A Church of Mercy and the Brood of Vipers Who Won’t Stand For It

I will admit that at times during my younger years, my Catholic faith took on a much more zealous appearance. With time, temperance and a whole lot of that increasingly rare dirty word known as “education,” I’ve shed that zeal in favor of a more discerning and patient brand of faith. No longer am I quick to judgment, nor do I allow myself to engage in fruitless, pedantic debates over issues that ultimately bear no genuine importance. That being said, we must also be mindful of the fact that while judgment is God’s and His alone, we nonetheless retain the right to call something what it is–or isn’t, provided that we have factual basis for our proclamations.

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I’m all for an “inclusive” Church–a Church that understands that it literally “takes all kinds.” Much like our civic society, I’ve long felt that we are much better off when we are open to and respectful of all points of view. My own beloved University of Notre Dame has been criticized by Catholics of a more traditional bent in recent years for “not being Catholic enough,” stemming solely from the fact that they’ve allowed people from different– at times antithetical to Catholic–viewpoints to speak at university-sanctioned events. Yet isn’t that precisely what universities are supposed to expose us to? Don’t we shell out big bucks on tuition to learn how to communicate with and relate to all people from all walks of life? Or are we simply seeking to shelter ourselves from reality, opting instead to reinforce our own narrow-minded views? But where, I have to ask, does the line get drawn when it comes to calling BS on someone’s self-identification as a Christian?

Christianity is apolitical at its core. It is not a political movement, per se. It is better described as a movement of hearts, souls and action. Jesus never advocated for the overthrow of the Roman government. He didn’t even advocate for schism from the Pharisaical rulers of his own Jewish faith. What he did preach–and what his genuine followers heard and believed–was that we have the capacity, as humans and as followers of The Way, the Truth and the Life to transcend the common approach to life adhered to by so many i.e. the worship and pursuit of money, possessions and power. And so while you do not have to subscribe to a specific political viewpoint or belief system to be a Christian, it is, however possible to subscribe to certain political sentiments that inherently render you un-Christian.

When your politics blind you from that which is Christ-like and you allow them to take precedence over behaving in a Christian manner, then–to borrow a phrase from the so-called “rad trads,”–you ipso facto excommunicate yourself from the Church. It seems abundantly evident to me that to be so openly and proudly opposed to charity, compassion and stewardship of the planet because your sole concern is your golden god aka the sacred “free market,” well, you’re just not a Christian. To hold those beliefs while attempting to reconcile them with your supposed Christian faith is an exercise in delusional behavior. You are free to call yourself anything you’d like; just don’t call yourself a Christian, because you’re not one.

What is it that people seek to prove by engaging in this brand of contradictory futility? That they’re “saved?” To risk delving into waters that have been trending in Catholic circles lately, the notion that “accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” equates to one automatically being “saved” is a literal form of heresy. It has no doctrinal or Biblical basis and it is a distortion of the truth. It is, quite frankly, sentimental rubbish. And it is just plain false. So when I see the constant criticism, opposition and vitriolic hatred being spewed by so-called Catholics towards Pope Francis and his efforts to soften the visible face of the Catholic Church in order to make it a bit more Christ-like in the eyes of those looking from the outside in, I have to call BS. I have to call those people what they are: frauds.

Nothing in my reasoning is politically motivated. For them to equate a desire for dialogue, compassion and forgiveness with being “liberal” or harboring a subversive political agenda is a red herring argument; little more than an attempt to deflect attention away from the fact that they, the very people who lob such charges at the Pope are guilty of that very offense. They do a terrible job of masking the fact that it is they who worship their own political principles of greed, selfishness and xenophobia. Ergo, they are not Christians at all. It is time we start backing away from our incessant fear of being labeled “judgmental” and call out impostors for their deception. Someday, when their eyes are opened and they start referring to themselves as the Ba’alists that they’ve always been, they just might thank you.

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A Moment with Gilbert

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I wonder: have we reached a point in our society where we are so fearful of being labeled “insensitive” that we have taken to embracing fallacy in the name of “keeping the peace?” And while it is true that just because something was once “law” does not mean that said “law” was moral or just; see: slavery. But just as it might very well be presumptuous to claim that we know, as absolute Divine fact that something is either definitively right or wrong, it is equally absurd–if not infinitely more so–to assume that we can never know that something is definitively right or wrong. The guaranteed result of the latter line of reasoning is the blanket acceptance of all manner of behavior, no matter how sinful or heinous. Just a light topic to ponder as you make your way through your day.

