Sunday, June 17, 2012
Sometime before I take the walk down that long hallway to meet my maker, I'd like to be able to spend some time in Washington, D.C. Call it a pilgrimage.
True, American democracy wasn't born in D.C. -- that would be Philadelphia. But it didn't take long for the new capitol to spring to life on the banks of the Potomac, which began functioning as the seat of government beginning with the first Adams administration.
The monuments and archives of the great city, with their narrative of a noble and heroic national past, are intended to evoke feelings of awe and reverence in the faithful who come to view them, almost in the same way as the monuments and artifacts of a holy city such as Rome.
Shortly after 1510, a young Catholic monk named Martin Luther made a pilgrimage on foot from Germany to Rome, hoping the church hierarchy would be able to adjudicate a legal dispute troubling the Augustinian Order to which he belonged. Beyond that, he was hoping for a genuine religious experience in the city of the martyrs, through his nearness to the throne of God's own priest, the Pope.
I guess the main difference between my projected pilgrimage to D.C. and Martin Luther's hike to Rome, besides the differences in the means of getting there, is that I know what I'll see if and when I go. Poor Luther apparently had no idea.
What Luther saw when he got to Rome was worse than anything he could have imagined. The Church was rotted through with money and luxury. Sexual morality didn't exist, and cynical, materialist priests mocked the sacraments even as they performed the mass. Luther made a mental note that the bulk of the money came from the selling of indulgences -- buying forgiveness for your sins from an authorized forgiveness dealer -- that would be your local Church rep, the priest.
How much different is Washington D.C. today from Rome 500 years ago? Instead of having the continental monopoly on forgiveness, our present-day high priests of budgets and finances have the exclusive franchise on everybody's future, and the world's. What they need is some competition.
Have you ever noticed how much the capitol dome in Washington, D.C. looks like the dome of St. Peter's?