The Religion of America IV: Can These Bones Live?

The events that have transpired since our last instalment have cast everything said thus far into exceedingly and uncomfortably stark relief. Across the United States, cities have burned, shops been looted, and the statues not merely of Confederate stalwarts but of everyone from Lincoln to St. Louis have been attacked, demolished, or defaced — images of St. Junipero Serra and Christopher Columbus being prime targets. The headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Richmond was set aflame — and possible arson has devastated the chapel of Mission San Gabriel in California. Instead of acting swiftly to suppress these outrages, countless State and local governments have used minimum force, and instead joined the rioters’ blather about “intersectional racism.” Most Church leaders have been little better, and if nothing else, the lingering sympathy for rioters demonstrated by the geriatric hippie generation in charge is matched by the infantile rage of the college-age children addled by decades of gender studies. Black Lives Matter — founded by self-declared Marxist Lesbians — and Antifa claim to be speaking for the poor and downtrodden; but they are very well funded. Meanwhile, anti-“Whiteness” material penned by a white woman is peddled at taxpayer expense by the Smithsonian Institution. One thing is certain — as mentioned last time, the religion of American is dead, save to some degree in the hearts of various folk — Catholic and non-Catholic — who would apply the slippery term “Conservative” to themselves. Depending on how the election goes, the inevitable reaction may be precipitated by Trump’s defeat, or it may be delayed by four years by his reelection. But come it shall, and it will not be pleasant when it does. So where does that leave the Catholic American who loves these United States?

On one level, where he has always been. In good times or bad, with or without the support of the hierarchy, the Catholic is obligated to live by the Sacraments, say his prayers, and perform the Spiritual and Corporal works of Mercy. He is obligated to know his Faith ever better, and evangelise as he can. Obviously, this is not earthshaking news. But at the same time, he must ponder his relationship to the country in which he lives, which has gone so seriously awry. Just what are the United States of America, if they are not the objects of worship which the now dying national religion made them? If they are not the “last, best hope of mankind,” or “the shining city on the hill,” as most of us were always taught, then what good are they?

A great deal. America is the Country that God from all eternity chose to place us in — either by birth or through force of circumstance. It has, to be sure, a cloudy history: never Catholic, save in a few favoured regions; its soil, when not watered by the blood of martyrs in some locales, was washed with that of the native inhabitants — who themselves also often enough had a cruel streak as much toward each other as toward the invaders; its fields were worked by slaves and indentured servants; its institutions were forged by two bloody civil wars, whose causes shall be debated until Doomsday; its foreign policy has almost always been anti-Catholic; and its latter career as an Imperial power has been dedicated to exporting infanticide and perversion on a worldwide basis. Pretty grim stuff, were that all there was to it!

But it is not, thank Heaven! For Martyrs did indeed die here, and Saints, missionaries, and Catholic explorers ranged over most of it, if they could not hold it. Many of the Indians converted, and black Catholic Americans have contributed six (so far) candidates for Sainthood. Catholics have shed their blood for the country in every war it has fought — and on both sides in both civil wars. The Constitution has long protected our natural right to evangelise — and it was our fault we did not avail ourselves of this protection. In truth, we Catholics have failed our country far more than ever she has failed us — Know Nothings, Columbus statues, and all. Despite this, the peoples who came here built a country that was quite pleasant to live in, and wherein our fathers and ourselves have been quite — perhaps too — comfortable.

At Jamestown and in Southern Maryland and Eastern Pennsylvania, in Florida, coastal Mississippi and Alabama, Southern Louisiana and Texas, Northern New Mexico, the California Mission Trail, and the scattered French-founded settlements in the Midwest, the Faith has colonial-era roots. Catholic Indian and black settlements tell us much of the efforts of our forebears among those peoples. Elsewhere — throughout the rustbelt of the Northeast and Midwest, are the beautiful churches built by the Catholic immigrants who, starting in the 1840s, transformed our nation’s urban landscape. That heritage, were it all we had, would be enough to cement our love of country. But there is much more.

The writings of our three best-known early novelists — Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe — show a deep-seated yearning for the Faith. Our earliest folk music shows its remote and haunting Catholic roots in ballads and laments whose lyrics often hearken back to the days before King Henry’s break with Rome. From medicine shows to Vaudeville to the Broadway musical to radio drama and comedy to the Golden Age of Hollywood, entertainment has been a huge element of the American endeavour — one in which Catholics took major roles, alongside those two other marginalized groups, the Jews and the blacks. Another pleasant if not earthshaking art in which Americans have taken the lead has been illustration, as the work of figures like J.C. Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, and Norman Rockwell shows. Longfellow, Riley, Lanier, and Frost are just a few of the great poets our country has produced. In music, Stephen Foster, Scott Joplin, Irving Berlin, and the entire Great American Songbook are worthwhile contributions to the World’s repertoire. As the frontier moved westward, Catholics were a major part of that process — not least because it often involved old Catholic settlements being engulfed by American newcomers. From the invention of the cocktail to the varying efforts of such as Stephen Barr and Wolfgang Smith, Catholics have been an integral part of the advances in American science — which in turn has benefitted the whole world. All of this too is our inheritance, which we should love and value.

