George Dunlap, December 23, 2020. The last line in Chaput’s keynote prayer breakfast…we serve God best by living our faith with the kind of passion and joy that touches the hearts of others, and through them, reshapes the world. Are we welling to live a life of “Roland” (The Song of Roland)? Are we spiritually prepared to be the rear guard for others…?
One of the great legacies of our cultural history isLa Chanson de Roland(The Song of Roland). It was composed a thousand years ago, in the mid-11th century, and it tells the story of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. The battle took place on the border of Spain and France in A.D. 778, during the reign of Charlemagne. The story goes like this.
Charlemagne has been fighting in Spain against that country’s Muslim occupiers. The campaign has been a success. He now leads his army back to France to rest. But the pass he must use, Roncevaux Pass, is narrow and treacherous. So he leaves his favorite captain—Roland, a great Christian knight who’s beloved by his men—to command the rear guard and secure the entry to the pass. If there’s trouble, Roland will blow his horn, Oliphant, to signal his need. So Charlemagne and his army disappear into the pass.
What happens next is this. Roland’s stepfather betrays him. Roland is ambushed by a much larger Muslim force seeking to attack Charlemagne from the rear. Roland and his men fight heroically, and before they’re finally overwhelmed, Roland puts Oliphant to his lips. The sound of the great horn echoes along the pass. Charlemagne hears it, turns his army, hurries back, and crushes the enemy. But of course it’s too late for Roland and his men. They’ve done their duty and protected their friends, but they’ve given their lives doing it.
Readers may recall that during the 2004 presidential campaign, Sen. John Kerry led the Democratic ticket. As a Catholic, Kerry held certain policy views that conflicted with the moral beliefs of his Church. This led to internal tensions among U.S. bishops about how to handle the matter of Holy Communion for Catholic public officials who publicly and persistently diverge from Catholic teaching on issues like abortion. At the time, Washington’s then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, along with Pittsburgh’s Bishop Donald Wuerl, had very different views from my own regarding how to proceed.
I believed then, and believe now, that publicly denying Communion to public officials is not always wise or the best pastoral course. Doing so in a loud and forceful manner may cause more harm than good by inviting the official to bask in the media glow of victimhood. What I opposed in 2004, however, was any seeming indifference to the issue, any hint in a national bishops’ statement or policy that would give bishops permission to turn their heads away from the gravity of a very serious issue. At the time, fortunately, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith resolved any confusion about correct practice in these matters with its July 2004 memorandum to then-Cardinal McCarrick, Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles. It includes the following passage: