"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Visitation and Memorial Day

Today was one of those days where a national holiday happened to fall on a great Church feast. When a national holiday is fixed - like the 4th of July - it will of course usually fall on a fixed Church feast day, in that case St. Elizabeth of Portugal, excepting this year when the 4th actually falls on a Sunday Solemnity.

Memorial Day and the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary must often overlap, but apparently this was the first time I was liturgically conscious enough to notice it. Not only do I have a devotion to the Blessed Mother, but I also live with Maia. And one of Maia's very favorite things to play is "Mary and Elizabeth." This game works out well for me because, regardless of whether I am playing Mary or Elizabeth, I have an excuse to attend to my housework and chores while playing. I'm either helping out Elizabeth or cleaning my own house. Since I'm pregnant and showing, Maia no longer makes me shove any stuffed animals or baby dolls in my shirt, either, which is also a welcome change to the game.

So perhaps you can imagine how I felt when I heard at Sunday Mass an announcement that Monday's daily Mass would be a Memorial Day Mass. I felt it as a personal affront. I didn't want to go to a Memorial Day Mass; I wanted to go to a Visitation Mass. Perhaps it will seem that I don't care about the dead or think it's important to pray for the eternal rest of their souls. When I complained to my husband and debated about trying to find a Mass later in the day that would be solely a Visitation Mass, he pointed out the merits of praying for soldiers who had died in war: "Some of them are your relatives, right?" I paused and had to think... yes, I think my mom had a cousin who died in Vietnam. Jeff pressed further: "What about before that? The Revolutionary War? Certainly the Civil War?"

What was he thinking? "No, Jeff, actually, my family just got here! I come from immigrant Catholics, remember? My grandfather was a first generation American, and his first opportunity to serve in a war was World War II." (Happily, my grandfather also lived through his service as shopkeeper of a Navy ship.) Jeff, on the other hand, did have ancestors, or at least relatives, who fought in those early wars, so I had to forgive him for assuming I did too.

But, whether or not I needed to go pray for family members who had died "defending our country's freedoms," as they say, Jeff convinced me that it was foolish to try to find a different daily Mass in the hopes of finding a Visitation Mass. So I maintained my normal Mass schedule and went to my parish's Memorial Day Mass.

Of course, I had to endure the singing of all sorts of patriotic songs - the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, My Country Tis of Thee, and the likes. Nothing against these songs as such, but I'd just prefer NOT to hear them in my church. It makes me feel like I'm at some of nationalistic rally rather than celebrating the Sacred Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. I also had to stand as the American flag was processed down the aisle. Thanks be to God, it was not placed in the sanctuary!

During the rocky beginning of Mass, I offered all of my discomfort up in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on her Visitation day. And so you can imagine my delight when the Mass readings were,in fact, the Visitation readings! Moreover, our pastor did an admirable job preaching first on the Visitation, then talking about the tragedy of war and all the (mostly) young people who have sacrificed their lives for it. The prayers largely communicated the theme of peace, and overall, I left the Mass feeling as though I had attended both a Visitation Mass and a Memorial Day Mass - and really with no hard feelings about the combination. I guess it was just the experience of an American Catholic.

Later in the day, when Eva was napping and I was throwing together a spinach-strawberry salad for a potluck, Maia walked into the kitchen with a noticeable bump in her shirt. "Hi Elizabeth," she said, "I came to visit you, and look, I'm pregnant too."

Of course, I responded, "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? For as your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy!" Then Maia said, "I can't remember Mary's prayer. Can you tell me the first couple lines so I can repeat them?" So I lined out the beginning of the Magnificat for her, while continuing to slice strawberries.

"Oh! I think I'm about to have my baby," said Maia-Mary suddenly. "Will you help me catch it?"

I got to her just in time to see a little stuffed puppy come out of her shirt. Apparently she didn't need my help delivering little baby Jesus, after all. I mentioned to her that actually I was supposed to give birth to John the Baptist before she had Jesus, but she told me she couldn't wait. Then she handed me Jesus and went to get a bandana in which to swaddle the pup.

So in the end, I didn't just get to go to a Visitation Mass. I also got to play out the Visitation in my very own kitchen. I can't complain about that!


Clara said...

I completely share your uneasiness about mixing patriotic celebrations with Mass. Patriotism, like all natural loves, can be a good thing when properly subordinated to higher goods. But a country should not be placed on a par with the treasures of the faith, and when people are processing into Mass bearing a flag, and singing patriotic songs for hymns, it seems some lines are in danger of being blurred.

But, while I'm glad the day ended well for you, I suspect I would have been annoyed by the homily you describe. While praying for peace isn't exactly inappropriate on Memorial Day (after all, peace is certainly a good thing, and indeed something for which soldiers often fight and die), it's treading on thin ice, because it tends to lead to precisely the sort of thing you describe: portraying war as a "tragedy" and fallen soldiers as its victims. I'm not saying that this presentation of war is entirely wrong; certainly there's some truth in it. But it's utterly inappropriate to dwell on this aspect on Memorial Day, which is a day for *honoring* fallen soldiers, not for pitying them. We can't honor them if they are just victims of senseless violence; there's nothing to honor. It's insulting to the fallen to indulge in this sort of rhetoric on a day set aside on their behalf.

I realize that, for some people, pity and sorrow are the only emotions they are capable of feeling towards fallen soldiers, for the understandable reason that some people really can't see anything in war besides senseless violence. I think these people are mistaken, but I can respect their point of view to a degree, so long as they don't try to usurp Memorial Day as an occasion for undermining the very thing that soldiers most characteristically value. If you don't think there's anything to appreciate in war, or in the deaths of the fallen, then it would be better to ignore Memorial Day entirely, as you might a religious holiday for a religion you don't believe in. If you get a day off for it, just see it as a nice day to catch up on your yard work or spend time with your family. That would be much more respectful than engaging in the sort of hand-wringing that makes the families of the fallen feel their deaths were for nothing.

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