Friday, September 19, 2014

Life as a Great Parade

My fear is that my posts about Cardinal Dolan will be taken in the worst possible way.  And I don't mean that certain super-Catholics will be offended that I have the temerity to criticize a "Prince of the Church".

I mean that people will simply assume that I hate gays, or that I'm obsessed with shaming homosexuals, or that I think Dolan is making a horrible mistake by serving as grand marshal of the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade.  In fact, I think a good case could be made for Dolan sticking by his guns and leading the parade; but the case he made is not it.  The reasons Dolan gave for his decision simply insult our intelligence and tell us more about Dolan's vanity, imperiousness and contempt for his critics -which was wrapped in a faux folksy "aw shucks" bonhommie - than anything else.  But my point is not gay bashing or even bishop bashing.  My point is that to parade under a banner identifying your sin is to endorse that sin, and it is to demand public endorsement of your sin. 

But being misunderstood worries me because I've known openly gay men and women all of my life.  You can't make a living in show business and not work closely along side them.  And while their sins are no source of pride (despite what they sometimes rather defensively assert), these folk are like all the rest of humanity: loving, trustworthy, compassionate, petty, untrustworthy, cold-hearted - in other words, a mixture of things both divinely good and abysmally bad, like all of us.

They are part of the Vast Parade, the ongoing line of cheaters, swindlers, lovers and saints who pass by as the band plays, who pass by along that Main Street that stretches from cradle to grave.

Anthony Esolen has a brilliant essay in Crisis in which he looks at what it means to march in a parade - in fact to march in the great Parade of Life (thanks to reader Chrisitan Le Blanc for pointing this article out to me).

I am imagining a parade down Main Street of Anyville.

It’s the typical American parade. Some people are tootling on flutes, braying out almost-G on the trumpet, or banging the big bass drum. A group of high school girls in short skirts dance and twirl their batons. Old men with bellies stuffed into their faded Army uniforms march along with rifles slung over their shoulders. The gladhanding mayor comes waving in a limousine, a smile frozen on his face as people cheer or hoot. Fire engines one two three and four roar down the road with siren and horn. Middle-aged ladies from the middle-aged lady association come bearing friendly banners, smiling to the children in the crowds. A troop of boy scouts, a troop of girl scouts, a clown with big floppy feet, random boys running into and out of the festivities, somebody hawking cotton candy, parents along the sidewalks carrying small children on their shoulders; everything and everyone you expect.

In the parade are liars, cheats, gossips, Sabbath-breakers, and people who drink too much. In the parade are adulterers, a thief or two, a pleasant civic-minded taker of bribes, a man who beats his wife, and a wife who beats her husband. In the parade are people hooked on porn, and at least one woman who has produced some of it herself. In the parade are parents who have hurt their children and children who have hurt their parents. In the parade are fornicators, and some who have snuffed in the womb the natural result of their fornication. In the parade is a doctor who let an elderly patient die of an overdose of morphine because her relatives wanted it. In the parade are the angry, the false-hearted, the covetous, the slothful, the vain, the blasphemous, the licentious, the ambitious, the perverse, the cruel, the petty, the lukewarm, and the obscene.

In the parade are human beings. In the parade are sinners. We are in the parade and we are lining the streets to watch the parade.

In the town next to mine when I was a boy, the Italian immigrants had brought over from Gubbio a great festive parade, the Race of the Saints. Three teams of men, carrying seven-hundred-pound statues of Saint George, Saint Anthony, and Saint Ubaldo, Gubbio’s patron, would race up and down the hilly streets, to the cheers of most of their four thousand townsmen. Sin was carrying sanctity; sinners bent their backs and strained their legs to give honor to the saints.

That is why we have a parade. We who are not always honorable show our appreciation for honor.  We who are not always holy show our reverence for holiness. We who are small pay our respects to what is great. We who have received great benefits show some modest gratitude for those who have conferred them upon us.

Now let us suppose that the Royal Order of Wife-Beaters wants to add their float to the parade, with a jaunty young lady bending over to invite the man with the big paddle. Let us suppose that the Fornicators for Freedom want to march, dancing to “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” Let us suppose that a group calling itself Porn Again Christians wants to strut, with bikini underwear and thongs. Let us suppose that the Rumor Rustlers want to march, advertising their raison d’etre, to ferret out other people’s ugly secrets and to spread them abroad in gleeful caricatures.

We can imagine other groups too: The Ponzi Perps, The Brothers of Brawling, The Sharks of the Payday Loan, The Morphine Mavens, The Salacious Sluts, The Kiddie Korruptors, The Ku Klux Klan, The New Nazis, The Legal Thieves, The Sowers of Discord, The Peddlers of Public Office, The Gladhearted Gluttons, The Bloodsucking Leeches, The Refusers to Lift a Finger, and so forth.

Now suppose that the parade were ostensibly held to celebrate the feast day of a saint, and that a leader of the saint’s faith were to occupy the seat of honor. That would not be a case of sin carrying sanctity. It would be a case of sin marching right over the backside and the head of sanctity. Saint Patrick, according to legend, cast all the serpents out of Ireland. The new Patrick is more “inclusive.” He welcomes the serpents back in.

I deal with this a while back in my post on other forms of public celebrations of sin ...

Several new sites will be on display here in my home town of St. Louis, and the tour buses will be busy incorporating the new stops for eager vacationers.

  • One is a statue of Henry Flurg, proudly on display in the public square in the heart of downtown.  Henry was a middle-aged St. Louisan who spent most of his time masturbating.  He had no social life and contributed nothing to society, but, "He led the way in something we should all be ashamed of," noted Earl Glurp, President of the Pride for Self-Indulgence, which was awarded a Federal Grant to fund the statue.

  • Shirleen Smink worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles and made customers' lives miserable.  She saw to it that some folks stood in line for several hours before being told in a rude and dismissive way that they didn't have the right paperwork.  In her personal life, she was selfish and nasty to her closest friends.  She has been honored with a plaque on St. Louis' Walk of Fame.

  • Thad Schlub managed to father three children whose mothers he abandoned, in spite of the fact that he did literally nothing but play video games, collect disability, and smoke an "unbelievable" amount of "weed" while listening to loud and annoying music.  Four local streets and a fountain will be named after him.

We are all sinners and we march in the Great Parade while other sinners cheer and catch the candy we throw at them.

But we do not demand that they cheer for our sins.  And the garbage Cardinal Dolan is throwing at us sure the heck ain't candy.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

I'm not sure if anyone one else has pointed this out, but Dolan's "defense" could equally rationalize his being Grand Marshall of the parade had NAMBLA been allowed to march under their own banner. After all, finding oneself sexually attracted to children isn't, in itself, sinful, and so merely "identifying" as such isn't against church teaching, n'est-ce pas Your Eminence?