So, recently Amazon.com released a new commercial advertising its fast, free delivery services.
The commercial shows snapshots of an intact traditional family: A startled mother. Young kids starting up a noisy “band.”
In the last image, the father is wearing noise-cancelling headphones he presumably ordered from Amazon on the first downbeat.
He is undisturbed, relaxed, and smiling.
Why is he smiling? Well, given that the background music for the commercial is Schubert’s Ave Maria, and the father is using headphones and enjoying himself, it’s not unreasonable to consider that while the rest of the house is in uproar, he is content because he has placed himself in the presence of beauty.
Given that “beauty will save the world,” this really should not be an issue.
But it became one, because we live in an age where people are easily offended and even seem to love their outrage.
Thus, upon seeing the ad, some Catholics on social media became instantly incensed, crying “Sacrilege!” Taking insult on behalf of Almighty God and Our Lady, they actively sought to enrage others, ginning up a “Shame on Prime” hashtag movement.
On Twitter, a search for “Amazon Ave Maria” shows off some of pan-rattling Marthas:
How dare you play the Ave Maria on your stupid commercial.This is totally disrespectful to Catholics. The Ave Maria has nothing to do with what Amazon is trying to sell. #ShameOnAmazon
@amazon @JeffBezos How OFFENSIVE!!! Using the Ave Maria for advertising. How dare you take that liberty. Pull this advertisement immediately. #AmazonPrime
@amazon please stop using a sacred hymn … This is a sacrilege
@amazon @JeffBezos SHAME ON U using the Ave Maria … DISGRACEFUL!!! DISRESPECTFUL!!! DISGUSTING!!!
Using the Ave María … is a travesty. No respect for the Mother of Hedus Christ! [sic]
ave Maria should not be an amazon prime commercial. Fu$$ you amazon! [sic]
Just heard Ave Maria, looked at TV and it is an #Amazon commercial. WTF.
As my Auntie Lillie would say, “Oy! Language, people, language!” Substituting abbreviations or dollar signs for the letters and words you are thinking and really want to say reveals the intentions of the heart, and as Jesus taught, that’s enough to be an occasion of sin: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28).
In our era the Lord might add, “And everyone who uses abbreviations while cussing out others has actually already said those words in his heart . . . and while we’re discussing it, don’t think I don’t know what OMFG means! If you love me and love the Father, you might want to rethink throwing that out into social media, but I digress . . .”
Comments on Facebook were a bit more more measured:
Something seems a bit incongruous. The excessive materialism and satisfaction which comes through purchase being pared with the Ave Maria just seems a bit ?….. saying that knowing I do my fair share to keep Amazon afloat.
Overall, watching Catholics running the gamut from mildly annoyed to deeply offended over this ad proved to be a pretty depressing spectacle; it disturbed me more than the ad, which to me suggested that someone looking to enjoy the Ave Maria might like a set of headphones. Seen in that light, in fact, the commercial seemed like it complimented the Ave.
Happily, a few Catholics on Twitter had similar takes:
It’s beautiful and it’s beautiful that a part of Catholic culture was included in the ad.
Just watched the Amazon add with Ave Maria…. I like it. She can bring calm into a world of noise?
Look, I understand that Catholics sometimes feel besieged by the ever-faster advance of secularism, and sometimes they feel like the Church is under threat and that it’s their job to defend her on all fronts, on every issue, because to permit one slight is to possibly allow a dyke trickle to become a full-on flood, and so they try to plug up every hole with their thumbs, knowing they will never reach them all.
I get that. And certainly it is commendable to want to knowledgeably defend our teachings and traditions within a world that can be ignorant or malevolent or sometimes both.
But in every ongoing conflict, it’s vital to discern what battles must be fought, and what skirmishes should be permitted to burn out, and even when a perceived provocation is—upon closer look—a neutral or potentially friendly act.
I’d put the Amazon ad in the last category.
The reaction to the commercial, though, is part of a strange phenomenon that occurs whenever the secular world is perceived to be claiming too much of Catholicism for it’s own use, which is inevitably called a misuse. It’s phenomenal because the instinct to take instant offense on behalf of God or Our Lady seems completely incongruous with our understanding that God is all-powerful, that the Queen of Heaven was undeniably a strong and courageous woman who faced social ruin, the threat of stoning, disturbing prophecies about her son, and also endured his torture and death within her very presence, and never ran away.
God is Almighty. Mary is tough, tough, tough. Both of them can withstand a thirty-second secular commercial that shows someone finding a way to enjoy a beautifully wrought prayer amid chaos. When we take offense and cry “shame” and sputter on about it, we’re not demonstrating faith in the largeness, the might, the power of God. We think we’re showing love for our Mother, but we’re actually diminishing her, and making God look rather small, too—too weak to handle a secular association.
Such reactionary responses only end up serving a profound insult to the Holy Spirit, who—as we see repeatedly in Scripture and in the history of our Church and her saints—can and will use the most confounding of persons, the most surprising and unexpected occurrences, to attract souls, and to touch them, and to eventually lead them into a relationship with Christ.
Who knows whether someone, hearing the Ave on an Amazon commercial, is moved to seek out additional prayerful music that eventually inspires something more? Who knows if some lapsed Catholic heard that commercial and was thrown into a memory of religious beauty and was moved to attend Mass that weekend (possibly initiating a full-on return to the sacraments)?
We do not know all the ways the Holy Spirit can use the Amazon ad to serve God’s own purposes. But rather than clucking about it in vain, we can pray that something wonderful happens—in the lives of many—because a beautiful prayer was unleashed into a distracted, overbusy, increasingly secularist world.
We should not unintentionally suggest that our God too small, too weak, to handle what human beings can devise. We shouldn’t, even with the best of intentions, permit the world to ever, ever perceive of Mary of Nazareth as anything but strong, resolute, and accessible. And we should never, no matter how much we think we’re doing the right thing, insult the Holy Spirit by acting like any event is beyond the Spirit’s use for the purposes of God’s plan for our salvation, collectively and individually.
Really, Amazon has just told the world that the one who quickly acted to removed himself from the busy, Marthaesque world and settled into a beautiful prayer has, like Mary, made “the better choice” (Luke 10:42).
How in the world could Catholics ever argue against that?