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July 1-August 9


Dear Charlie,

We have a new pastor in our parish and a group of parishioners have approached him asking him to put the American flag and the Vatican flag back in the Church. Our previous pastor had removed them. When I heard about the group going to him, I went to see him myself and explained why I thought the flag should not be in the Church, which was basically from what you wrote in your article Sacerdotal Flagism, which I got off your website. He did not agree to keep the flag out of the Church but said he would give consideration to what I said. Do you have any other thoughts I could share with him before he makes his decision?
The deeper and more gravely serious issue here is that Jesus is catholic. He came for and to save all people. He reveals that God is catholic, “Father of all.” Geographic, ethnic and national particularism has been the curse of religion in general, including operational Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism since at least the time of Constantine. By curse I mean it has significantly and chronically interfered with the revelation of the only true God there is, God the “Father of all” as revealed by and in Jesus, the Christ. Jesus reveals the true Face of God not made by human hands. The face of God that nationalism reveals is not the true Face of God and can never be because of its non-catholic integral character. Pick the nationalism, any nationalism, and then list what it participates in, glorifies, justifies and normalizes which is radically inconsistent with the person and teaching of Jesus, and you would fill several pages in small print. I will apply here what I have applied to nationalistic state activity in general via a quotation from Carl. J. Friedrich,  Eaton Professor of Government at Harvard University. On the final page in the final chapter of his 400 page book, The Pathology of Power, he writes, “Our analysis has, I hope, shown that politics needs all these dubious practices; it cannot be managed without violence, deceit, betrayal, corruption, and propaganda.” A flag, any flag, embodies and enables these practices and much more, which is contrary to the person and teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, e.g. the lust for power, the hatred of enemies, diminution of the capacity for empathy towards those sons and daughters of the Father who are outside the scope of the particular flags symbolic cognitive and emotional reference point, that is, outside a particular nation-state.

Every Catholic man or woman, girl or boy,  has a right when he or she enters the sacred space of a Catholic Church to be in the presence of icons, symbols images, words and music that convey and make present the reality and Face of God as revealed by, through, in and with Jesus in the Gospels. Even if MacDonald’s or Wal-Mart offered a a Church an outrageous sum of money to put its symbol inside a Catholic Church, and even if a large percentage of the Church’s congregation worked for MacDonald’s or Wal-Mart, for a bishop or priest or minister to do so would be a breach of a fiduciary spiritual relationship between himself or herself and Jesus, and himself or herself and the Christians he or she was called to serve by revealing to them via the person and teachings of the Jesus of the Gospels the true Face of the only true God—a Face that can never be revealed by way of a flag, including the Vatican State flag!
The cross, not the flag, reveals the true Face of God and fidelity to that God.To bring a flag into any Christian Church as a permanent ornament cacophonizes and compromises the entire symbol system and symbolic communication of the Church’s spiritual atmosphere. It is intrinsically anti-sacramental.
P.S. I think, Brian, it is probably spiritually permissible to bring a flag into a Church for a special day of prayer for a particular people—and not necessarily just for the people of the country in which one lives. For example, to bring the flag of a country or group that is the  enemy of a country into a Church in order to pray for them would be clearly consistent with the person and teaching of Jesus, would clearly be living out of and witnessing to the Face of the true God. But as a permanent Church ornament, emphatically, “No flags of any ilk!
P.P.S.Brian, I do not know how the regulations regarding the decoration of the interior environment of a Catholic Church have changed since I wrote that piece, Sacerdotal Flagism, a couple of decades ago ( I think). I suspect that since today the Catholic Bishops and clergy are catering to the U.S. Military in an unprecedented manner and have militarized even primary and secondary Catholic school buildings in a way previously unknown, e.g., shrines in Catholic elementary and high school memorializing graduates who went into the military are now rampant across the U.S., I suspect the regulations on flags in a Church have been altered significantly. But, I am sure they have not been changed to the point where a pastor is mandated to display a flag in his Church. I assume that decision is left to the pastor’s conscience—so far.

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