What My Friends Could Not Understand

What My Friends Could Not Understand November 11, 2008

I hosted some friends from Ireland last week, a couple I have known for a very long time. They came for a vacation, and wanted to do a tour of civil war battlefields in Maryland and Virginia (don’t ask!). They also happen to be good, decent, faithful and orthodox Catholics– some of the last left in Ireland at this point! And so they went to Mass the Sunday before the election in some church in Virginia, near one of the battlefields, I suppose.

What they witnessed disturbed them deeply, frightened them even. First, the priest giving the homily started extolling the virtues of a nearby US Marines museum, and talked about how great the marines were, and how he would have been a marine if he had not become a priest. He then went on to talk about abortion and to denounce all those who planned to vote for a certain candidate. My friends, who were already disturbed by the propaganda of this museum they had already seen, were absolutely flabbergasted. How can a priest denounce abortion while at the same time glorifing the US military, my friends wanted to know? They simply could not understand it. They had never seen it before.

I sighed and told them that what they had seen was more in tune with a particular variant of American culture– southern, evangelical in origin– than authentic Catholicism.

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  • Greg

    Now I understand why Ireland is a hopeless cause.

  • Greg

    There is a reason the Arlington Diocese regularly ordains more men to the priesthood than all of Ireland. This post tells why.

  • If you proceed from the assumption that American military power is not a force for good in the world, but that Barack Obama with his unchallenged-at-Vox-Nova pro-abortion policy is a force for good in the world, then this post makes perfect sense.

    Otherwise, not so much.

  • Magdalena

    Is there a catechism for sale with the portions on the moral licitness of military service blacked out? Because that is the only explanation I can come up with for some of this stuff. Being in the US military is not quite like being an abortionist. In fact the Church specifically says that it can be a positive good.

    Do they not have war memorials in Ireland? A desire to honor the dead is a human impulse, not one confined to southern evangelicals and other less holier subhumans. When the Pope himself visited last spring he spoke favorably of the good things the American armed forces have done.

    It was the USMC’s birthday yesterday, BTW.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    Oh where do they come from?

  • Is there a catechism for sale with the portions on the moral licitness of military service blacked out?

    Don’t you mean “obligation”, not “licitness”? Many things are licit which are not obligations; but the Catechism lists defending one’s country as an obligation.

  • digbydolben

    The marines haven’t been “defending” their country recently in Iraq, Zippy. And they weren’t “defending” their country in Vietnam, either. The fact is that there IS a noble soldier’s vacation (Christ Himself fraternized with a centurion, as I recall), but colonialist “preventive” wars do not contribute to making virtuous Christian “just warriors” out of American marines.

    Not too long ago I myself was treated to a lovely sermon in a Byzantine Catholic church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I had the pleasure of hearing a military-fixated pastor ranting on about how wonderful the American war for “freedom” in Iraq was, and about how ALL the soldiers fighting there had “chosen” to “defend their country.” The funny thing was that I had just spent two years teaching in a reservation-border Native American school, half of whose graduating class were joining the American armed forces NOT on account of the “education benefits” but so they could pay their mothers’ and their aunties’ heating and grocery bills. I wanted to throw up as I left the church.

  • joseph

    Magdalena,

    Actually, there are many statues, memorials, and museums to honor men such as Michael Collins for fighting for the freedom of the Irish to practice their Catholic religion without persecution and to govern their own nation. As any historian will tell you, the methods employed by these freedom fighters was less than savory. In fact, some of them were ruthless tortures that MM so abhors. I guess MM would rather these monuments dedicated to the men who brought freedom to the Republic be taken down as well.

    Mark DeFrancisis would rather us not comment at all. He’s clearly tired of hearing opposing points of view.

  • The same “authentic Catholicism” that led you to vote for the most radical proabortion politician in our nation’s history?

    I don’t think “authentic” means what you think it means.

  • Phillip

    Looks like Obama won’t change interrogation policy though:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122636726473415991.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

  • jh

    The attitude that is talked about here does not have it origins in the SOuth or anything to deal with Evangelcals.

    We have had this throught out our history. In fact if you wanted peg where it got its biggest birth I would look at the Civil War. Catholic CHurches int he North would alwasy honor the Grand Army of the Republic and many of these states had very little Evangelical Culture but were very Catholic

  • Rachel

    Right. Because an inherently neutral entity, like the U.S. Military (which in the abstract is neither good nor evil, and in practice sometimes acts morally, and sometimes acts immorally) is EXACTLY the same thing as abortion. Oy. I have no patience with this kind of useless, irrational thinking. Pick up a Catechism. Learn moral philosophy 101. It’s really not that hard. Really. It’s not. Give it a try.

