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Jesus and Christian Faith in the Public Square? Yes! And Proclaimed by a Military Band!

December 10, 2013

Maybe I’m just not listening to the news enough, but I haven’t heard a lot about the Christmas wars this year. These are the annual wars wherein a Christian seeks to put up some display of Christmas, be it a creche or Christmas tree, and soon various atheists or civil liberties groups lodge protests or initiate lawsuits to stop the practice; even going so far as to ban the colors red and green in public schools during the Christmas season and banishing Santa, (a secular Christmas feature but somehow tied to Christmas nonetheless).

Anyway, I haven’t heard a lot of it this year. Perhaps some of you will correct me on that.

Much to my pleasant surprise, a Facebook friend sent me the video that is below of a “flash mob” by the United States Air Force Band of which she is a member. They surprised people that the Air and Space Museum here in Washington DC with the surprise Christmas concert.

What makes the event significant to me, is that the United States Air Force Band did not simply play some secular tune like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or “White Christmas.” In fact, they didn’t really even play what most people think of as a Christmas song as the main piece. As you will see, and hear, the opening strains sounded by the cello are of the familiar Bach piece Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. “Wow,” I thought!

Well of course, as the other instruments began to join from various parts of the museum, I figured that no words would be sung, rendering it less “offensive” to seculars.

But then, I began to see singers appear prepared to sing! “Would they dare?” I thought. As the first singers opened their mouths to sing, they did not pronounce the words, rather they hummed the melody. “Ah! that’s what they’re going to get away with it,” I thought.

But then, Lo and behold! They began to sing the words:

Jesu Joy of man’s desiring!
Holy wisdom love most bright.
Drawn by thee our Souls aspiring,
Soar to uncreated light!

Wow, a military band and choir, sponsored by the United States Government, singing of Jesus Christ, in a public museum largely funded by federal money. Wow!

And then things got even more explicit with the words of the Carol:

Joy to the world, The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
Let heaven and nature Sing!

Joy to the world, the savior reigns.
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

The choir ends by singing Jesu! Jesu! Joy!

Thanks be to God! I’m glad to know that among average people, this is still acceptable and pleasing. As the camera pans the crowd I see delight, and reflective joy. Perhaps someone did walk out, maybe even to file a lawsuit, but I did not see it.

In my own parish last night, the United States Army Band came and played a Christmas concert. And here too, many of the works were sacred. At the height of the concert, the beautiful young soloist led us in singing O come all ye faithful, a song inviting us to adore Jesus. And we also sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing, glory to the newborn King! As of today, I received no threats of lawsuits and, as far as I know, neither did the Army Band. Again, I say, praise God!

And yet I know, some are in fact deeply disturbed by any affirmation of faith by the military, or any part of our government. How would I feel, they ask, if instead of singing about Jesus, the Air Force Band or the Army Band sang of Allah and trumpeted the Muslim call to prayer.

I’d like to think, that I could find room for that in my world. I admit it would be hard, because like anyone else, I’m comfortable with what is familiar, uncomfortable with what is unfamiliar. I will say, that I am neither offended or angered when I see a menorah or Hanukkah candles, or the star of David, or other Jewish things in the public square during the time of Hanukkah or other Jewish feasts.

As for things Muslim, I suppose I could get used to it, but I will say that are a few things that hinder my appreciation of things related to Islam. Certainly, among these are the great persecutions suffered by Christians throughout the world, largely at the hands of Muslims. So I admit, I would have more trouble with the celebration of things related to Islam.

That said, I know Muslims, I have even work with several Imams in matters of social policy here in Washington. I do not personally dislike Muslims that I know or see. I am not angry when I see Muslims at certain times of day on their prayer rugs. In fact, I see what they do as honorable and a good witness to others that there is a God to whom we must answer one day. Even if their understanding of God is not mine, we are certainly allies when it comes to resisting secularism and anti-theistic movements.

But I do admit I would be uncomfortable, at least at first, seeing a United States Military Band play a worship song related to Islam.

But for those who will simply excoriate me and say, “Aha! Then away with all religious traditions, it must all leave the Public Square; the government must have nothing whatsoever to do with faith including the Jewish and Christian faith.”

To them I will say that part of the heritage of this country, and the genius behind our constitutional and governmental system, is the Judeo-Christian faith. Like it or not, liberal democracies emerged from the Christian tradition. The founding fathers all referenced the Scriptures frequently, and found inspiration in them for the form of government we enjoy today.

I would therefore argue that references to the Jewish and Christian faith do have a certain pride of place in the American experience, at least at this point in our history. For United States Military Bands to play music from this tradition is qualitatively different than if they were to play something from Buddhist, Druid, or Islamic traditions.

Like it or not, the holidays, Christmas as I would call it, are times of tradition, where our religious heritage is celebrated and appreciated. This is just reality, and it is reflected on the faces that you see in the video below. People were not shocked, or horrified, or angered. The vast majority, if not all, were both pleased and moved.

Those who would wish to remove all references to this cultural heritage of the faith, or just substitute other traditions merely for the sake of diversity, seek to placate a small number who can be acknowledged at other times. And they are willing to offend the vast majority who still believe, or at least appreciate the great cultural heritage to our faith has bestowed.

So, admitting that some do not appreciate this sort of thing, and also admitting that I would not exactly be pleased to see our Christmas tradition either ended, or be crowded out with many other things for the sake of diversity, I simply asked my fellow countrymen and women who do not exactly appreciate these things to make room for us in your heart.

What a beautiful moment took place in the Air and Space Museum. Thank you USAF band!

Comments (15)

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  1. Robertlifelonfcatholic says:

    I am not a conspiracy theorist but you notice it was a covert military operation executed with precission on several fronts to overwhelm the enemy.

