Threefold Love

April 22 2019 | by

ON FRIDAY, January 18, 2019, a group of male students from Covington Catholic High School, Kentucky, were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were waiting for their bus, having just marched with 200,000 other pro-lifers in the annual March for Life in Washington DC, which mourns the January 22, 1973 United States Supreme Court abortion decision legalizing abortion throughout pregnancy.

Generally, the media give the March scanty coverage, but this year they granted it massive attention because of the Covington students. Someone posted a 3 minute 44 second video clip on social media which showed what appeared to be a confrontation between an elderly Native American man and the Covington students. The following description from CNN is typical of media coverage: “Videos of the confrontation show a smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat standing directly in front of the man, who was playing a drum and chanting. Other kids could be seen laughing, jumping around and seemingly making fun of the chants. Nathan Phillips, an elder with the Omaha tribe, said the confrontation felt like ‘hate unbridled.’ In that moment, he said he was scared for his safety and the safety of those with him.”

Phillips said he sensed a “mob mentality” in the Covington students. “These young men were beastly,” he claimed, “and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that.’’ He claimed that the smiling student in the red hat blocked his way.

Nick Sandmann, the “smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat,” and the Covington students were vilified across the media. Within hours, Covington Catholic High School issued a statement condemning “the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general…We extend our deepest apologies to Mr Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person… This matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.” The Diocesan Bishop added his condemnation, as did a March for Life spokesperson, politicians, and reporters.


The real picture


However, on Sunday, January 20, a one hour, 46 minute video posted on line presented a full picture. This video showed the main speaker for a group of four or five Black Hebrew Israelites taunting first the Native American demonstrators, who were part of a nearby Indigenous Peoples’ March, and then turning attention to the Covington students. Calling them “crackers,” the speaker verbally attacked the young men, spouted anti-Catholic rhetoric, and maligned President Trump. To drown out the mockery, the students obtained their teacher’s permission to launch into enthusiastic school cheers. At this point Phillips and fellow demonstrators, banging their drums, stride directly into the cheering students instead of marching around them.  

The longer video records the students’ confusion. To show their support of Native Americans, they break into a chant popular with crowds at Atlanta Braves and Florida State Seminoles games, and a few do ‘tomahawk chops’ which the Black Hebrew Israelites condemn as taunts.

Both the short and long videos show Phillips banging a drum in Sandmann’s smiling face. Sandmann issued a statement. “I was not intentionally making faces at the protester. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation. I am a faithful Christian and practicing Catholic, and I always try to live up to the ideals my faith teaches me – to remain respectful of others, and to take no action that would lead to conflict or violence.”


Essential virtue


While the release of the full-length, unedited video triggered a wave of apologies from school, Diocese, the March for Life, politicians, and news media, the Covington incident illustrates how society currently mocks and maligns Catholics who, if they embrace their faith, can identify with Jesus, who was mocked throughout his earthly life, even by public officials. “Herod with his army set him at naught and mocked him, putting on him a white garment.[Lk 23.11]… he to whom the hosts of angels cry ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth,’ whom, as Daniel says, a thousand thousand serve, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him [cf. Dan 7.10]… God the Father glorified him, but Herod despised him” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals I, pp. 63-64; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizioni Messaggero Padova).

Anthony attributes Jesus’ glory to his humility. “Humility is nobler than the other virtues, and by its nobility it bears things ignoble and wrongful… True humility cannot feel pain from an injury, or weakness in the face of another’s prosperity. This is as it should be, because if humility were to be undermined, the structure of the other virtues would be cast down. St. Gregory says, ‘A man who tries to acquire virtue without humility is like a man trying to carry dust in the wind’” (Sermons I, p. 326).


Enduring wrongs


The humility of Nick Sandmann, who bore “things ignoble and wrongful,” is evident in his public statement, “I am not going to comment on the words or account of Mr Phillips, as I don’t know him and would not presume to know what is in his heart or mind. Nor am I going to comment further on the other protestors, as I don’t know their hearts or minds, either.”

St Anthony himself endured mockery and rejection. When he, sick and frail, first entered Italy, no friary wanted to welcome him. Later, because of his preaching against usury, usurers mocked him and tried to kill him. The tyrant Ezzelino essentially laughed in his face when Anthony requested the release of political prisoners.


Heart, tongue & hand


Anthony had an antidote for detraction. “… there are three things from which life or death proceed: the heart, the tongue and the hand. In the heart is consent to good or evil; in the tongue is the utterance of words; in the hand is the putting into action… He denies with the heart, who does not believe, or who consents to mortal sin. Then, he denies Christ with his tongue, who destroys truth with a lie, or who slanders his neighbor… Detraction is turning the good deeds of others into evil, or belittling them… Again, he denies with his hand who does wicked works. As the apostle says, In their works they deny God [Tit 1.16]. Those who in the darkness of sin deny Christ three times in these ways, should repent… so that in the light of repentance they may be able to confess him three times with blessed Peter: I love, I love, I love. I love with my heart by faith and devotion; I love with my tongue, by confessing the truth and edifying my neighbor; I love with my hand by purity of deed. Amen’’ (Sermons IV, pp. 290-9).

Updated on April 22 2019