An Exercise in Exegesis
Originally Published April 19th, 2023
Tolkien insisted that he did not write allegorically, but rather wrote beautiful histories; I am inclined to say that this is how God writes as well.
Perhaps the bat in the basilica is old news. Its retelling seems to delight the storytellers more than their audiences at this point. That beautiful history is now well-known; now is the time for commentators and florilegia.
Origen recommends that we study the sacred historia at the literal level (for we are bodily), the moral level (for we are ensouled), and the allegorical level (for we are spiritual). Literally, there was a bat in the basilica during the Easter Vigil, circling throughout the homily and swooping at the baptisms, until finally he was slapped out of midair and wrangled outside. Never before has my fight-or-flight adrenaline been so awakened; and yet, as one under a hypnotist’s spell, my mind was numbed as I watched the bat circle above me, and my body shivered. It was also an instance to prove that the priesthood does consist of truly manly men — with absolutely unphased (almost bored) calmness, Fr Brian baptized an army of reborn souls while a bat swooped at his head. What a cool guy.
But now, let us consider a deeper level, neglected by most anecdote-tellers and journalists. What can this teach us of virtue? As I have already suggested, it is apparent that priests must shepherd the flock in imitation of the Good Shepherd. Should there be a bear in the basilica, it would be their priestly duty not only to continue hearing confessions, but also (if the bear is unwilling to confess his sins and repent) to wrestle him out of the church. It is also clear that the faithful are bound to remain in worship despite the danger; there is no quicker way to Paradise than martyrdom, even martyrdom by bat-attack. Let us imitate Mary the Mother of God or John the Evangelist by remaining with the Lord in his crucifixion, rather than the rest of the disciples, who fearfully fled the mob. For those of us who endured to see the bat slapped down possess the same joy of the women at the tomb who endured long enough to see that death itself had been slapped down.
More could be said with more space; but let us try to understand this at the most spiritual level. It seems to me that there is no better image for heresy than this. We accept that heresy shall persist in this life, but we hope that it will stay outside the Church. It is more grievous when it has found its way inside. The ugliness of heresy is made even more apparent when it is blatant in the Church—its vicious features and wild movements compared to the serene softness of our Lady and the gold of heaven. And when heresy flits around the Church, it may even lead some of the faithful to apostasy, fleeing from the Church into even darker, battier night. But it is indeed the priestly office, in the face of heresy, not to abandon the liturgy, but to protect and preserve it. And, should he have the chance, it is also for the priest (or his MC) to grab the missalette of truth, leap with the shoes of righteousness, and slam-dunk the bat of heresy into the next century. More could be said; I digress.
James Whitaker is a graduate student in the Theology department, currently studying Patristic exegesis (monkey see, monkey do). If you would like to challenge him with a new topic or prompt for a humor piece, you can throw down the gauntlet at email@example.com.
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