“The sole philosophy open to those who doubt the possibility of truth is absolute silence — even mental.” -Jacques Maritain

Finding Heaven In the Pacific Northwest

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My wife Jess and I recently spent a week in the Seattle area. Being that it was our first time there, we decided to spend half of our time in the city and half of our time in the remote areas north of the city near the Canadian border. I’ve always had a knack for reading maps and finding natural wonderlands based on the topographic layout of a given place. It was dark when we arrived in Seattle, so our first impression of the renowned beauty would have to wait until the next morning. We picked up our car, made our obligatory stop at the nearest Whole Foods, stocked up on beer, cheese and other essentials and headed to the hotel to plan our week.

Let me confess that Jess and I are Nature-nerds; I capitalize the word because I’m referring to the long-running PBS program. We are both especially enamored with wolves and orcas–aka killer whales so when we came across the name “Orcas Island” on the map, we simultaneously decided that would be our first Washington adventure. We would leave early the next morning to catch the first ferry. Little did we know that we were about to find God’s physical link between heaven and earth.

The drive from Bothell (where our hotel was) to Anacortes (where the ferry to Orcas Island departs) takes a little over an hour. We left at dawn, stopped at Starbucks right as the first light was breaking (yes, Whole Foods and Starbucks are our guilty pleasures, no apologies) and hit the highway. As the landscape began to take shape, I became like a child on Christmas, marveling, whooping and audibly losing my mind at the endless evergreens, snow-capped distant mountains and the intoxicating smell of freshness in the cool morning air. Yet for all the beauty in the immediate Seattle suburbs, the best was yet to come as we approached Anacortes and began to see the San Juan Islands out across the Rosario Strait (which feeds the Puget Sound).

We had to wait in line for about an hour to get our vehicle onto the ferry. We grabbed some more coffee–you park in a queue and can leave your vehicle to go to the strategically positioned espresso stand alongside the driveway leading up to the ferry. We both marveled at the efficiency of the Washington State Ferry system and how smoothly the lines flowed onto the ships. I was also amazed by how many vehicles each ship was capable of holding. Once we parked on the ship, we headed up to the top deck to get the best view for our hour-long ferry ride.

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As we left the mainland behind and made our way into the open waters, then through the San Juan Islands–of which Orcas Island is one–I began to feel that I was witnessing something truly unique. My wife had read that the San Juan Islands were recently labelled as one of the top 100 places on earth everyone should see before they die. I was inclined to agree, but I felt I needed to up the ante on that statement by listing it in the top 10. I’ve traveled fairly extensively and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like what I was witnessing. Pure, nearly virgin land in the midst of immense stretches of water which seemed both inviting and imposing. It was like sailing the abyss between heaven and earth; entering a realm of natural, untarnished wilderness from centuries ago. The sky was the stereotypical Washington gray, but that grayness cannot be adequately described. It is neither drab, nor is it depressing as many folks might think. Like the water below, it is both comforting and unnerving; an entity that makes one realize that they are both alive and vulnerable.

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After we passed through the ports at Lopez and Shaw Islands, we finally arrived at Orcas. We got back into the car, drove off the ferry and began to make the trip to the north side of the upside down U-shaped island where the town of Eastsound sits, nestled in a harbor. The town itself is quaint, clean and wholly maritime-themed, but not in a contrived or artificial way; it is, rather, a fully functioning seaman’s town. We asked another couple walking past us where we should eat and they pointed us towards a bar and grill just up the street called Madrona Bar & Grill. This turned out to be a memorable culinary experience.

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The view from Madrona’s patio, seen above, is awe-inspiring. It was, however incredibly cold and windy that day so we had to settle for the view from inside, which was no less breathtaking. My wife found a local gin–Big Gin–which quickly became her new favorite beverage of choice. I partook in a series of Northwest IPA’s and porters and we shared a sampling of dungeness crab cakes, crab bisque and local oysters, both raw and barbecued that rendered this chef speechless. The entire dining room was no larger than the average person’s living room. The mood was festive; the locals friendly, jovial and seemingly happy to be alive. I saw no reason why anyone should feel otherwise, given the fact that they lived in perhaps the most heavenly place I had ever been to. The beer certainly augmented my elation but even without it, I felt that I had been given a glimpse of what life must assuredly be like in the next world. I’m still not sure how to fully relay what I felt, other than to say that I experienced a calmness that I had never known before. I could breathe; I felt at ease, alive and a sense of complete peace. It was, to risk sounding cliche, surreal.

Both of us were silent on the ferry ride back to Anacortes. We sat outside on the top deck of the ferry, exposed to the cold, windy evening air, yet filled with a warmth and comfort that neither of us could fully explain. There was no use trying to, nor did we feel compelled to try. We were content with simply basking in the overwhelming blessing we had just been so privileged to receive. I strongly advise anyone who reads this to make it a point to visit this majestic place. The rest of our stay in Seattle was icing on the cake. Seattle is a city unlike any other and we both agreed that one day, when the time is right and the right opportunity presents itself, we will call it home. Until then, we will consider ourselves lucky to have had a fleeting glimpse of heaven.

