The New Battle of New Orleans

The New Battle of New Orleans February 15, 2012
St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans – Julia Smucker

While visiting New Orleans this past weekend, I walked into the St. Louis Cathedral at the end of Mass, just in time to hear Archbishop Aymond go into a discourse between communion and the final dismissal.  It began, rather disoncertingly, with a historical reference to the allegedly “miraculous” Battle of New Orleans.  But just as I was becoming thoroughly disgusted, the archbishop took an unexpected turn: today’s battle, he said, is not against the British but against racism and violence.  He then proceeded to lead the congregation in the following prayer:


Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.

We implore you to give us your wisdom that we may build a community founded on the values of Jesus, which gives respect to the life and dignity of all people.

Bless parents that they may form their children in faith. Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our time. Give consolation to those who have lost loved ones through violence.

Hear our prayer and give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us.

Mother Henriette Delille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.

Amen and amen.

It turns out that this is part of a prayer campaign that the Archdiocese of New Orleans began during Lent of last year, as a response to increasing violence in the city and its environs.  I must admit, the uncritical reference to the attribution of a military victory to divine intervention makes this Mennonite Catholic more than a little queasy, and I can’t help noticing the irony of using this as a starting point for such a powerful prayer for peace and life.  We could (although I’d rather not) run around in circles debating the significance of this reference and whether it represents good contextualization or simply contradicts the spirit of the prayer.  Despite these misgivings, however, this recontextualization of local history redeems it.  Indeed, in the description of this “new battle” I can hear echoes of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (6:12):

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

The “new Battle of New Orleans” is indeed, as Archbishop Aymond has written, all around us.  It is the church’s true battle in every place and time.

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  • Good to see a bishop talking about something other than condoms and dental dams.

    • Julia Smucker

      If you think that’s all the bishops ever talk about, you should be paying more attention.

      To be fair, though, nuance doesn’t tend to get as much press.

      • I know what the website says, but I also know what’s being actually talked about.

      • Julia Smucker

        The bishops pontificate (or rather episcopate?) on all sorts of things. Ever read The Challenge of Peace?

      • I have.

  • Good post, Julia. I too get queasy at associations of God’s will with violence, but I understand and can appreciate the meaning signified by the language of spiritual warfare.

  • Mark Gordon

    I attended Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in December and was really struck by this prayer. It is a battle cry, but like St. Paul says elsewhere, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh; For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:2-4)

  • Did the priest mention that the battle of New Orleans took place almost 2 months after the war was actually over? An even greater miracle would have been to let General Jackson and Admiral Cochran in on the news and save the pointless 2,113 casualties! (I’ll let y’all make the obvious theological analogies.) Obliged.

  • Is a Mennonite Catholic a real thing or an ethnicity you made up?

  • R. Rockliff

    One is either a Catholic or not a Catholic. Hyphenation (with or without the actual hyphen) is problematic, unless, of course, we are referring to rites, like the Byzantine or the Syro-Malabar, but we are not referring to rites. There is no Mennonite rite, and no Anabaptist rite. There are Irish-Catholics, and there are Polish-Catholics, but these are ethnic hyphenations. They refer to culture; they do not refer to theology. Mennonites, historically, have been very endogamous, but that does not make Mennonite a real ethnic term. Mennonite-Catholic is not really analogous to Irish-Catholic or Polish-Catholic. Irish and Polish are not the names of religions. Mennonite is, in fact, the name of a religion, and one that has rejected much of Catholic theology. Mennonite-Catholic is a religious hyphenation, and that is what is problematic about it. It is theologically individualistic and detracts from the universal nature of Catholicism. I am inclined to think that one cannot legitimately be a Mennonite-Catholic without the permission of one’s bishop. When Mennonites convert to Catholicism, they become Catholics, not Mennonite-Catholics. If there is a Catholic who is interested in dialog with Calvinists, does that make him a Calvinist-Catholic? I think not. It makes him a Catholic who is interested in dialog with Calvinists, which is a fine thing, and I wish him luck. Calvinist-Catholic, however, is a self-contradictory term, as is Mennonite-Catholic. I do not mean any disrespect to Mennonites, or to former Mennonites, or to shunned Mennonites. In fact, I respect them a great deal. Many of my own ancestors were actually Mennonites. But, that does not make me a Mennonite-Catholic, because Catholics are Catholics, and Mennonites are Mennonites.

    Also, I do not pretend that the War of 1812 rated as a “just war” according to Catholic moral theology, but according to Catholic moral theology there is such a thing as a just war, and that presupposes that, at least in theory, God could intervene in such a war, because God is concerned with justice. The idea is not intrinsically “disgusting” from a Catholic perspective, though it is, understandably, from a Mennonite perspective. This is precisely the problem with this kind of hyphenated Catholicism, because the first term, in some respects, negates the second, and I am not sure how helpful that can be.

    • Julia Smucker

      Since I do not presently trust myself to respond to this without flouting the counsel of St. James which Mark helpfully highlighted for us, I will let my fellow Mennonite Catholics speak for me.

      I simply ask that you consider these statements of faith with an open (and catholic) mind.
      A couple of extractions from the above echo this plea.
      Ivan Kauffman explains:

      I have now concluded it is virtually impossible to be an ex-Mennonite. Anyone who grew up in the Mennonite and Amish community’s unique family environment has been so deeply shaped by that experience that it is virtually impossible to live without constant reference to it and the unique values it has imprinted on us. The alternative is to pretend one has no past, but that option is psychologically impossible, since it is the equivalent of trying to build a house without any foundations under it.

      What Gerald Schlabach has asked of Mennonites, I also ask of my fellow Catholics:

      Please recognize that for some of us, exploring how to be Mennonites in full communion with the Catholic Church is itself a living out of our faith.

