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Saturday, April 23, 2022

Spirituality: Reflections on Symbols

Last night (on Wednesday, April 13th), I attended the Tenebrae prayer service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston to enhance my prayer as I enter into the Triduum (Three Days). The Cardinal was there with maybe 125 people of prayer. The music was articulate and skillfully done and the whole tone of the proceedings was solemn and respectful.


As the prayer was finishing, I flipped to the back of the program to see the other services that are available during this week. I noticed that the Latin-rite mass is advertised for a weekly service. I began to wonder about the types of liturgy that Cardinal O’Malley experiences on a regular basis versus what the average Catholic experiences. 


It is easy to see how he would develop a different worldview than the majority of the people within his Archdiocese, and it is easy to see that his eyes might be pointed to Rome versus the people of Dorchester, Chelsea, Byfield, or Randolph. 


It lead me to thinking about our topic of conversation these past days on the flags and symbols that communicate something to the people. A symbol always reveals and hides at the same time. 


The flags that are flown at Nativity Worcester are in question by Bishop McManus, who no doubt has the same orientation to Rome that the high liturgies of Cardinal O’Malley represents.  If we are going to do something, we ought to do it well so that our efforts give glory to God. 


The question that arises for me is: Who gets to decide what a symbol represents? Who is the one who gets to interpret the meaning?


As I listened to you the other day, you had different interpretations for what the Black Lives Matter an LGBTQ flag represent. 


For some, the BLM flag represents a movement, a source of rioting and destruction, of a corrupt BLM leadership. For others, it represents dignity of the individual, and is statement to declare to the world: I’m here, I exist, and I want you to see me. My life matters. And then there are interpretations in between.


For some, the LGBTQ flag represents a promotion of gay marriage, promiscuity, sexual perversion, and a right for freedom of expression. For others, it represents a history of judgment and injustices done to a people because God made persons in a particular way, that life is hard and that one is no longer going to live in the shame that society imposes upon people who are different from them, and is a statement to declare to the world: I am your relative, friend, doctor, teacher, I’m here, I exist, and I want you to see me and the harm you have done to me. My life matters. And then there are the interpretations in between.


These flags point to ideologies, and as Catholics, we have to remove ideologies from our worldviews. The Spiritual Exercises are a good antidote to the development of ideologies. 

It is understandable that a bishop, when coming from a high liturgical practice whose orientation is directed to all things Roman, would want to make a statement about flags and symbols. It points us back to the Church to ask: What really is the teaching of the church? Where is it coherent and where it is incoherent?


I cannot imagine that someone waving a Gay Pride flag would primarily be thinking that they want the Catholic Church to hold sacramental same-sex marriages in their churches. If that is a bishop’s view, then how does he need to be enlightened? How does the LGBTQ community need to be sensitive to society’s struggle to accept them?


I cannot imagine that someone waving a BLM flag would primarily be advocating violence and destruction, and I cannot imagine the BLM protestors are pleased that their flag is associated with the violence that erupted on their watch. If that is a bishop’s view, then how does he need to be enlightened? How do people who wave the BLM flag need to be sensitive to society’s struggle to wrestle with these larger issues?


The danger we fall into is to see these symbols as ideologies and then to take sides. As a church, we are to find the greater good, the common good, and to seek understanding so we can achieve unity of minds and hearts. It is not easy, and yet we have a tool. We have the capacity to enter into dialogue, which is a long-term process, but one that will produce the fruit that is needed for God’s grace to be manifest. We might have to be the ones to be the adults in the room, but the goal is worth enduring the process. 


As we have reviewed the book on Vatican II, we have a classic example of the usefulness of dialogue. Look at the miracle that was produced from hardline bishops and cardinals in the mid-1960s. We need to take the Vatican II style of dialogue to heart because it will change the world. Doctrines develop, church teachings change, we understand more when we seek a common goal together. This is the whole purpose of the Synod – that we come together to speak civilly and with charity so we can learn from one another and then to make changes that will tend to the needs of the people at the center, but mostly at the margins. Dialogue brings us to those frontiers that are often frightening because much is unknown. How do we want to go forward? Let’s go like the Easter disciples who realized Jesus is alive, God is active, and the Spirit will lead. Let’s be audacious enough to hope – and to love.

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