During coverage of the World Cup, a Hyundai commercial premiered which depicts a representation of the Catholic Mass that is dedicated, instead, to the sport of soccer. Read Father Barron's response below.
I just watched a commercial for Hyundai which relies, strangely enough, on the quasi-religious devotion that some people have for soccer. The piece commences with a group of devotees carrying a miniature soccer ball into church in a kind of monstrance and singing the Latin words, “Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, ora pro nobis,” (Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, pray for us). Later in the video, a man kneels down at an altar rail and opens his mouth in the manner of a communicant about to receive the Eucharist, but the “minister” gives him, not a host, but a piece of pizza. And word has begun to circulate about a Comedy Central program which is in the works. It deals, apparently, with Jesus Christ as “a regular guy who flees to New York in order to get away from his oppressive father.”
I’ll leave aside for the moment the obvious double standard that obtains in the media regarding the mocking of Christianity and, say, Islam, but I would like to draw attention to the perhaps quaint-sounding issue of blasphemy. Blasphemy (from the Greek word meaning “to injure”) is a conscious attack against God or those things associated with God. In our country, up until recent years, there were laws in most of the states against blasphemy, and in the Middle Ages, blasphemy was seen as a crime greater than murder since it involved an attack, not simply against a creature, but against the Creator himself. Thomas Aquinas specified that blasphemy is an act of injustice, since it involves the denigration of the one who is supremely owed our thanks and praise. Thomas’ clarification allows us to see that blasphemy does not in any sense injure God; rather it injures those who blaspheme. When we give God the honor that is due to him, we become more rightly ordered both as individuals and as members of society. One of the great liturgical prayers of the Catholic Church catches this when it says, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” The point is that there is a causal link between the giving of highest praise to God and the establishment of right order among us. Concomitantly, when we denigrate God and holy things, we tend to fall apart, both individually and collectively, the act of supreme injustice conducing to the many lesser forms of injustice.
Now I don’t think for a minute that we ought to bring back anti-blasphemy laws, but I do think we should be attentive to the psychological and societal implications of mocking holy things. Bob Dylan gave an interview not long after issuing his recent Christmas album. The interviewer remarked that he was surprised that Dylan’s readings were so traditional and reverent. Bob Dylan responded simply, “Why should I be irreverent? Isn’t there enough irreverence in the world?” Wise words from someone who knows a thing or two about the relationship between honoring God and establishing justice.
Father Robert Barron is the Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. www.wordonfire.org