  • American military power as a force for good in the world? Oh dear God. This kind of American exceptionalism has no place in Catholicism. Look, the best we can say is that war may be just if they meet some very strict conditions, conditions that have become even stricter with the nature of modern warfare. If those conditions do not hold, then the war is evil and every person involved in the war is cooperating in evil. And let’e he honest, the most recent American military adventures have not been just and must therefore be seen as evil.

    We need a little more nuance, though. The Church has a long history of asking for penanance for those involved in war– even if that war is deemed just, because it involves killing. St. Basil, for one, suggested that the soldier refrain from the Eucharist for a fixed period. And even though the pope supported William at the Battle of Hastings, he imposed a penance on the victorious army. I think we need to return to this mode of thinking, which means– first and foremost– having Christians stand apart from nationalism.

  • The department of defense and the united states military have not been about defending anything for decades. They’ve been about imperialistic intervention. The fact that after 9/11 the u.s. government assembled the “department of homeland security,” as if this isn’t what the military should be doing, is obvious evidence of this.

  • Greg

    “If those conditions do not hold, then the war is evil and every person involved in the war is cooperating in evil.”

    Can you point to any bishop of the USCCB that has taught this or is it your private opinion?

  • Joseph,

    For my own views on Michael Collins, see this post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2007/08/29/michael-collins-and-iraq/

    Has the Irish church wallowed in nationalism on occasion? Absolutely– to its detriment.

  • Greg

    MM,

    Your posts would be a lot more convincing if you yourself were more prudent. Otherwise, one would conclude from your post that joining the Marines is sinful.

  • Otherwise, one would conclude from your post that joining the Marines is sinful.

    Only if you 1) can’t read, or 2) bring to this post all sorts of crazy ideas and are already defensive about any critique of the military whatsoever.

  • Greg

    Michael Iafrate,

    What is wrong with a priest praising Marines from the pulpit?

  • S.B.

    Good point, Phillip. And to expand on it, I’d guess that even if Obama claims to be changing intelligence policies, what happens behind the scenes will be far different. If the CIA catches a close associate of Osama bin Laden, they’re going to question him harshly. To think otherwise is absurdly naive . . . .

  • Greg – Don’t get me started. I’ve blogged about this before. A question for you: Why do you think MM’s visitors were stunned? Do you think that’s an unusual view for non-americans to have? Or could it be that american Catholics are the ones who are screwed up?

  • c matt

    I don’t understand how MM and Michael can be so against war, yet willingly participate in the promotion of the war against the unborn through their support of Obama. Did MM’s orthodox Irish Catholic friends not find it disturbing that one could call himself Catholic and pro-life, yet vote in the most pro-abortion President of all time? I would find it disturbing that they would not find that disturbing.

  • RedFly

    Such contempt from little, angry, and unserious men who have never sacrificed anything for anyone.

  • Policraticus

    The same “authentic Catholicism” that led you to vote for the most radical proabortion politician in our nation’s history?

    Are we to read off this that you are suggesting that MM’s Catholicism is not authentic?

  • Greg

    Michael Iafrate,

    I am guessing this is their train of thought: A priest praises the marines from the pulpit. Therefore, he must be praising the Iraq war which is an unjust war. Not only that, but because he is praising the marines, this must mean he is also praising America’s imperialistic attitude.

    I am fairly certain this is not what the priest was saying. I bet he was simply praising the courage and fortitude of the marines in past wars.

  • I don’t understand how MM and Michael can be so against war, yet willingly participate in the promotion of the war against the unborn through their support of Obama.

    It is pointless to reply to irrational and/or intentionally dishonest comments such as these that imply MM and myself are “promoters” of abortion.

  • I am fairly certain this is not what the priest was saying. I bet he was simply praising the courage and fortitude of the marines in past wars.

    You’re right: you probably do have a better sense of the tone of the priests’ homily… much better than the author of this post and his friends who were actually there. Silly me.

  • Many commenters here have the impediment of being simply unable to contemplate any matter moral without snapping back to the question of whether purportedly pro-life American politicians support or reject the particular policy in question.

  • “Such contempt from little, angry, and unserious men who have never sacrificed anything for anyone.”

    Little red fly does not even have courage of giving his real name in his contemptuous retort…

  • Greg

    Michael Iafrate,

    I live about 20 minutes from this particular church. I know a lot of the priests in Diocese of Arlington. I am pretty sure I am right.

  • I live about 20 minutes from this particular church. I know a lot of the priests in Diocese of Arlington. I am pretty sure I am right.

    Well, I know countless american priests who idolize and glorify the u.s. military. The story MM relays is a familiar one to me. And he is right to be concerned about it.

  • jh

    I think MM friends would be more shocked if they went to Poland.

    The Military and Faith are very linked there. In fact many of National Guiard Units that are paired with our Polish ALlies are sendiong people to go on the annual and very taxing Pligramage they have each year.