A Few Thoughts on “Conversion.”

The use of coercion in any form as a means of trying to convert someone to faith in God is perhaps the most ludicrous concept I can fathom. Coercion takes on many forms, ranging from passive aggressive verbal annoyance a la going door to door on a Saturday morning to the tactics of Tomas de Torquemada, ISIS or any other group that would blindly think that threat of violence will somehow win people’s hearts and minds. I’m blessed to live in a country where I’ve never been physically threatened in the attempt to convert me to any brand of religion. But I have also lost count of how many times I’ve had people of an Evangelical persuasion attempt to convert me to “Christianity.” My response has always been, “but I am already a Christian.” And the response to my response has always been something to the effect of “no, you’re a Catholic.” And that’s usually when the verbal gloves have come off.

On the contrary, in the cases of those non-Catholics/non-believers whom I have shared my Catholic faith with and who have eventually come to faith in Christ (my wife included), the approach I have always taken has been one of action, not empty words. We live in a world where hypocrisy is rampant and all too often those who wear their religion on their sleeves are so frequently exposed of being guilty of heinous acts and sins. We’re all sinners, and I’m a sinner of historic proportions (mea culpa) so please don’t assume that I’m coming off as self-righteous. But I have always attempted to show compassion, contemplation and balance in all aspects of my life, my faith included. I try to avoid black and white judgments, knee-jerk reactions and sophomoric “Donald Trump” one-line rhetoric in the way I present myself, especially when the subject of faith and religion is the topic du jour. You can never expect that someone is going to have an angelic epiphany right before your eyes the minute you mention Christ or the Church. It is oftentimes a long, arduous process and as Thomas Merton once wrote (and I paraphrase), you can safely assume that you might never see the fruits of your labor. The verity of a conversion is ultimately for God to know, not us. We can only go about our lives hoping that our example is constant, grounded and intelligent. If we live our faith at all times, avoiding the use of the tired and empty false piety so prevalent among televangelists that most people are supremely suspicious of to begin with, then as the old folk hymn goes, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Sicilian Fishermen in 1960’s Brooklyn

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I was born into a third generation Italian-American family in Brooklyn, New York in 1980. My Brooklyn, like everyone’s respective Brooklyn was very different from my father’s Brooklyn of the 1950’s and 60’s. It has been said on many occasions in many different ways that Brooklyn is a place that always changes. For my father and for me, Brooklyn will always be home. Yet neither of us has lived there in over 20 years. A prime “gentrification” locale, Brooklyn changes faster than we can adapt. One of the most apparent ways in which it has changed is the cost of living; my dad and I together couldn’t come up with enough money to live there if we wanted to. C’est la vie. I digress.

While my Brooklyn was certainly a formative and integral part of who I am at heart, like the good history buff that I have always been, I found the stories my father told me of his Brooklyn childhood to be far more invigorating and influential on the person–the chef–that I am today. Of course there was the Brooklyn Dodgers. My dad and I have had many a conversation about the tragedy that was the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and yet we’ve both found ourselves laughing at our own hypocrisy, as we too moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after I finished high school. There were the stories about childhood games in the streets; games like skelly, buck-buck and stickball–the last being a game that lasted into my 1980’s Brooklyn and a game that I still hold near and dear to my soul. But the stories that I’ve carried with me to this day were the ones of the food. I had my grandparents until just a few years ago so it isn’t that I didn’t get to experience these amazing culinary delights firsthand. While most American kids grow up eating comfort food staples like mac n’ cheese, fried chicken, meatloaf and turkey with cranberry sauce and gravy, I grew up eating regular household meals with names such as mozzarella en carozza, sformatto di patate, pizza rustica and pasta con le sarde. You can google any of these things and you’ll find that they’re fairly common items in Italian restaurants nowadays, depending on where you live. But I grew up in what can only be properly called an Italian ghetto–true meaning of the word, not pop culture bastardization– in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Italian was still spoken to some degree in most houses in my neighborhood and almost all of my parochial school teachers, priests and nuns spoke Italian with varying degrees of fluency. Despite these facts, there was certainly an American-ness to most of the people I knew; that is, unless they were of my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation.

