily and I will celebrate our two-year anniversary this July — and so the presbyteral ordination option was closed. As I have reflected on how my religio-political views have evolved over the last ten years or so, however, I sometimes wonder what sort of trouble I would get into if I had been led to the Catholic priesthood.

Let me explain more fully what I mean. One of my academic interests has been to explore American Christianity’s tendency to unite itself with American civil religion, to seamlessly ally itself, knowingly or unknowingly, with the interests of the nation-state. Even the Roman Catholic Church, a church that should (in theory) have a greater consciousness of its transnational (’catholic’) character, perpetually succumbs to this sort of syncretism when we do things like place American flags in our sanctuaries, when we sing the national anthem at Mass, and when we refer to American soldiers in our prayers as “our” troops.[2]

Beyond these fairly obvious examples lies an even greater, though largely unrecognized, danger in our inability to distinguish between the state’s mythology and holidays and the mythology and holidays of Christianity. Many Catholics see no problem with celebrating any and all of the state’s holidays, and sometimes we even celebrate special Masses on these days, such as Independence Day and Thanksgiving, in effect “baptizing” them and making them an unofficial part of the liturgical calendar.

Memorial Day, which we celebrate this coming Monday, is a great example. Last year on Memorial Day, I was making the drive home from a family gathering. The occasion for the gathering was, in fact, not Memorial Day per se, but for the birthday of two relatives. On the drive home, Emily and I passed a small country Baptist church and on the marquee was the question: “What will you do for Christ this Memorial Day?” Aside from the fact that the question makes absolutely no sense, I was irritated and almost stopped the car to take a digital picture of the sign because it was such a clear example of the sort of religious syncretism that exists in the United States. American Christians will even combine the mythology and holidays of Christianity and American civil religion even if the result is completely unintelligible nonsense.

Two years ago, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, a visiting priest was celebrating Mass at my parish in West Virginia. Near the end of Mass, before he processed out of the church he wanted, in light of the upcoming holiday, to honor the soldiers who “made the ultimate sacrifice for us.” All of this he said in front of a giant crucifix which, last time I checked, represents the “ultimate sacrifice” in which Christians believe and which, indeed, we had just celebrated in the Eucharistic action. As a fitting conclusion to the patriotic Mass, the congregation sang, not to Jesus, but to the country itself in the words of “America the Beautiful.” CONTINUE...

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