    THen of course we have the Swiss Guard whose exploits we recall each year.

  • joseph

    MM,

    I read your opinions on Michael Collins el al. Your thoughts on Irish independence are not at all surprising.

  • jh – You are right. The syncretistic meshing of Christianity and idolatrous civil religions of soldier-worship is not unique to the united states.

  • DC

    “Many commenters here have the impediment of being simply unable to contemplate any matter moral without snapping back to the question of whether purportedly pro-life American politicians support or reject the particular policy in question.”

    I think Mark D. is correct. Whenever I drop in on this site, I notice that any criticism of any position held by any conservative is somehow automatically taken as some kind of covert support for abortion on demand. Irish visitors disturbed by militaristic nationalism from the pulpit—they must be pro-choice. Opposition to abortion is not some kind of magic trump card that instantly turns everything other position one holds into an orthodox Catholic one, or instantly turns every critic of every position one holds into a pro-choice Catholic dissenter.

  • Poli.-

    My point is that MM is hardly in a position to question whether anyone’s Catholicism is authentic, given his record of shilling for proabortion dems.

    What I find interesting is that you don’t seem in the least bit bothered by this post, which all but questions the Catholicism of those attending this Va. parish.

    I suppose it’s just another day of America bashing here at vox nova.

  • Brett

    For those of you who believe the American military is a force for good in the world, it is always a beneficial exercise to ask the rest of the world what they think of this narrative. Right? If we do this, it shows we (Americans) are not blind to our own biases, and it gives a hearing to the rest of the world so that it might affirm or challenge the prevailing assumptions about the US military. This is even more important for any body which calls itself “Catholic”. Perhaps the Irish response was an example of “the rest of the world” telling we Americans about the narrative we tell of ourselves.

    I imagine two things happened during the Mass. 1) The Irish guests, expecting words that unite all Catholics, were turned off by words which seem to praise American military service and history. We Christians are a transnational body, our unity is in Christ, and sometimes (perhaps in this case, perhaps not) national praise might strike a dissonant chord to our guests. Given the current historical moment, the guests may be more sensitive to this matter. And 2) the priest tried to pay respect to those who have served country, and likely the Church as well, with or without an underlying “American exceptionalism.”

    What might be happening here is a battle of perceptions. The priest ministers in a community with strong support for the military. With that ministry comes a certain (and not always inappropriate) honoring of military men and women. The Irish are national guests, but Catholic brothers and sisters. During a time of an unpopular war (just or not), national and military affirmation can sound to non-American Catholics in our midst (whether it is intended or not) as national propaganda instead of gospel.

    We need to be very sensitive and open to non-American Catholic response. If we have the friendship that ought to accompany our kinship in Christ, then we can work on these battles of perceptions, which are sometimes we must admit battles of convictions. Kyrie eleison.

  • And for feddie, just another day of “defend america at all costs” hyper sensitivity.

  • Brett

    “And then King Rehoboam responded to the prophet Shemaiah, ‘Great, another day of Judah bashing!” 2 Chronicles 12:15

  • Brett

    Let me add: I hate it when a more nuanced and longer post “awaits moderation”! Why is this? Too long?

  • Nathan

    MM and Micheal –

    You both seem to be saying in different ways that recent American military actions have not been just and I believe that point has validity. I am curious do you think ANY of the American military actions in the course of the country’s 200+ years have been just?

  • Nathan – Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one.

  • Nathan: personally, I feel WW2 was a just war in principle, but the way it was carried out was gravely unjust.

  • Jack Moorehead

    Yeah, real Catholic culture would never produce a warrior class which struggles mightily to live up to gallant, nay, chivalrous ideals.

    Its sad how regional, ethnic and cultural bigotry distorts the mind, and so the ability to perceive reality itself. I’ll be sure to say a prayer for you.

  • Ressourcement

    Perhaps I am missing something, but what exactly is comparable about abortion (an absolute, intrinsic evil) and the military? This post is pointless.

    jn

  • Greg

    Ressourcement,

    You are one of the few voices of reason on this entire blog.

  • Mike McG…

    Question:

    What do you guys get out of exchanges like these? Few women comment. Is this really all about testosterone?

    Is there any self-doubt beneath all this bluster? Any interest whatsoever in sympathetically understanding the world from another person’s point of view? Any cracks in the hegemony of one’s worldview? Any appetite for paradox? Any tolerance for ambiguity? Any impetus to seek common ground, even if it means ceding treasured rhetorical ground?

    Conservative Catholics, including some bishops, are determined to make the church a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican party. Progressive Catholics, meanwhile, are determined to make the church a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic party. There was once a very small number of Catholics who were ideologically homeless in America. But enough of homelessness, already. I fear we’ve shed our Catholic tribal identity and claimed a partisan one.