The old timers still played Bocce in their backyards and driveways. Most of them still had vibrant gardens in their yards with all manner of produce growing from tomatoes, to basil and mint, to zucchini, eggplant and peppers. These were the people I gravitated towards, even as a mere elementary school kid, because I knew there was something “other” about them, some kind of treasure trove of information that could be gathered. And it was their stories, the ones my dad would attest to, that made me love not only my Italian heritage, but my Brooklyn birthplace. The photo I posted above is of a dish I recently added to the menu of the Senior Living facility that I am so blessed to be the Executive Chef of. It is a dish whose simplicity is almost laughable and yet whose flavor can literally bring tears to my eyes, as it is a recipe that has been handed down to and enjoyed by six generations in my family. A simple Sicilian baccala (cod) salad, it was a dish that was enjoyed every Saturday by my father, his father, his father’s father and a countless number of uncles as they, fishermen who had the good fortune to pool their money and co-own a fish market in Brooklyn, wrapped up Saturday business and proceeded to eat, drink and play cards until the wee-hours of Sunday morning. The ingredients, in addition to the salted cod, are simply olives, garlic, spicy red pepper, celery, capers, red onions and a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. This would be eaten with loaves of fresh baked Italian bread from the bakery next door (the baker was always invited, so the bread was complimentary) and jugs of basement-made red table wine. The men would talk, sing, tell stories about life in the old country and simply live the simple life they all shared together as family and as friends.

It is simultaneously a meal of peasant food and a meal fit for a king. I can think of few foods that I crave more often than this one and maybe I’m overstating the culinary value of this dish (though I don’t believe I am) due to the nostalgia it conjures up in me for a time that I’ve never even experienced, but I firmly believe that this is precisely the purpose of preparing, cooking and consuming quality, wholesome nourishment. Everything in life has a story; at least it should. Food is no exception. Some might say that I am exposing my Westernized pretenses by promoting food as an experience when so many people go to bed hungry every day. Please know that I mourn and pray for those who, through no fault of their own, have been dealt a very unenviable hand in life, but I think this is another topic for another post. I have always considered myself lucky to have been brought up in a strong family with deep faith and cultural ties. I have never known hunger or homelessness. God has been very good to me and I have deserved none of it; I thank him nonetheless for his providence.

I would be lying if I said I had any genuine inclination to return to Brooklyn. It will always be a huge part of who I am but much like Brooklyn has changed, I too have changed. Ten states and twenty two years later, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, another place that is experiencing rapid gentrification. A big part of me feels for those who are being pushed out of this great city, much as I too was pushed out of my place of birth. But life does go on, people do evolve and whether they realize it in the immediate sense or not, they do grow stronger by life’s tempering fires so another part of me looks at it all and laughs, knowing that it is just part of life. Things change; we change; home is not always what we perceive it to be. It is always in our hearts, but our true home is not of this world, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. For now, I will continue to draw from the epicurean treasures of my ancestry in order to feed new generations of diners and foodies–and to indulge in, myself, bringing myself back to the experiences of those who came before me. But I also look forward to the time when I, like all of us, arrive at my true home and, God willing, have the opportunity to share in that meal experience with those men and women who made my life and my talents possible. -AMDG

Catholicism and the American Civil War

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Many of what we would commonly refer to as basic freedoms in the present day were not always commonplace in the American experience. Despite constitutional provisions and the supposed notion of liberty and justice for all, nearly all ethnic and religious groups who arrived in America after the original colonists experienced some degree of discrimination ranging from seemingly insignificant banter to outright violence and hatred. Roman Catholics were certainly no exception to this rule. For many Catholics in the early American colonies, there was a desire for cautious assimilation which resulted in the easing of strict adherence to certain doctrines and rituals which were deemed archaic or downright obtuse.[1] It would be decades before Catholicism was deemed to be an acceptable form of worship in America where citizens were ever-skeptical of a church whose leadership was centered in a foreign land. Ultimately it would be the work done by Catholics in academia and on the battlefields of America’s bloodiest war that would prove to be the launching pad for Catholic acceptance in the United States.

Anti-Catholicism was the norm in the American colonies due in large part to English animosity towards Catholic France and Spain; England had been warring with both countries for centuries and English colonists had little or no use for Papists.[2] Cecil Calvert, an English nobleman, lawyer and Catholic would become the governor of the Maryland colony and his colony would be a virtual safe haven for Catholics who arrived in the colonies. “While persecution was going on in the North and the South, with which Catholics had nothing to do with, their free banner waved over Maryland, where the rights of conscience were recognized.”[3] Even after the birth of the United States, Catholicism would remain a religion that was semi-tolerated but not necessarily accepted in the United States. The underlying fear held by many Anglo-Protestants—epitomized by movements such as the Know-Nothing Party—was of Catholic loyalty to papal Rome. Decades later, when the young nation found itself engaged in civil war, the mettle and patriotism of American Catholics would be put to the ultimate test.

