She or We, Caesar or Serf?

One of my pet peeves is listening to an individual refer to herself or himself in the third person. Example, when LeBron James announced on tv he was ditching Cleveland for Miami:

I wanted to do what was best, you know, for LeBron James, and what LeBron James was gonna do to make him happy.

I don’t know why a person couldn’t come right out and say, “I’m going to make myself happy.” The ego-centeredness will be communicated just as clearly–this guy had a television show to announce it, for heaven’s sake.

Not to pick on athletes exclusively, but politicians have done it. Artists and other celebs too. I’m aware illeism has a more complicated history than how it surfaces in the modern culture.

It has a historical context, too, either from a sense of self-importance (as in Julius Caesar) or humility (the rejection of some or all of the self in relation to a superior).

When the Church self-references as “she,” which is it: Caesar or serf?

David Friel leads off his defense of MR3 with a spirited advocacy for the Church as “she.”

The Bible uses lots of imagery, and one of the most pervasive, overriding images of Scripture is the marriage of Christ with the Church.  The image begins in Genesis, and extends throughout all the prophets; it is mentioned in the Gospels, and it takes center stage as the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation.  Cover-to-cover, the Bible is the story of the marriage between Christ and his Church.  Just as in earthly marriage, this heavenly marriage necessitates the union of a man with a woman in an inseparable bond that is faithful, fruitful, and utterly free.  For this reason, the Church has always been regarded as a feminine entity.  Now, our English liturgical prayers reflect that great truth.

One problem in all this is that marriage is a partnership between equals. It hasn’t always been so. And the Biblical notion of marriage has included the idea of multiple wives, especially for the privileged patriarchs from Abraham to Solomon. That marriage metaphor is part of Christian tradition. But these days, it’s overused quite a bit. The city is the bride, but the Church is a lot of other things, too. Branches of a vine. Sheep of the shepherd. No longer no-people, but God’s people.

Is Fr Friel elevating us (or she) to some higher level of partnership with God? Are we the Caesar? Or the hierarchy that seems comfortable with this notion? Are we some sort of equal marital partner with Christ, or is this just some ancient arranged marriage, and this is all about a wedding day and its adornments? That final reunion with God in Revelation 21–that’s a particular metaphor with a context–it’s used on conjunction with the city Jerusalem. (See Gal 4:26)

Have we become like Cam Newton or LeBron James, referring to ourselves in the third person in these most important prayers? Or is it a humble act of supplication: the third-person reference of a child? Maybe it depends on the culture and context.

I don’t have a problem with an accurate self-reference as “we.” It acknowledges we are an organic community, not an individual. It doesn’t overstate the marital metaphor and strain the cultural references of most of the Christian West. It states a reality about which some of us might shudder: that like it or not, we’re all in this together, clergy and laity.

Most importantly, we stand as a community called by God. That’s Scriptural, too. Maybe “we” is better in that it covers more bases, more metaphors, and it avoids some awkward places if we reflect on the bride aspect too deeply.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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