A Star-Spangled Virgin Mary via the Tablet of Brooklyn.  http://thetablet.org/religious-freedom-under-siege/

A Star-Spangled Virgin Mary via the Tablet of Brooklyn.
http://thetablet.org/religious-freedom-under-siege/

I did a double-take when I received the latest edition of The Tablet, the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, and saw this image taking up most of the front page. It is the Blessed Mother wrapped in the American flag, and a poster of the photo has been sent to all parishes in the diocese.

The ad is part of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign by the bishops, which ends Thursday, July Fourth, with a closing Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl. (A number of other dioceses around the country will have similar events.)

The Fortnight for Freedom (perhaps not a felicitous name for a celebration of American independence from Britain) aims to highlight threats to religious freedom — an American and a Catholic (well, relatively recently) value — as the framework for fighting the Obama administration’s contraception mandate and also gay marriage. NCR’s Michael Sean Winters has some good questions and critiques here.

This Star-Spangled icon of the Virgin is what bothers me. The Tablet provides no credit as the artist behind the image, and it doesn’t seem to come from the various resources offered at the USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom page. To be sure, the rhetoric in the F4F campaign as well as the structure of the liturgical celebrations figuratively wrap the church in red, white and blue: the campaign begins on the vigil of the feasts of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More on June 21 and ends on July 4th, the “feast day” of the United States.

So maybe this image just brings home what the bishops have been preaching. But this icon seems over the top — and disturbing. I know Catholics have in the past gone out of their way to demonstrate their bona fides as good Americans. But this? The flip side of a Thomas Nast cartoon, to me.

At the Millennial blog, Robert Christian is on the same page:

Seeing Mary the Mother of God draped in the US flag like she just scored the game-winning goal in the Women’s World Cup is just a bit much for me.  Perhaps I simply prefer the separation of church and state to the separation of church and taste.

But I wonder if I am the only one who winces at this mixing of religious and patriotic (or nationalist?) imagery.  I realize the US is not Serbia in the 1990s, where religion fused with nationalism to generate genocidal fervor, but I would still rather not see Mary or Jesus wearing the American flag or holding a bald eagle.  Some might see this as potentially dangerous.  Others seem to worry it borders on national idolatry.  My initial reaction was that it was absurd and silly.  Decking Mary or Jesus out in American flag gear is perilously close to Ricky Bobby territory.

25 Comments

  1. Here’s a link to the artist’s page
    http://www.joannevonzwehl.com/america.html

    this is not her most offensive work!
    My theology professor friends have had quite the facebook conversation about this.
    Mark

  2. How very un-catholic.

    I can see the importance of having images of Mary related to the culture. There are some beautiful mosaics at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. One of my favorites is the Thai virgin who looks like a bodhisatva.

    But in this image Mary looks more like a movie star than a Jewish young woman who stood at the foot of the cross.

  3. Glad to hear all the negative comments. The religious sense of God’s people is alive and well. I would LOVE to know how our Blessed Mother herself feels about this image. Don’t think she is one bit amused at being used that way.

  4. Oddly fundamentalist non- denom Christian except for the fact it’s the Virgin Mary and not Christ. But that sensibility has been creeping into Catholicism for a while now so its not that surprising to me. Not surprising but so wrong…

  5. Harry Seldon

    From the artist’s website (and too perfect):

    “Creative, funny and intriguing best describe this unique and talented individual who graciously shares her special creations with us. As a native New Yorker and successful business woman, JoAnne decided to fulfill her passion as an artist after achieving many of her long term career goals. Featured in Who’s Who of American Women, Long Island Business News, Top Female Entrepreneurs and Singular Sensations; she has been profiled in The New York Times, The Daily News, Newsday, Economic Times, Suffolk News, Channel 12, Focus TV and Telecare. As a former downhill skier, power-boat navigator, rock climber and now artist and mother of three her enthusiasm and zest for life shows in all aspects of her work. Revel and enjoy her wonderful contributions of art. ”

    Revel and Enjoy.

  6. This symbolizes what I’ve always thought of American Christianity, that it’s a mixture of religion and besotted patriotism. So the virgin of the blessed flag is a great symbol for u.s. Catholics.

  7. When I saw this picture, I didn’t see any of the things that other commenters have posted about. I see Mary, my mother looking up to heaven and interceding for me and my fellow Americans as symbolized by the flag. She looks sad to me. Perhaps she is asking Our Father, as He looks down at her to see Jesus on the cross symbolized by the crucifix in her hand and show mercy. Perhaps she is asking Him to see her, the most faithful of His children and through her hands to grant us, His broken, disobedient children the graces we need to once again turn back to Him.

  8. I wonder how many of those with the vapors over this image cast a similarly critical eye on the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is not wrapped in the flag, but she is utterly enmeshed with Mexican nationalism, inseparable from that fact in reality. It happens. Breathe.

    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      That is the perfect caption.
      I have seen some illustrations that plunk Jesus into a pantheon of American Founding Fathers as demi-gods. It’s sort of like having Jesus dressed as the quarterback of your favorite college football team.
      I am not a Catholic, but I respect Mary as a remarkable person who was chosen by God for perhaps the second most important role in our salvation. I am a patriotic American, and a retired military officer, but I am bothered when a statement is made that coopts God and holy individuals into endorsing a statement that USA Americans are uniquely on God’s team.

  9. This was certainly oddly open-handed through people as if you to provide freely everything that some individuals could contain offered being a e-book with regard to making some cash for by themself, certainly considering you can have tested it when you considered critical.

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