Although most American Catholics resided in Northern states and cities where the percentage of German and Irish immigrants was at its highest, the South contained a small though relevant Catholic presence. “Southern and Border states had already assimilated a small gentry of French and English Catholics but would not see drastic ethnic and religious change.”[4] In attempting to gain foreign recognition of the Confederacy as a sovereign nation, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, an Episcopalian who was fully aware of the global significance of the Roman Holy See wrote a letter to Pope Pius IX seeking his endorsement; the pope responded to Davis and addressed him as “Illustrious and Honorable President.”[5] But if it was recognition as a sovereign power that Davis was seeking, he did not receive it. Pius was brief in his response and his language was rather general and standard for a religious figure; he made it clear that peace was his only priority. “May it please God at the same time to make the other peoples of America and their rulers, reflecting seriously how terrible is civil war…listen to the inspirations of a calmer spirit, and adopt resolutely the part of peace.”[6] “As brother turned against brother, the Church tried to stay above the fray. The hierarchy encouraged priests to act as chaplains and nuns to work as nurses in order to minister to the needs of all the faithful.”[7] Southern General James Longstreet was widely revered as one of the top military minds in the Confederate army. Though not yet a practicing Catholic at the time of the Civil War, Longstreet would later reflect on his own experiences as a top field general through the eyes and wisdom of a devout Catholic convert. “God grant that the happy vision that delighted the soul of the sweet singer of Israel may rest like a benediction upon the North and the South, upon the Blue and the Gray.”[8]

It cannot be disputed, however that the predominant Catholic presence was in the North. “All Catholics realized that the war gave them the opportunity to show their appreciation of, loyalty to, and solidarity with their adopted nation. From scores of Northern pulpits, priests called upon the faithful to don blue uniforms because, ‘The Union must and shall be preserved.’”[9] But the war was not always popular among Northerners. At times the situation became dire, even to the point of violence as young immigrants grew increasingly irate at the fact that they were being targeted for conscription while the wealthy were given exemptions. Young Irish immigrants were finding themselves being exploited for the draft and as a result, began to arm themselves and organize in order to resist conscription.[10] Despite these relatively rare occasions of unrest, “the overwhelming majority of Catholics in the north supported the Union war effort, if for no other reason than to prove the loyalty of their Church and ethnicity to their adopted homeland.”[11] What would ultimately bring the role of the Catholic Church to the forefront of American consciousness would be the actions performed by Catholic religious figures, and one priest in particular, at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Fr. William Corby, a professor at what was then known as the College of Notre Dame [now the University of Notre Dame] served as a Union army chaplain during the Civil War. The son of an Irish immigrant, Fr. Corby took great pride in serving as a mentor and spiritual leader to the men of the famed Irish Brigade. On July 2, 1863, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Fr. Corby would unknowingly attain legendary status by standing in the midst of heavy Confederate fire and offering the rite of absolution of sins before the Irish Brigade marched into the fighting. Years later, Corby would go on to say, “that general absolution was intended for all—in quantum possum—not only for our brigade, but for all, North or South, who were susceptible of it and who were about to appear before their Judge.” [12] Corby’s courage under fire not only didn’t go unnoticed, but became widely spoken about on both sides of the fighting and it wasn’t just his courage that some took notice of. “About a week after the battle, while on the march, a captain, a non-Catholic, rode up to me and said, “Chaplain, I would like to know more about your religion. I was present on that awful day, July 2, when you ‘made a prayer’ and…I never witnessed one so powerful…with one hundred twenty guns blazing at us.”[13] Corby embodied the essential Catholic message of social justice, a message that is so often misunderstood. While many people in our modern day misconstrue social justice as mere activism for political or social causes, Fr. Corby understood the very crux of social justice for what it truly is: living without fear of earthly loss or pain in order to “be Christ” to others and it wasn’t just Fr. Corby who behaved in this manner.

Nuns from Fr. Corby’s Order of the Holy Cross as well as the Order of the Sisters of Charity played crucial roles as battlefield nurses and spiritual aides at Gettysburg and other battles.  “Many a soldier now looks down from on high with complacency on the worthy Sisters who were instrumental in saving the soul when the life could not be saved.”[14] In many instances throughout the war, there either weren’t enough chaplains to make the rounds or in some cases, none at all, but “the Irish Brigade had very many advantages…as it was at no time during the war without a chaplain; but I was the only one…”[15] Considering the sheer number of casualties at Gettysburg, it is hard to fathom how many men would not have had spiritual comfort in their hours of death if it were not for the sister nurses who so fearlessly aided Fr. Corby. “Sr. Marie Louise Caulfield wrote that she saw “the rain had filled the roads with water, and here it was red with blood. Our carriage wheels rolling through blood!”[16] The carnage that the Sisters arrived to see was nothing short of apocalyptic. It is difficult to imagine what the sight of 50,000 dead, dying and wounded must look like, but one Sister said, “all the country was hospital, save space for cemetery.”[17] Neither the nuns nor Fr. Corby cared whether the men they were tending to were Catholic or non-Catholic, Union or Confederate; they were human beings and therefore they contained inherent sanctity. “Catholic sisters were praised for their assistance to all soldiers, North and South, Catholic or Protestant. A Protestant doctor remarked to a Catholic bishop that ‘there must be some wonderful unity in Catholicity which nothing can destroy, not even the passions of war.’ It was this unity of the Catholic Church which proved unique among American Christianity.”[18]

