I am always moved when one of my asylum clients gains the ability to stay in this country and worship in whatever church and pray to whatever deity he pleases. Freedom of Religion is a cornerstone of our country, and even those who believe in that “Wall of China” between church and state find value in spiritual diversity.
That’s why I’ve become so vocal on social media about the anti-Catholic bigotry that is circulating among the intelligentsia these days. While there has always been some disdain expressed by the “evolved” elite for the traditions and beliefs of Catholics, it reached a crescendo this week.
There was an article in the Atlantic entitled “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol.” The author — whom I will not name because I don’t want to give him any more publicity than he’s already gotten — compared the Marian symbol to what he called “a weapon.” He then suggested that it was employed by right-wing conservatives to advance the narrative that we’re waging a holy war on secular ground. Realizing this would create justifiable push back, he tried to water down the zealotry of his comments by noting that “In mainstream Catholicism, the rosary-as-weapon is not an intrinsically harmful interpretation of the sacramental, and this symbolism has a long history.” And then he went on to explain why it was intrinsically harmful. And then he protected his tweets.
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As someone who grew up with the holy card of St. Michael casting Satan out of Heaven taped to the inside of her locker (yeah, I was weird) the idea that Catholics need to wage a holy war against evil is nothing new, nor is it particularly surprising. But Catholics use the imagery of actual weapons to depict the battle for souls, not the peaceful and elegant string of beads that represent devotion to the Holy Virgin.
And speaking of the Virgin, she came in for some criticism this week as well. I noticed a number of Protestants, mostly Evangelicals, laughing at the notion that we foolish papists venerated Mary. One person actually wrote on a tweet thread I followed, “What has she done that actually deserves adoration?” Aside from giving birth to the Savior of the world, nothing. Nothing at all.
But the fact that people now feel free to say out loud what they used to simply say at revival meetings is a troubling sign that anti-Catholicism has taken root in every facet of society. It’s not just the atheists and agnostics who have a problem with us. It’s not just the imperfect Catholics who have left the church because they weren’t able to live up to her standards (and want to remake her in their watered-down image of virtue.) It’s not just the abortion activists who think that we are forcing them to push out hundreds of millions of little pre-Catholics, against mommy’s will.
No, it’s some of our fellow Christians who are jumping on the bandwagon. I have no problem with people of other faiths who have legitimate doctrinal differences with my tribe. In a country that respects the freedom to worship and the freedom from a unitary vision of faith, I revel in the multiplicity of paths to salvation. Just as there are many mansions in my father’s house, so are there many roads to his front door.
If you don’t want to pray the rosary, don’t. If you don’t want to watch “Song of Bernadette,” don’t. If you don’t want to attend a glorious May Procession with little girls in white dresses and flower crowns, don’t. We won’t miss you.
What I do have a problem with is the disrespectful way in which some people, again mostly Evangelicals, have attacked the centrality of Mary, and question her role in my faith. If you don’t want to pray the rosary, don’t. If you don’t want to watch “Song of Bernadette,” don’t. If you don’t want to attend a glorious May Procession with little girls in white dresses and flower crowns, don’t. We won’t miss you.
But don’t attack our belief in the glory, and fundamental importance of the Holy Virgin.
But the thing that angered me the most this week had nothing to do with Mary and her symbols. The thing that had literal blood coming from my eyes (something not even Padre Pio could claim) was the despicable suggestion by a woman whose name I will use — Jenn Morson — that a man who gave his life to save another was a bigot.
Morson is a freelance writer for the New York Times, HuffPost and other publications where disrespect for decency is accepted on a regular basis. She wrote an article claiming that Maximilian Kolbe, who was martyred when the Nazis injected carbolic acid into his veins, was an anti-Semite. She pointed to writings that were already considered and dismissed when he was being considered for canonization. The truth is that Kolbe was, like many Poles of his era, a man with harsh opinions about Jews and Judaism. It is legitimate to criticize his views about where Jews should live, and the nature of their religion. Today, we would likely call that anti-Semitism. But Morson goes further, and calls the man himself an anti-Semite. While acknowledging his heroism in sacrificing his own life so that a father and husband could live, she insists that it’s important to remember his bigotry. She did this on his feast day. She did this — to cheers.
And she made sure to point out that the man he saved was not a Jew. He was a Catholic. As if the life was less valuable, because it was not a Jewish one. Her implication was that he saved “one of his own,” an attempt to minimize his martyrdom.
When I engaged with her on Twitter, she blocked me. Because bigots are cowards.
I am so tired of this continued onslaught against my faith. I once said that my asylum clients are subjected to much greater religious persecution than anyone in this country, and that is true. But the fact that you cannot carry a rosary, venerate Mary or take Maximilian Kolbe as your confirmation name without being called a violent zealot, a heretical fool or a bigot, makes me want to lash out at someone. I suppose I’ll say a rosary, since I have an open carry permit.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61