This morning in my parish in the Bronx we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Montevergine. Montevergine is an abbey near Naples in Southern Italy famous for its Black Madonna icon, which could be the name of an album by you know who but is not. The irony is that the feast is actually Sept 8, not 7, but religious feasts today conform to the same time warp as secular holidays like Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays. People seem to be concerned about weekends, shopping, and traffic, which is understandable. The George Washington Bridge now costs $13 to cross. I remember when it was $4.
Then there’s the feast. Religious feasts in the liturgical calendar are not always accompanied by actual feasts. In fact, a lot aren’t. It just so happens this one was, because while we were celebrating the non feast day with a non feast inside the church, outside the church booths were being readied for the celebration of Ferragosto with a real feast. The smell of grilled sausage and pork drifted through the open stained glass windows as we sang.
Ferragosto is an Italian holiday celebrated on August 15, which is another religious feast day known as The Assumption. In case you were wondering or didn’t know, Mary is big in the Latin church (as in Roman, not salsa). And don’t ask what we were doing celebrating Ferragosto on Sept 7 at the same time that we were celebrating Our Lady of Montevergine. It’s far too complicated.
The strange thing is that it worked. Everyone involved–parishioners, business owners, community leaders, residents, shoppers, and tourists–adjusted to the change in the traditional calendar, because the change not only made sense but acknowledged and respected the way in which people live their lives today.
Oddly enough, this is a lesson that an Italian couple I met not that long ago failed to learn as they insisted on a recipe for “traditional tiramisu” that was not altered by the American palate.
“So, where are you selling it?” I asked.
“New York,” the husband replied.
All of which leads me to this conclusion. Well, several conclusions. First, the world is divided into two groups of people: those who insist on what is right and those on what will work. The former hold that the feast of Our Lady of Montevergine should be celebrated on Sept 8 regardless of the liturgical calendar or what the church says. The Italian couple falls squarely into this camp. The latter are willing to bend the rules to accommodate people’s lives. They might even go so far as to celebrate Ferragosto in October if somehow that made sense. I should point out that age has nothing to do with which group you might belong to (the Italian couple was in their 30s). It also depends on what we are talking about. For instance, I am a purist when it comes to martinis. Nothing less than gin distilled from grain will do, and I prefer a twist rather than an olive. After all, I am not a barbarian.
There is a much larger issue at stake here, however. It is a matter of how we view the world and relate to others. Do we see the law as immutable and sacrosanct such that it must be obeyed regardless? If so, it would be a grave offense to give amnesty to millions of undocumented workers in this country. Better to defend the border even if the federal authorities won’t. On the other hand, is the law so malleable that we can bend it without regard for inherited tradition? What about the Constitution and the current dismantling of individual rights and the legislative branch’s authority?
To get back to my parish, which is where we started, the teaching is unambiguous: the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. How that is interpreted and carried out, of course, make all the difference. I just hope we can keep in mind our own happiness and freedom.
Aristotle held that true virtue is the mean. In this case, it would lie between the extremes of blind allegiance to our inherited traditions and anarchy. But there must be a willingness to recognize that laws exist for us, not the other way around.
I tried explaining that once to a DMV clerk. She wasn’t impressed.