Unexpectedly, the other day I was approached by a friend who started the conversation with “hey, you’re Catholic, right?”. It’s not an unusual conversation starter for me, but this time instead of a question about the Church, I was asked why my archbishop was such a hypocrite.
“I don’t get how, on one hand, Catholics can use religious freedom to avoid Obamacare1, and then, on the other, try to stop some religious event from happening just because you disagree with the group,” he continued.
If you live in Oklahoma, follow Catholic media, or have read previous posts on this site, you probably know that a “satanic church” in Oklahoma City plans to hold a “black mass” at the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall. The planned event has drawn the concern of the the Most Reverend Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City. It has set off local debate over the proper use of taxpayer funded facilities, as well as call into question what types of activities are covered under the first amendment and the freedom of religion.
I was aware of the planned event before this conversation but knew very few details about it. To be honest, at the time, my quasi-libertian political sensibilities sort of agreed with my friend’s statement. Regardless of these sensibilities, I had a fairly simple answer for him: The archbishop is doing his job.
Archbishop Coakley is not a political figure. He is the shepherd of Catholics in the western two-thirds of Oklahoma. His job is to protect the souls of his flock. Sometimes this means dealing in politics, but this does not make him a politician.
The first amendment and fair use arguments can be debated. What can’t be debated is what kind of event this “black mass” is. This is not a Jewish Shabbat service or Muslim Jumu’ah. It’s not even a pagan or Wiccan nature ritual. These are all acts of worship or celebration of something these groups hold sacred. This planned event is a dark, evil, anti-Christian, and specifically anti-Catholic ritual. It involves an “exorcism of the Holy Spirit” and serves as a perverse inversion of the Catholic Mass.
Such an event is like a wolf wandering into the meadow where sheep are grazing. A shepherd’s duty is to protect his sheep. If Archbishop Coakley did not speak out against this event, he would be failing in the vocation to which God called him.
This isn’t the first such activity to make headlines. A similar event that was scheduled to happen on the campus of Harvard University was cancelled or at least scaled back and moved after public outrage. One big question surrounding the event at Harvard was whether or not it included a host consecrated during a Catholic Mass. In regard to the Oklahoma City event, the answer to that question appears to be yes. In an interview with Aleteia, the event organizer said he believes he has a consecrated host.
The host is the bread that Catholics partake in at Mass. We believe that during the Mass, it is consecrated and mysteriously becomes the true body of Jesus Christ. Once consecrated, we believe that it remains the body of Christ. Consecrated hosts are treated (or at least should be) with the highest amount of respect by Catholics. We keep the consecrated hosts protected. To do anything malicious or disrespectful is one of the highest forms of sacrilege for Catholics. We truly believe it to be an attack on our Lord.
From what is known about events like this, one of the central acts is the desecration of such a host. This is why Catholics everywhere should be disturbed and concerned. It seems clear that the First Amendment rights of the event organizer are going to trump the concerns of Archbishop Coakley and the Catholic community of Oklahoma City. So, what are we to do?
Our Lord will be desecrated and mocked, and we will be left on the sidelines to watch. This story has been played out before. Just as when Jesus was arrested in the garden, we can act in violence as St. Peter did, only to hide in shame later. Or we can look to the example of Our Lady. Mary followed along the Way of the Cross enduring the pain of watching her child, Our Lord, being beaten, mocked and spit upon. She prayed. She endured. She watched her Son die on the cross.
Most importantly, she saw her Son resurrected.
While this event might elicit outrage and frustration, don’t let it cause sinful anger or the desire for vengeance. Let it elicit a desire for prayer as it did in Boston at the time of the Harvard event. The victory has already be won, but let us pray that no souls are led astray in the battle. Let us take up Archbishop Coakley’s call to prayer and invoke the intercession of Our Lady, and all the angels and saints that we might be delivered from this and all evil.
1 He was referring to the ongoing legal battles regarding the HHS contraception mandate in the new healthcare law.