Our unique history — for good and ill — has left an enormous and impressive mark upon our land, despite the current efforts of the mentally challenged to obliterate it. Moreover, it was worked out against a backdrop of some of the most exciting and varied landscapes on the planet. Historic places and districts, National Parks, Forests, Wildlife Refuges, and Wilderness areas, Indian Reservations, State, County, and City Parks, scenic highways, Federal Public Lands, State Historic Preservation Offices, and State and local land trusts conserve and preserve so much of this built and natural heritage, as do countless historical and hereditary societies — to say nothing of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Audubon Society (no, I don’t agree with their bowing the knee to inclusion either). So too with our innumerable museums. Even many of our government buildings reflect this — as do the Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress, and National Archives (and what I said about knee-bowing goes double here!). All of this too is ours, bought and paid for by our forebears’ blood and treasure. It is also, therefore, our God-given field to evangelise. It is up to us to replace the dying civic religion of the State with the One True Faith, as our fathers did that of the Roman Empire.

A tall order, to be sure. So how do we do it? Well, for starters, as always we must begin with ourselves and our immediate circle. We cannot be reservoirs if we lack water — so our Sacramental and Devotional life must be in order — as must be our continuing Catholic education. As I’ve often written before, we need to evangelise our friends and family through the regular ceremonies of Catholic life — Christmas, Easter, weddings, funerals, First Communions, Confirmations, Name Days — and all the parties we should throw to accompany these, and to which our non-Catholic friends ought to be invited. We also need to develop within ourselves a sort of Pan-Catholic identity. We need to see Catholics of all rites and nationalities as integral members of our own household — and share their celebrations when possible, from the Anglican Ordinariates to the Vietnamese devotees of Our Lady of Lavang.

All of the various sorts of organisations that we touched on just now, dedicated to Historical Preservation and Natural Conservation, can be useful springboards. A bit of research into the roles played by Catholics in the discovery, founding, and settlement of our local community can result in our having requiems said for our co-religionists prominent in the community’s or State’s past — and invitations to attend for those with whom we work in these organisations. If your taste runs to literary organisations, the same rule applies — a requiem Mass for J.R.R. Tolkien or Jack Kerouac or Flannery O’Connor may be just the thing to get their non-Catholic fans of your acquaintance interested in those author’s religion. Are you more interested in the Slow Food Movement or Shop Local Saturday? Then perhaps a requiem for Escoffier, or else invitations to a feast day Mass for the patron of the State, town, or just the local parish. Are you an habitué of the local Farmers’ Market? See about a Mass for St. Isidore’s Day and — if you are in a rural area — something for the Rogation Days and join the Catholic Rural Life Movement.

Do you belong to a veterans’ or volunteer organisation, or have connection with local police, fire, or government? If your priest is amenable, see about getting a spot for him as your group’s chaplain — while this usually does not mean much more than delivering an opening prayer at meetings and saying grace at banquets, it could lead to more for certain individuals. If your pastor does indeed have a missionary impulse, you might well discuss with him the sorts of things used to attract the larger community to the Church for specific reasons and seasons. Traditionally, the Episcopalians were past masters at this sort of thing; but where for them, these ceremonies were often mere theatrics and invocations of the past, for Catholics they can indeed be way of leading souls to Christ. So again, if you are in a rural area, blessings of the fields are wonderful ways of doing this — as is blessing of the hounds around St. Hubert’s Day in hunt country. If your church has or had a particularly ethnic makeup, cultural festivals are a great way to interest people. Depending upon your parish’s musical abilities and the makeup of the local population, Kirkin’ of the Tartans, Lessons and Carols, Madrigal Dinners, the Boar’s Head Feast, and the like may well help your parish affect the tone of your community. So too with the observance of feasts of local Patron Saints earlier mentioned.

One important note during this season of idiotic iconoclasm is the defence of Catholic figures from our national, continental, and hemispheric past. The reputations and statues of St. Junipero Serra, St. Louis, Ven. Isabel of Spain, and Columbus must be defended, and Masses and other observances (especially the last named’s holiday) must be protected. Part of this is making the lives of elected officials who collaborate in removing or obscuring these figures’ role in public life unpleasant — and more so than Antifa can do. VOTE THEM OUT. Moreover, there ought to be requiems in the appropriate places for those Catholic Sovereigns who contributed so much to the founding of this country: not just Louis XVI and Carlos III, whose aid was essential to the rebel victory in the revolution (and the latter of whom founded California and Los Angeles), but in the relevant areas of the country English Queens Anne of Denmark (under whose protestant husband Jamestown and Plymouth were founded); Henrietta Maria (wife of pro-Catholic Charles I, and for whom Maryland was named); and Catherine of Braganza (commemorated by New York’s Borough and County of Queens). Deathbed convert Charles II (who gave his name to the Carolinas) and his brother Servant of God James II (whose title of Duke of York was used to rename New Amsterdam) should also be so commemorated. Of the Spanish rulers, Emperor Charles V would be appropriate for such liturgies, as would Philip II (sponsor of Florida), Philip III (father of New Mexico), and Philip V (for whom Texas was founded). French Kings would include Louises XIII, XIV, ad XV, under whom Quebec, Louisiana, and the area between were explored and settled.

This brings us at last to an extremely important part of placing Catholicism front and centre in national life: as public and eye-catching a celebration of the feast of our national patroness, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Solemn High Masses, processions, flags, banners, and all the pomp of which we are capable should be the order of the day — to which we particularly need to invite our non-Catholic friends. In time, such celebrations can become ever more elaborate, having in mind such public recognition as the Fourth of July currently enjoys. If we all do our duty, the feast of the Peerless Patroness of these United States shall grow ever more in public recognition. If, as, and when the day comes that everyone hails this feast as the country’s national day, we shall have gone far indeed on the trail toward becoming what God wants our nation to be. When America’s animating spirit is at last the religion that Columbus braved the ocean to bring, our institutions and national character shall adjust accordingly, and we shall become at last a true and real people.