Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
An early happy St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days to everyone! This week we come up on two exciting celebrations, particularly for the Irish and Italian cultures, but here in the melting pot of America for everyone. Whether you’re having Irish Soda bread or Sfinge, this week may be a bit of a mid-Lenten reprieve when we take time to celebrate the feasts of two great saints who have served as patrons of these two historically Catholic cultures. And not just for us Catholics, but all people seem to enjoy the mini-holidays and the customs they bring.
In reflecting on these days though, and their now secular appeal, it’s striking to think of how the faith is so intertwined with western culture, that even as the faith is fading so rapidly, the faith based customs still remain. The Christian faith has left its mark in such a profound way on different national identities that it cannot be erased. The examples are endless: the Scottish flag is marked with the cross of St. Andrew and the British flag with the cross of St. George. The Camino of Spain, which is now experiencing wide secular popularity, is a pilgrim path to the shrine of St. James in Compostela. Many countries still celebrate days such as the Assumption of Mary, All Saints Day, and Good Friday, as civic holidays. We realize something profound described by the great thinker Josef Pieper, that cult (in the traditional sense of worship) and culture are intrinsically interwoven. What we worship comes to define how we live and the ways we celebrate. It is the inspiration for our art and our music, and instills a spirit on a people. In traditionally Christian places then, the faith was not just relegated to the Church, but it invaded every aspect of people’s lives. Not only that, the values that faith instills are reinforced by the social norms everyone lives by. One needs only look to traditionally Islamic countries to see how different a culture can be.
So what defines our culture today? Sadly, Americans have come to be defined by things like consumerism, individualism, and hedonism. What is one of our biggest holidays? Black Friday when shopping malls become wrestling arenas. What does our music glorify? Complete moral license in sexuality and every aspect of life. Who are our heroes? Celebrities who play sports, who act, who just so happen to be very physically attractive, but who are not exactly saints. We are no longer building beautiful cathedrals but cold and soulless skyscrapers of steel and glass, dedicated to the almighty dollar. Our society worships no God, and therefore we are left worshipping ourselves and seeking to fulfill every desire in a way that leaves us only empty. In our world we are driven to build lives without beauty, without feast days, without joy, things that come from having a sense of meaning and purpose that go beyond this life.
Maybe our challenge then is to start to build a new Catholic subculture here in the United States, or at least here in our little corner of it. Maybe it’s time we started to build our lives around our faith, rather than the fluctuations of the stock market or the dictates of pop icons and giant corporations. How? Let’s bring back Sundays, when we step back from our routine, spending time with God and family. Let’s celebrate saint’s days, finding ways to recognize true heroes in our daily lives. Let’s listen to sacred music and read great Christian works, filling our soul with holy inspiration rather than the toxins our world produces. Let’s dress in modest clothes, fast from meat on Fridays all year, build friendships with other parishioners by coming to events other than Sunday Mass, pray the rosary aloud as a family or with friends, and decorate our homes with holy images. Let’s be Catholic first, and then American, because then we’ll find we are not less American, but we will become a leaven in our society that helps recreate it and redefine it as a Christian culture worth celebrating. St. Patrick and St. Joseph, pray for us!
Yours in Christ,