  2. agus says:

    Msgr Pope, in Java Indonesia, Christmas songs with word and instrumental now has been played at most malls in big cities, nights and days. Christmas trees with beautiful lights can bee seen there too..

  3. Annette Strachan says:

    Not to mention the current exhibition, ‘Heaven & Earth’ Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections; on view at your

    Nat Gallery of Art. The catalogue and especially the Icons calendar , beautiful gifts…

  4. edraCruz says:

    Thanks be to GOD! All creation praise JESUS, The GOD of the Universe! Man, was I all tears watching this powerful tribute to The LORD of lords. GOD Bless our military men. In the Gospel, you see how the Gospel writers and Our LORD JESUS are kind to them. And why not, because the military men are the epitome of real gentleman-ness and strength of character of which JESUS, HIMSELF was and is and will be, as a Conquering King. YHWH EL GIBOR.

  5. Jacqueline Tran says:

    Thanks be to God!!! I cry when I read this. God will be with us no matter what! He is truly the King of all kings and God of all the gods.

  6. James S. says:

    Thank you for this post, Monsignor, and applause to the USAF Band for their wonderful performance.

    Like you, I haven’t heard much about the War on Christmas this year, but in recent years atheists put up billboards of a silhouetted manger scene with the caption, “You know it’s a myth. This season celebrate REASON.” The message is, the Virgin Birth is a myth.

    The rejoinder to that would be something like, If it is a myth, why did the pagan myth makers reject it? If the ancient Greeks could believe that Zeus, god the father, could assume the form of a swan to rape Leda (who conceived Helen of Troy), what made the Christmas story so fantastical? It would seem that atheists owe an explanation as to why the ancient world did not give the account of the Virgin Birth a standing along with other myths.

    The Catholic Catechism says it this way: “Faith in the virginal conception of Jesus met with the lively opposition, mockery or incomprehension of non-believers, Jews and pagans alike; so it could hardly have been motivated by pagan mythology or by some adaption to the idea of the age. The meaning of this event is accessible only to faith, which understands in it the ‘connection of these mysteries with one another’ in the totality of Christ’s mysteries.” (498)

  7. BHG says:

    Plus they sang the RIGHT words–Joy of MAN’S desiring, which is broader and more beautiful than the feminist-laundered OUR desiring that is present in most hymnals these days. Jesus is not just for us, but for all, and it is our job to make Him Known. What a lovely way to do so!

  8. Maurine says:

    Sorry Monsignor, but the war against Christmas in the public square is alive and well. Shaw AF base in SC was just forced to take down a nativity scene; a school in Texas has banned Xmas trees, saying “merry Xmas” and the colors red and green so “no one is offended”. Now mind you this goes against a recently passed law in Texas. The school principal denies any knowledge about the ban. Apparently it was the decision of the queen bee president of the school’s PTA.. The queen bee decided purple would be the color used at the school’s holiday party since it is non-religious and does not offend like red and green. (Further proof that God does have a really good sense of humor. Purple a non-religious color during advent? Ok so the queen bee is completely ignorant.). A school district in NJ has banned all christmas music at school concerts. And on it goes. . .

  9. RichardGTC says:

    God bless those musicians for that.

    This piece took a completely unexpected turn for me when it started contemplating the performance of Islamic music by the US military. A short time ago that was unthinkable. Now, so many unthinkable things have happened we must wonder why it hasn’t happened.

    One could claim that liberal democracies arose from Henry the VIII and Martin Luther. Why? Before then kings, in Europe, had to answer to the Pope on questions of faith and morals. A king’s taxing power was negligible back then as compared to today. With the rise of Protestantism, kings claimed divine right and were annoying enough to their subjects that their subjects revolted–and hence arose liberal democracies–an experiment that is turning out to have some results of foul odor.

    A little history lesson that is think is accurate and worth remembering.

  10. JohnR says:

    What can one say but “Hurrah!!!”?
    Utterly delightful.

  11. BP says:

    Don’t forward the clip to Mikey Weinstein!

  12. Bill Foley says:

    I recently went to a local mall for a 2-mile walk, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear Christmas hymns actually being piped into the whole area!

  13. Peter Wolczuk says:

    I also have noted the lightening up of various persections of Christian traditions during the Christmas season this year; along with a few lingering persecutions here and there.
    My worry, which is still speculative at this point, is that the lightening up is coming as a sort of universalist regard for all religions that is creeping into more, so called, Christian churches. As this grows Christian principles are tolerated but, people like the queen bee of the pta, are portrayed on the fringes. The stick of emotional violence has been with held but is still displayed to those who fear truth more than evil.
    There’s a phrase, which is somewhat sporadically popular, that all it takes for evil to prevail is for righteous people to do nothing. Is this because these righteous (I choose righteous rather than good because of what is in Mark 10:17-19 and Luke 18:17-19) people fear truth more than they fear evil?
    I refer, here, to a terrified and flight inspiring fear of truth – as opposed to a holy and submissive fear.
    The truth shall set us free (from slavery to sin) John 8:31-33.
    I’ve heard that an addict can only overcome the denial, which the addict uses to hide from the truth of their self destruction, when the pain of maintaining the addictive lifestyle exceeds the pain of the truths of our fallen state (and their, our – my, part in it)
    The broad mix of universal combination of all spiritual messages, including vague generalities, seems like an effort to distract the from the discomfort of facing spiritual truth – thus re-inforcing denial. For how long and for how many people who are willing to seek false comfort over truth?
    Never-the-less, I am putting my nativity scene out on the front of the house as I did last year. Thne (last year) a friend made a (seemingly friendly) comment and I quoted Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26.

  14. Jennifer says:

    How brave of our servicemen and women to boldly proclaim our Lord in the public square! Beautiful!