It must be noted that despite the disunity that was so prevalent across the American landscape, the Roman Catholic Church remained one, united church regardless of whether the individual churches were in the North or the South. “While Protestant denominations split over theological and sectional lines, the Catholic Church stood as the only major church which remained united during the war, even if its congregants fought on opposite sides.”[19] That isn’t to say that Catholics who fought on opposite sides were always civil towards one another. In one instance, a Confederate chaplain by the name of Fr. John Bannon wrote of attempting to convince a mortally wounded Confederate soldier to confess before he died. The soldier’s head was split open and yet he was too preoccupied with the wounded Yankee lying next to him to confess his sins.[20] It must also be mentioned that while the Church, both hierarchy and laity overwhelmingly supported the Union cause, the issue of abolition was not exactly at the forefront of the Catholic mindset. The Church’s view of the issue of slavery during the Civil War can only be described as having been somewhat confusing. While New York Archbishop John Hughes spoke openly about slavery as an evil institution, “Catholics did not believe that the Bible condemned slavery and accepted it as part of man’s fallen nature.”[21] In a rather curious contradiction to the aforementioned collective desire to assimilate into American society, on the issue of slavery the Church “viewed emancipation as a dangerously utopian idea” precisely because the act of emancipation was to be granted by a secular power rather than by the Church itself. [22]

After the war, Fr. Corby returned to South Bend, IN to become vice-president and then president of the University of Notre Dame. It is believed that Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish moniker was coined by Fr. Corby as homage to the brave men of the Irish Brigade. What is certain is that his nearly twenty year reign as president of the university would transform it into one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. Notre Dame would become, “a rousing American Catholic success story.”[23] It would also become known as the proverbial nerve center of American Catholicism. In 1924, nearly sixty years after the Civil War had ended and nearly thirty years after Fr. Corby had passed away, the example that he had instilled in the overall makeup of the University and its students and faculty would be tested by a visit from the newly resurgent Ku Klux Klan. Already a bastion of academic excellence, Notre Dame was also becoming a powerhouse in the world of collegiate football and as a result, the school was receiving national attention. Notre Dame was now “the official football team of all American Catholics.”[24] The Klan saw South Bend as a prime target to rekindle the fires of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant movement that they were propagating. What they hadn’t expected was dozens of Notre Dame students waiting for them at the train station and pummeling them as they attempted to get off the train.[25] What ensued was a weekend of violence which saw the students perpetually on the offensive. It would take Knute Rockne, the iconic football coach to finally convince the Notre Dame faithful to end the violence. They complied and the Klansmen departed. In one otherwise insignificant weekend in a small town in Indiana, the tide of anti-Catholicism in America was turned by a group of Catholic students, many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants, who simply weren’t going to stand for being discriminated against any longer. The Fighting Irish had followed the example set decades earlier by Fr. Corby to stand courageous in the face of danger.

The Catholic Church draws upon 2,000+ years of intellectual achievement and moral philosophy in order to remain in a position of leadership throughout the world. But it is the work of individual Catholics—those who literally are the Church—that enables Catholicism to continue to thrive and evolve. Without the living examples of individuals such as Fr. Corby and the Sisters of Charity, who under the most unthinkable circumstances were able to embody the very essence of the person of Christ for those who were most in need, the Church would be little more than an out-of-touch and stagnant institution. Furthermore, it was their work on such a grand and bloody stage that showed Americans of all stripes that Catholics were not merely some kind of “other” but instead, rather loyal and quite typical members of American society. When an attempt was made to resurrect the ignoble intentions of the Confederate-past, it was a group of Catholic students who drew from the examples of their predecessors and held their ground in the face of oppression and intimidation. Today, Catholicism is a mainstream religion in the United States; the single largest Christian denomination in America. Catholics still find themselves fighting new battles against attempts at discrimination and oppression on behalf of others and many are still advocates for social justice, remaining undeterred in the face of evil. “Like the nuns at Gettysburg, may we finally learn to unleash the most powerful weapon of all: unconditional love.”[26]

Borowski, Dave Catholics and the U.S. Civil War CatholicHerald.com June 2011 http://www.catholicherald.com/stories/Catholics-and-the-US-Civil-War,15911

