An Internet video features a glimpse of a testimonial banquet given by the Queen of England for the president of France.
In the margin alongside this video are related presentations that the viewer might find interesting. One is a segment from the famous 1943 film “Casablanca,” in which the patrons of Rick’s Café join in a resounding performance of Les Marseilles to drown out some Nazis singing a German anthem. Not much given to sentiment, the present author was profoundly moved by this rousing chorus. Understand first of all that Les Marseilles and the French revolution that spawn it are in direct defiance of everything that the “Quiet Corner” represents.
“Liberty, Fraternity and Equality” are the bad habits that got the Western world into the mess it is currently experiencing. The everyone-is-entitled-to-his-(or-her)-own-opinion and who-are-you-to-judge-me attitude of today’s relativistic, individualistic, post-modern world is a direct product of the toppling of the ancient regime in which throne-and-altar stood for time-honored values, traditional morals and perennial truth. True, these established ideals were frequently violated in offensive ways (vast wealth vs. abysmal poverty), but nonetheless there was a consensus, an agreement, about the meaning of life, the direction of society, the nature of man.
This sense of common destiny that once united the Western world and that has lately and sadly degenerated into the fragmented culture of today was momentarily resuscitated during this film clip from “Casablanca.” The courageous heroism of the French patrons of Rick’s Café in the face of a Nazi threat was edifying, to say the least. When these French expatriates on the North African coast perceived a common threat, they felt a cultural unity and sensed their continental roots. Although the patrons were a diverse assortment from Paris, their response overlooked their diversity and celebrated their unity. Nationality triumphed over politics. Roots won out over personal considerations. Tradition trumped individuality.
Certainly "Casablanca” was anti-Nazi propaganda originating from the sensible Hollywood of yesteryear. But it was propaganda that promoted a legitimate insight. “In unity there is strength,” as the motto of the Kingdom of Belgium proclaims. It is true that each man, each woman, each culture, each generation has its own unique strengths — and its own peculiarities.
Yet, all persons and all civilizations have a common ground from which they originate. In the age of faith, this common ground was called God. He is the source of life and his church should be the common bond of all humanity. Basic unity is fundamental to the authentic Christian consciousness. True, distinctive gifts are not to be despised. Charisms are just as much a part of church life as harmony is a part. Yet, gifts that do not recognize the giver isolate one man from another. Diversity that does not acknowledge a more fundamental unity divides and ultimately deadens a society.
Today the Catholic world is celebrating the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. No Christian doctrine reveals more about God and more about man than this belief that God is one godhead but three divine persons. Since man is created in the image and likeness of God – “in our image” – the basic unity found in the divine nature as well as the distinctiveness revealed in the divine persons should reveal themselves in human nature and in the human person. The Trinity is diversity raised to the ultimate degree. The three divine persons are infinitely distinct: Father, Son and Holy Spirit will never merge no matter how much they might love each another. Yet the sacred threesome, with all due respect, would be paralyzed did they not share the common divine nature through which they act. All the Father’s creativity, all the Son’s obedience, all the Spirit’s promptings would come to naught were they not made effective through the single divine nature. And Christians must be nourished on a common faith in which their unique gifts can flourish and contribute. Individual works, no matter how impressive or distinctive, must be rooted in a common ground, a common faith. Otherwise they will divide, alienate and finally exhaust themselves and society as well.
Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Raines might not have been theologians but their film did emphasize a divinely-bestowed human instinct. A nation, a civilization, a church united can stir even the dullest hearts.
Fr. Lennon resides at the St. Thomas Aquinas Priory at Providence College.