I had never worn a kippah before. I had Jewish friends growing up and professors in college, many of whom I both loved and respected a great deal, but I never had occasion to don a kippah in a moment of prayer before. Then last year, in Jerusalem, before the Western Wall of the Second Temple, in a space where many believe that our prayers ascend directly to God, I sorted through the bin of white cloth kippahs to put one on before I dared to approach that holy place.
I am not Jewish but as a Christian I knew, even beyond the cultural exigencies of visiting that site, that there, on this place that so many hold to be holy, I should act accordingly. This is also why when, after we had been denied entrance to the Dome of the Rock, my friends and I acquiesced quietly. It was not simply because there were Israeli police there to turn us away, but because we realized the deeper reality. This place is holy to someone, and insofar as no one is directly harmed as a result of the people practicing their faith in that space, no one has a right to diminish, disturb, or violate that observation.
Last year when the horrific video portraying the life of Mohammed came out on Youtube I, as a person of Christian faith, was offended that others who purport to be Christian would do such a thing. When I hear of fans of the soccer team Lazio, many of whom live here in Rome, beating people up because they suppose that they are Jewish I am offended and disturbed by it. One would hope that, in this day and age, we could all agree that those things which people hold to be sacred, insofar as they cause no direct harm to others, should be regarded as sacred and left to themselves as such. A necessary corollary of this is, of course, that all peoples of all beliefs and no beliefs, should be left to their own integrity in both body and spirit to flourish as best they can. This does not rule out dialogue between different belief systems, nor does it rule out that a person of one position or another may change their position. It also does not rule out the legitimate right of faiths to claim that the fullness of the truth subsists within them. What such a basic rule does say is that people should be at least respected and, at most, loved for who they are as individuals. This is something to which I think we all can agree.
That is why, as a Catholic and a Christian, one story in particular has saddened me greatly this week. It comes out of a place that I both love and miss, the greater Boston area, where Harvard University has seen fit to allow a "recreation of a black mass" by a group that calls itself "The satanic temple" at a pub on campus. At the center of the black mass, in its various forms, is the denigration and violation of what Roman Catholics hold to be the most sacred object of our faith, the host consecrated by a priest in the context of the Mass which we hold to be nothing less than the real presence of Christ among us. As a priest, not yet ordained a full year, I can state that I have on at least one occasion had to be sure that individuals who have come to Mass did not try to take the consecrated host from the church with them for this purpose. Harvard has said that the reason that this is a "recreation" is that a consecrated host will not be used, but it begs the question; if this ceremony is still, at base, a recreation of the mocking of what so many hold sacred, and if Harvard acknowledges this reality by saying that a consecrated host will not be used, why hold it anyway?
We, as Americans, rightly hold to our freedom of speech and expression, but civility and goodwill, indeed those things by virtue of which we can cry out "We the People" in establishing those rights, demand more of us. Hate speech is not allowed, nor is it constitutionally protected. Academic freedom and exploration, while valuable for the progress of our society, rightly has its limits in the social contract of our universities when it is anti-semitic, and we have rightly found a new appreciation for why anti-muslim hate speech is inappropriate as well. Why should anti-Catholic and Anti-Christian expressions, which this satanic "ritual" is at its base be allowed?
While I, as a Christian, by virtue of my baptism, wholeheartedly reject satan and therefore the tenets of the group who will conduct this ceremony at Harvard, it seems to me that common sense dictates that all people of good will should also, at the very least, reject the so-called tolerance that Harvard University wishes to display in allowing this hateful ceremony to be carried out on its campus. If people wish to study the tenets of this group at a secular university, while I think that they are gravely mistaken, academic freedom rightly dictates that they should be able to so. What is rightly not tolerable to any of us, whether we are Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, of another faith, or of no faith is the conscious and active mockery and denigration of those things which we hold most sacred. Whether a consecrated host is being used or not at Harvard, we should not confuse ourselves about what is going on there. Each faith should be rightly entitled to the objects of their own faith, no group should be entitled to use the objects of another faith in an act such as the one that Harvard, which prides itself as the intellectual vanguard, is allowing.
We often walk on holy ground, so let us remember to take off our shoes or cover our heads, especially when it is someone else's holy ground. Let us be people, in a world too often torn by the hatred that such a sacrilege embodies, that lift each other up so that in hope and love we can have faith enough in each other to share our sacred truths, and, rather than mocking each other, carry each other towards the hope and love that those beliefs embody.
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