Corby, Rev. William. Memoirs of Chaplain Life. Chicago: La Monte, O’Donnell and Co. 1893

Horvat, Marian T. Let None Dare Call It Liberty: The Catholic Church in Colonial America http://www.traditioninaction.org/History/B_001_Colonies.html

Hughes, Rev. John. The Complete Works of the Most Rev. John Hughes, Archbishop of New York New York: Lawrence Kehoe 1866

Longstreet, Gen. James. From Manassas to Appomatox Philadelphia: 1904

Magliano, Tony. Nuns Unleashed Battle of Gettysburg’s Most Powerful Weapon, National Catholic Reporter Jul. 8, 2013. ncronline.org/blogs/making-difference/nuns-unleashed-battle-gettysburgs-most-powerful-weapon

Maher, Sister Mary Denis. To Bind Up The Wounds: Catholic Sister Nurses in the U.S. Civil War. Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1989

Marlin, George J. Catholics and the Civil War. TheCatholicThing.org April 2011 http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2011/catholics-and-the-civil-war.html

Perman, Michael [Martin Ryerson Reports How Workers Are Reacting to the Draft, July 1863] Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction Houghton Mifflin (1998) p 192

Rable, George C. God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011

Summers, Mark Onward Catholic Soldiers: The Catholic Church During the American Civil War ActonInstitute.org http://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-21-number-4/onward-catholic-soldiers-catholic-church-during-am

Tucker, Todd. Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. Chicago: Loyola Press 2004

University of Notre Dame Archives; Rev. William Corby at Gettysburg. http://www.archives.nd.edu/about/news/index.php/2013/corby-gettysburg/#.UunpKY45iaI

Pope Pius IX Response Letter to Jefferson Davis, December 3, 1863 http://edwardkranz.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/response-letter-from-pope-pius-ix-to-jefferson-davis-december-3-1863/

Rev. William Corby at Gettysburg. Ancient Order of Hibernians, State of Florida. http://www.aohflorida.org/rev-william-corby-at-gettysburg

The Irish Echo 78 Years Ago, Notre Dame Battles the KKK http://irishecho.com/2011/02/78-years-ago-notre-dame-battles-the-kkk-3/

[1] Marian T. Horvat Ph.D Let None Dare Call It Liberty: The Catholic Church in Colonial America http://www.traditioninaction.org/History/B_001_Colonies.html

[2] Ibid

[3] Rev. John Hughes The Complete Works of the Most Rev. John Hughes, Archbishop of New York New York: Lawrence Kehoe 1866

[4] Mark Summers Onward Catholic Soldiers: The Catholic Church During the American Civil War ActonInstitute.org http://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-21-number-4/onward-catholic-soldiers-catholic-church-during-am

[5] Pope Pius IX Response Letter to Jefferson Davis, December 3, 1863 http://edwardkranz.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/response-letter-from-pope-pius-ix-to-jefferson-davis-december-3-1863/

[6] Pope Pius IX

[7] George J. Marlin Catholics and the Civil War. TheCatholicThing.org April 2011 http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2011/catholics-and-the-civil-war.html

[8] General James Longstreet. From Manassas to Appomatox Philadelphia: 1904 p VI

[9] George J. Marlin

[10] Michael Perman [Martin Ryerson Reports How Workers Are Reacting to the Draft, July 1863] Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction Houghton Mifflin (1998) p 192

[11] Mark Summers

[12] Rev. William Corby at Gettysburg. Ancient Order of Hibernians, State of Florida. http://www.aohflorida.org/rev-william-corby-at-gettysburg

[13] Rev. William Corby Memoirs of Chaplain Life. Chicago: La Monte, O’Donnell and Co. 1893, p 185

[14] Ibid, p 275

[15] Ibid, p 185

[16] Tony Magliano Nuns Unleashed Battle of Gettysburg’s Most Powerful Weapon, National Catholic Reporter Jul. 8, 2013. ncronline.org/blogs/making-difference/nuns-unleashed-battle-gettysburgs-most-powerful-weapon

[17] Sister Mary Denis Maher To Bind Up The Wounds: Catholic Sister Nurses in the U.S. Civil War. Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1989

[18] Mark Summers

[19] Ibid

[20] Dave Borowski. Catholics and the U.S. Civil War CatholicHerald.com June 2011 http://www.catholicherald.com/stories/Catholics-and-the-US-Civil-War,15911

[21] George C. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011

[22] Ibid

[23] Todd Tucker. Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. Chicago: Loyola Press 2004, p 21

[24] Ibid, p 79

[25] The Irish Echo 78 Years Ago, Notre Dame Battles the KKK http://irishecho.com/2011/02/78-years-ago-notre-dame-battles-the-kkk-3/