    Lost in the shuffle: any constituency for coherent a Catholic message, and, sadly, the capacity to imagine how a reasonable, moral person could frame the issues differently than oneself. Demonization run rampant, polarization without apology.

    “Being aligned with one group offers benefits. It gives one a socially validated place to stand while speaking and it offers the unswerving support of like-minded people. It also exacts costs. It portrays opponents as a single-minded and malevolent gang. In the face of such frightening and unified adversaries, one’s own group must be unified, strong, and certain. To be loyal to that group, one must suppress many uncertainties, morally complicated personal experiences, inner value conflicts, and differences between oneself and one’s allies. Complexity and authenticity are sacrificed to the demands of presenting a unified front to the opponent. A dominant discourse of antagonism is self-perpetuating. Win-lose exchanges create losers who feel they must retaliate to regain lost respect, integrity, and security, and winners who fear to lose disputed territory won at great cost.”

    Carol Becker et al., From Stuck Debate to New Conversation on Controversial Issues:
    A Report from the Public Conversations Project. http://www.publicconversations.org/

  • Read my previous comment. While there is no necessary equivalence between abortion and the military (there most certainly is when the war is unjust, or when the non-combatants are directly attacked), there is something very very wrong with a priest glorifying a group of people who are basically trained killers.

  • Greg

    So a priest praises marines for their courage and self-sacrifice and you call it very wrong?

    Your posts just get worse & worse.

  • Geez, Greg, you new around here?

  • Greg

    Michael,

    I expected a statement like that from you…not from MM. Has he been listening to your albums or something?

  • Greg, you must be new here. MM has blogged about similar topics since we started VN. Election tunnel vision must have blocked those posts from your memory.

  • Now an “authentic Catholic” must embrace Obamaism, with its rejection of everything the church has always taught on life issues? Can’t get much more Orwellian than that.

  • Ressourcement

    Greg,

    Interestingly, I have loved listening to Michael I’s stuff. We listen to a lot of the same kind of music, and the Ohio Valley/Applachian influence comes out: reminds me of home. My wife is a potter, and we spent a lot of time playing music with people coming through Touchstone Center for the Crafts, which is located in the hills above Uniontown in Farmington (http://www.touchstonecrafts.com/). She was teaching pottery there. Very good times.

    Speaking of which, Michael: have you ever been to Nazareth Farm (http://www.nazarethfarm.org/index.htm)–I volunteered there many times.

    Great rendition of Hazel Dicken’s “West Virginia”, by the way. 😉

    But, Greg, I can’t say the same thing about all the things I read of his. ha!

  • Ressourcement: Thanks for the kind words about my music. Yes, I have been to Nazareth Farm. Two good friends of mine used to be on the staff there and they started a similar project, Bethlehem Farm, a bit more south in the state. Sorry you find my non-musical output more disappointing.

  • Ressourcement

    Ha! I had a feeling you have been to N. Farm. It is a good sort of Catholic culture. 😉

    Don’t worry: I don’t always like Poli and Kat’s comments… but I was still in their wedding. 🙂

    In the end, life would be boring if everyone completely agreed.

    jn

  • Ressourcement

    If my business (http://nickelsenhomeinspections.com/) doesn’t pick up, I may have to move back there and … well… just be poor their instead. The economy is finally hitting me hard. I suppose I could just go back to school and do construction, as I was before. There are a lot of things to fix in the valley and the hills for… little to no money. 🙂 My wife’s family still lives there. –jn

  • I wonder were the Irish guys really such dummies as the poster presents them as?

  • Michael

    What the Catechism says about those who serve in the military:
    Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace. (paragraph 2310)

    What the Catechism (obliquely) says about abortionists:
    Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law (paragraph 2271)

    Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77 “by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society. (paragraph 2272)

    Now, one could say that not all Marines, or member of the Armed forces in general, have behaved honorably. Some have, some have not. But paiting the entire organization as something evil and contrary to Catholicism is flat out contrary to Church teaching. And there is nothing wrong with admiring those in the Armed Forces who have acted honorably, and who have defended the innocent against great evil.

    If the Catechism doesn’t put soldiers and abortionists on the same level, why should we?

    To say that all Marines and soldiers are imperialistic murderers would be like saying all Obama supporters are unrepentant abortion supporters, who delight in nothing more than sticking scissors inside of a baby’s brain and sucking them out. That would be silly, non-sensical, and contrary to good reasoning. Certainly some Obama supporters enjoy sticking scissors inside baby’s brains, as certain “doctors” have chosen it as a career. But not all Obama supporters feel that way. Some are attracted to his socialism, some to his baritone voice, some support him simply to score with easy liberal girls, and some simply want to look cool and progressive in front of their apostate European friends.