'Tis the season of wonderful myths. Our steering committee of Voces’ New Sanctuary Movement was invited to the St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Burlington, Wisconsin to do a dramatization of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
We discussed myths as we traveled to Burlington; it took over an hour. What were we doing, out on a cold, snowy, and dark evening? The discussion went as follows: Christmas time puts us in touch with myths from all faiths. Such myths are comforting, but they also could propel us to create new political structures for the common good. We decided that you cannot say a myth is false in the sense that it is not historical or scientific. Scientific or historical truth is not the purpose of a myth. Its purpose is to give understanding to something that is very difficult or impossible to explain. There were still questions by the time we got to Burlington.
Cast of the Play in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The reception at the parish was warm and friendly. Most of the people were Latinos but not all. We celebrated Mass which included Aztec dancing; we prayed the Rosary and we did our play. The singing of our committee member, Maria Guadalupe, was a moving religious experience for me. Her song petitioned the beloved and pregnant, dark skinned Mother of the Savior for the gift of Justice and Peace. The liturgy was a loving act of resistance in a repressive foreign culture.
But what about the Gospel Christmas myths of Matthew and Luke; are they still viable? Let’s look at another example that says yes to myths.
The gospel of Luke has the birth of Jesus announced to shepherds, working people, by angels, messengers from heaven. The Savior is a Jewish peasant child born in a stable in occupied Israel. What does this mean? The angels caroled, “Good news of great joy”… “Peace on earth to those of good will.” (Luke C. 2, vs. 10 - 14) The revelation goes directly against the Roman good news myth of, Pax Romana, – peace through aristocratic military might.
Let us remember, fifty years ago the world was on the cusp of nuclear destruction. John XXIII responded with his encyclical, Pacem in Terris. (Peace on Earth)
The Cuban missile crisis of October, 1962 had been resolved by negotiation. John XXIII had pleaded, “We implore all rulers not to remain deaf to the cry of humanity for peace … to resume negotiations … to set in motion, to encourage and accept discussions at all levels and at any time a maximum of wisdom and prudence.” (Douglass, James, JFK and the Unspeakable, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2008 p. 339) Vatican Council II had opened a few days before the world was aware of the threat of nuclear destruction. The Council’s opening message from the Church Fathers stressed peace and social justice.
By April of 1963 talks on a nuclear testing treaty seemed to have broken down. John XXIII presented his encyclical, Pacem in Terris, on April 11th. Khrushchev had seen a copy. Kennedy, of course, could not refer to any influence by the Pope. The Encyclical proposed mutual trust as opposed to mutual nuclear escalation for complete annihilation as the road to peace. The path to a disarmament treaty looked dark, but on June 10th Kennedy gave his greatest and most radical speech at the American University commencement program. James Douglass wrote, “The American University address owed much to Pacem in Terris.” (Ibid. p. 347) Kennedy announced a unilateral suspension of nuclear tests in the atmosphere to promote “our primary long range interest, general and complete disarmament.” (Ibid. p. xxvi).
Benevolent dictator Pope Francis has indicated that the ‘Peace thru Justice’ theme of Vatican II and Pacem in Terris is not completely dormant in the Roman Catholic Church but surely needs to be revived. In the Francis papacy, Roman Catholic theologians may be given the freedom to explain faith and myths in terms of peace and justice. The spark for revival is there; I’ve heard many people say, “because of Pope Francis, I’m proud to be a Catholic.”