When I was a kid, I always enjoyed holding my hand over my heart and saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day. I love singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the beginning of baseball games. My heart can’t help but swell with pride for my country. My dad, being from Mexico, always made sure I knew how blessed I was to be born and live in the United States of America.
That being said, my first allegiance is to God. When it comes to “God stuff” in “State stuff,” I have no problems. I think it’s great that the Pledge of Allegiance includes “one nation under God.” I know the Knights of Columbus fought hard for this addition. It is citing the correct order of things — God first, Country second.
It is important to keep this order in mind when putting “State stuff” in “God stuff.” The majority of Catholic churches in Texas that I have entered (which is a lot because I’m a big nerd and love visiting churches I’ve never been to) have an American flag displayed near or next to the tabernacle. I take issue with the flag being up there next to the true presence of Christ and addressed this point in a blog post last year. I have thought about this a lot and have found no theological argument for its placement there.
I know there is nothing in Canon Law that regulates the placement of flags in a church, but it just seems proper for the sanctuary of the church to be free of all civil signs as it is the sacred space where the Body and Blood are present with us. I have no problem with an American flag in a church but I think that its placement it very important. It should be in the parish hall or in the atrium or narthex. To have it in the sanctuary of the church seems opposed to what the church stands for, a place for all people, no exceptions.
As Christians, I do believe that we are called to be patriotic and to perform our civic duty. I see nothing incompatible with a patriotic Catholic who has pride in his/her country. But in the physical space of the Mass, in that sacred place, our country is heaven and our allegiance is to God.
This being a country with a very large immigrant population, I have often wondered if immigrants feel somewhat excluded when they are in Mass and see a flag up there by Jesus. Do they feel like the church is telling them that Jesus is only for the American citizens?
I believe that it is important to make sure the symbols we have in a church are not going to ostracize anyone. Having the American flag right next to the tabernacle seems like a symbol of division. The message of Jesus is that all are welcome to come to God regardless of sins committed, socioeconomic status, past history, race, ethnicity, or citizenship. Having a flag in the church changes this message.
In our time here in Austin, my husband and I have had the opportunity to get to know the Paulist community. The vision of Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers, was that being American could make you a better Catholic and being Catholic could make you a better American. Even with this vision, the Paulist churches here in Austin that we’ve been to do not have an American flag in the sanctuary of the church. I bring this up because these churches obviously value being American but I don’t think it is an accident that they have chosen to place the American flag in other places outside of the main church.
As the Church, we want to get rid of any barriers that might prevent people from coming to Jesus. I believe when it comes to the Body of Christ, there should be a separation of flag and faith.