I walked out of church today before Mass had ended. It was about halfway finished when I left. For context, I don’t always go. The reasons are my own, and I believe the details of my faith are between me and God. I don’t tell others what to do with their lives and only ask the same respect in turn.
But I had to walk out today, because I didn’t want to take Communion when I felt no connection to the church, or even to my own understanding of faith. The disconnect occurred when the priest made some political statements during his sermon. It bothered me on two levels: my general, idealistic vision of what Mass should be, and the specific statements that he made relative to my specific, personal experiences.
Per the former, I don’t want to hear political discussions in church. It seems there is a tendency for places of worship to delve into contemporary political issues, and I know it’s been that way for a long, long time. Fine. But, personal preference – I don’t want to hear it. That’s not why I’m there. That’s me.
The latter level of disturbance deals with the specific statement that was made. Now, I should back up and explain that we go to church in a college town, and this particular parish is the “official” home for those university students who are Catholic. So, the congregation in attendance was primarily young 20-somethings. Millennial-types, you know?
So anyway, the priest is talking about healing and restoring the soul through celebrating the Eucharist, and then out of nowhere he jumps into political statements about abortion and immigration. I’ve heard all this before and knew where he stood on those issues. But, today he also said this:
“You know all those people who went to Iraq? They were lied to. They were told they were doing that for us, but they weren’t.”
And I hear the crowd humming in approval. And I see heads nodding along.
And I’m a little pissed about it. For one, I’ve always held priests in high esteem because (obvious reasons aside) I could trust them to see different sides of an argument. The ones I’ve known have always been very tolerant, open-minded and forgiving. I trust them to guide me in my faith. But when they begin to take sides in contemporary political matters I begin to walk back that trust. I don’t want to hear them sounding like every other idiot in the world, making judgments and announcing proclamations on the issues of the day. To me, the divine transcends all of this inconsequential Earthly stuff. Maybe I don’t understand the ethos behind “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…” Maybe it’s only supposed to be a literal interpretation of taxation by secular governments.
But more specifically to what the priest said about Iraq, it bothered me because I couldn’t believe how closed-minded it was. Maybe it sounded like a nice springboard statement to make a political point when he heard himself say it. I found it cheap and pandering, especially given that the audience was made up of kids who don’t have a clue what Iraq was like for those who went… nor do they understand what Iraq is like for people who live there. And apparently, that priest doesn’t understand either.
Those “people who went to Iraq” didn’t go because they were lied to. Maybe they were lied to. Maybe they weren’t. But that’s not why they went.
They went because they volunteered. Not one of those people made the decision to invade another country. The people who make those kinds of decisions never risk their own lives. This ain’t Braveheart. But there we were, invading another country, and while some people were sleeping in late between college courses or meeting up on street corners to protest something by telling other people what to do with their lives (which, by my estimation amounts to practice for the “one day” when the rah-rah sign holders get elected to office and finally have the power to tell everyone else what to do), those “people who went to Iraq” stood up and said, “I will – I’ll go; I’ll do.”
And they went for all kinds of reasons. Don’t cheapen the value of their individual choices by making a political point on their shoulders. Don’t summarily dismiss them all as those poor, wretched creatures who were tricked into sacrificing for nothing. Those “people who went to Iraq” aren’t the noble savages you’re looking for. The reason that each man or woman volunteered to serve is inconsequential. The fact that they did serve while others did not should be the litmus for judging their resolve.
Are they just dumber than all the others who didn’t volunteer? Like, did everyone who stayed at home and bitched about the “war” they saw on TV know something we “people who went to Iraq” didn’t? Aren’t they happy with themselves for knowing it was “all for nothing?”
Was it all for nothing? Before you blurt out your answer that last question, please write it down and with it explain the discriminating criteria you used to determine your answer. Explain how you measure whether anything in this world was all for nothing or something or everything.
Is there a cool matrix or pie chart somewhere that explains that? Maybe even just a “pro v. con” list you jotted down on a napkin? But, even then, isn’t it all just your opinion?
And don’t talk to me about the WMD’s. Hopefully, you realize (or remember) that we were sending American citizens over there to war regardless. Some Americans volunteered to go. Others, I guess, already knew it was “all for nothing.”
Ask a veteran if it was “all for nothing.”
Those “people who went to Iraq” didn’t tell anybody else to go. They didn’t stand on a street corner with signs that read, “You should go to war!” or “College students must be forced to deploy!” or “Deployment Equality!”
They simply stood up, raised a hand, swore an oath, and volunteered themselves. And, unless you’ve met every veteran who went there and asked them specifically, you don’t have a damn clue why they volunteered. And that’s okay. Just don’t act like you know when you don’t.
Because you don’t.
That’s my soapbox. And I left without taking Communion because all these thoughts were floating around upstairs, and it just felt wrong to go through the ritual at the time. I suppose being pissed off isn’t a mortal sin that would preclude me from receiving Communion, but I went with my intuition there. I thought about it for almost ten minutes before making the decision to go. I was upset and couldn’t tell if I was being prideful or if there was something legitimate to the discontent. So I left. And I still don’t really know. So I wrote this.
I’ll go back, of course, and I don’t consider this a big enough deal to warrant any more attention than I’ve already given it. But as the day wore on and my thoughts settled down and coalesced into something cogent I realized that maybe this was a good discussion to share. Thanks for reading.