[26] Magliano

The Truth About Thanksgiving (And the Pilgrims)

If you grew up attending American K-12 schools, whether public or private, chances are you were taught that the Pilgrims were freedom-loving, God-fearing men and women who came to the New World to escape religious persecution. You might have the image of a husband and wife, clad in traditional Pilgrim garb standing among peaceful, primitive looking Indians amidst a bountiful table of traditional Thanksgiving culinary fare. Yet as has been the case with much of our national history, these oversimplifications do not tell the entire story; in fact, many of the stories of the Pilgrims that we are fed in American schools are patently false. James and Patricia Scott Deetz’s The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love and Death in the Plymouth Colony dispels many of the popular notions of Pilgrim life that so many of us grew up believing while elaborating, often in graphic detail on others. After reading this account of life in the Plymouth Colony, one will come away with a much different picture of who the Pilgrims were and see that they were not all that different than certain factions of our modern society.

The most commonly asserted idea when studying the founding of the New World is the idea that the Pilgrims departed England to escape religious persecution. In an eerie precursor to what is today so commonly promoted as the so-called “War on Christmas,” the fact of the matter is that Calvinists and Puritans departed England, not simply because they were persecuted—which they were, to an extent—but more so because they subscribed to an extremely rigid and fundamentalist brand of Christianity. Their outspokenness against the Church of England and inflexibility made them easy targets; many initially departed England for Holland where they sought the freedom to practice their brand of religion and soon after arriving in Holland, departed from there to go to the New World.[1] Holland’s virtual religious anarchy was too much for them to bear, proving that it wasn’t blanket religious freedom that they sought, but rather, the freedom to practice their own beliefs and in many cases, impose those beliefs on others.[2] William Bradford made it clear that his people sought “propagating and advancing the gospel of the Kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world.”[3] The systematic process of mass conversions employed by the Pilgrims once they reached the New World was not only done for the sake of bringing people to the knowledge of Christian God—it could be said that this was perhaps not a reason for doing so at all—but instead as a means of “taming” those would-be converts for the sake of exploitation of labor and goods. It is undeniable that economic oppression was the real motive for the Pilgrims’ departure of England; their expressed interest in ownership of land and wealth was at the forefront of their reasons for seeking a new place to call home.

Another myth commonly taught to American schoolchildren is that of the first Thanksgiving being a harmonious and peaceful celebration of unity between the Pilgrims and the native Indians in the Plymouth Colony. Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger, described the first Thanksgiving as a rather raucous occasion which was rife with gunfire, shouting and the consumption of large quantities of food in which no mention of giving thanks is ever recorded.[4] This directly ties in with the skewed notion of the Pilgrims as being almost saintly in their modesty and personal ethics. As is often the case today among religious fundamentalists, the Pilgrims tended to brandish religion and the idea of God as a weapon rather than simply seeing God as a loving, nurturing power. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the realm of sexual ethics. Litigation and legal language pertaining to sexual crimes seemed to be endless and much like today, there was an obsessive infatuation with legislation of what were deemed proper and improper sexual acts. The fact that there were only two recorded cases of rape in the Plymouth Colony—one allegedly committed by an Indian—is both laughable and telling; regarding rape, a woman would be deemed a willing participant, rather than a victim if she was not audibly heard crying out for help.[5]  The “puritanical”—pun intended—social norms that were in place in Plymouth were almost impossible to avoid violating; it was automatically assumed that when a man and woman were alone for any reason whatsoever, they were engaged in sexual activities.[6] Divorces were nearly impossible to obtain and adultery was seen as a crime against the nuclear family with scarlet letters in the form of brandings used to permanently mark adulterers.[7] Like today, spousal abuse was a serious and rampant problem with very few cases being reported because local magistrates would almost always side with the male party.[8]

Human beings throughout history have had a need to create mythical figures as a means of telling the story of their own origins. In some cases, we’ve created divine figures and in others, more mortal ones but in nearly all cases, the intent was to create icons to either emulate or as a ruse for hiding ugly truths. The realities of who the Pilgrims were stand in stark contrast to the fairytale version that we’ve created and called “American History.” Like so many other aspects of our nation’s founding, the truths behind the myths are not pretty. While it is simply unfeasible and impossible to undo the genocidal wrongs that were committed in the founding of this country, a massive step in the right direction would be in telling the story as it actually happened, rather than trying to hide our transgressions under a red, white and blue blanket of lies and fables.

[1] James & Patricia Deetz. The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love and Death in Plymouth Colony. New York: Anchor Books, 2001. p 34

[2] Ibid, p 35

[3] Ibid, p 35

[4] Ibid, p 5

[5] Ibid, p 134

[6] Ibid, p 133

[7] Ibid, p 144

[8] Ibid, p 161