      • Those were excellent readings! Thank you very much for those.

    • Ryan Hammill

      We find ourselves bound together in an often fragile community, celebrating the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom into a world that opposes and hates us. It is a violent world, a corrupt world, a lonely world, a world that does not know love or peace or humility. But Jesus inaugurated a dissident outpost within a world that we, through the power and grace granted us by the Spirit, Son, and Father, are trying to save.

      Within such a context, why should we pronounce our brothers and sisters united in this mission outsiders? The ekklesia of Jesus and his apostles was all about inclusion, not exclusion. One of the things I most appreciate about the RC Church is precisely its catholicity–it is wide-open to all, from those who celebrate the papacy to those who can’t stand it. It stretches across every boundary that confines other identifications, boundaries like ethnicity, language, age, political affiliation.

      • Julia Smucker

        Yes, the ultimate big tent!

  • R. Rockliff

    Since, as a Catholic, I do respect Mennonites, I think that I do have an open mind. I would like to think that Catholics and Mennonites can find ways to understand each other. Where there is understanding, though there may not be agreement, there is no offense, and where there is no offense, there can be respect.

    What prompted me to respond to your post, really, was the use of the words “disgusted” and “queasy” to describe your offense at a bishop’s reference to a historical event which may, or may not, have been a good example of the Just War Doctrine of the Catholic Church, and which may, or may not, have been a good example of homiletic rhetoric. Whether or not the Battle of New Orleans was an instance of the proper application of the Just War Doctrine is immaterial. What offends you, apparently, is the Just War Doctrine itself, because that is the principle behind the notion that divine intervention is theoretically possible in war, the notion that sickens you. That is fine with me. Moreover, it offends you so viscerally that it “disgusts” you and makes you “queasy.” That is also fine with me. What is not fine, from my perspective, is that you actually used these intemperate words.

    I intend no disrespect to Mennonites, or to Mennonites who have become Catholic, or to Mennonites who have become Catholic and are grateful to have been profoundly shaped by their Mennonite heritage, and I do not think I have said anything disrespectful about them. I do, however, wonder if it is respectful for you to say, in effect, that the Just War Doctrine of the Catholic Church “disgusts” you and makes you “queasy.” In other words, there are teachings of the Catholic Church that viscerally offend you. Moreover, you are not hesitant to say such a thing, and say it so intemperately, in public. I find that remarkable in a recent convert. I have never said that the things that Mennonites believe “disgust” me, or make me “queasy,” or otherwise viscerally offend or sicken me. “Disgusted” and “queasy” are not the words that I would bring to a dialog.

    • Mark Gordon

      R Rockliff, why don’t you back off? War disgusts Julia. Makes her queasy. So what? Doesn’t it disgust you? It certainly disgusts me, and I studied war as a US Army infantry officer. It disgusts my son, who served two combat tours in Iraq and has seen war’s stupidity and ugliness first-hand.

      By the way, get your theology straight. There’s nothing in Just War teaching about divine intervention. Just War is about setting very strict conditions on going to and conducting war. But as Catholics we believe, along with John Paul II, that “war is always a defeat for humanity.” And a disgusting one at that.

  • I am with Ms. Smucker although more inverted. That is, as of this morning I describe myself as a anarcho/Catholic/Mennonite/with latent Marxist affinities. I think using the slash rather than the hyphenation should address most of the theological objections. Obliged.

  • Julia Smucker

    I’m sorry if my initially visceral reaction obscured my much more positive conclusion, but please notice that I did ultimately conclude that the prayer redeemed the initial reference. I don’t think public honesty about my initial reaction – from which I was able to move on – reflects badly on my commitment to the Catholic Church, which by the way does recognize pacifism as a legitimate position that Catholics can hold.

    For the record, I have never attempted to use hyphenation in describing myself as a Mennonite Catholic: Mennonite is the adjective; Catholic is the noun. In other words, it’s a description of the kind of Catholic that I am. I have no problem calling myself a Catholic who can’t deny her heritage, if that’s more palatable to you.

    • Mark Gordon

      Everyone – except apparently R. Rockliff, who seems to be looking to pick a fight – gets what you’re saying. In that same sense, I would call myself an Evangelical-Catholic, even though I stood before the altar one Easter Vigil and sincerely declared that “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” We are who we are by the grace of God, and we bring all of that, including our sinfulness, to him and his Church.

  • Baz

    R. Rockcliff’s comment “I find that remarkable in a recent convert” is perplexing and fraught with stifling sanctimony. Converts, apparently, are expected to accept all the Church’s teaching without question (or queasiness) and they are certainly not to look askance at anything a Bishop might say. However, as a convert myself–one who was welcomed into the Church in Boston just before the clerical sex abuse scandals broke–I can say that not only do genuine questions about Church teachings persist in many areas, but the pronouncements of Bishops are significantly discounted by their own hypocrisy and, in the case of Cardinal Bernard Law, criminality. Having said that, I responded to the call of Christ to become one again with the body of believers. And I responded to the welcoming call of our Mother Church to sit at her feet and learn. Conversion is a process of becoming, not a single event after which one dispenses with one’s reason, doubts, and past. Faith is striving toward understanding, friend.

    • Mark Gordon


  • Julia,

    Thanks for this post. As a native New Orleanian who has yet to meet Archbishop Aymond, it is exciting to read of some of the good he is doing there. For the record, I think Archbishop Hughes had a similarly themed, though perhaps less moving, prayer prayed at Masses as well.

    For any interested, you can find a little bit about the history here and here. For the record, I share your queasiness Julia.

    • Julia Smucker

      I actually had the chance to meet both Hughes and Aymond, briefly. My impression was that they seem pretty pastoral, as any bishop should be.