Tonight I stumbled across a strange AP story about U.S. soldiers joining a procession in Poland to visit the Black Madonna painting. Here’s why the soldiers took part:
Though the 300-year-old pilgrimage has deep religious and patriotic resonance in mainly Catholic Poland, the main purpose of the U.S. contingent, a tradition that has started in recent years, is to show solidarity with Poland _ an ally in Iraq and Afghanistan _ and other nations.
It’s a chance “to come together and share a little bit, and hopefully develop closer bonds with foreign militaries in a non-combat type setting,” said Master Sgt. Roman Waldron, 37, from Springfield, Illinois.
Now, granted, this is as much a patriotic exercise as a religious observance.
Many miracles have been attributed to the painting, including a 1655 siege during which 70 monks and 180 supporters held off nearly 4,000 soldiers from the Protestant Swedish army and inspired Poles to rise up and throw out the invaders.
So, it’s understandable that, as a patriotic exercise, U.S. soldiers’ participation is meant to built military ties. But the faith basis for this event contains at least two layers worth commenting on.
First, this is a good example of the way violent militarism reduces faith in Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to a means to an end, with the end being a morale boost for a military coalition. Would this be happening if the priest who blessed them at the outset, rather than instructing them to refrain from drinking and smoking during the pilgrimage, had sternly preached against violence in all circumstances? Probably not the best venue for building inter-military relations. This is similar to the way that some military chaplains use the Eucharist as a tool to steel soldiers for combat.
Second, note the Church-sanctioned miracle: a painting of Mary bringing military victory. This is a repeat of Constantine’s original lie, that painting the monogram of Christ on the shields of his soldiers at the Milvian Bridge brought a miraculous victory to his troops – military victory being the ultimate sign of God’s favor. This is not a Christian frame for viewing the world. This is the pagan, the Babylonian, way of viewing violence. (See Walter Wink’s work re: the myth of redemptive violence.)
Today is the 63rd anniversary of the instant annihilation of more than 140,000 people in Hiroshima, plus tens of thousands of others who died from causes other than instant incineration. Today, in light of the above story, we should take a moment to reflect on the words of Fr. George Zabelka, who blessed the crews of the Boxcar and the Enola Gay:
Today the world is on the brink of ruin because the Church refuses to be the Church, because we Christians have been deceiving ourselves and the non-Christian world about the truth of Christ. There is no way to follow Christ, to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people. It is a lie to say that the spirit that moves the trigger of a flamethrower is the Holy Spirit. It is a lie to say that learning to kill is learning to be Christ-like. It is a lie to say that learning to drive a bayonet into the heart of another is motivated from having put on the mind of Christ. Militarized Christianity is a lie.