Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sacred and Secular Unite

photo found at
Some very famous festivals here and abroad combine the sacred and the secular. I am thinking in particular of Halloween, Christmas and Easter.

But now in early July I think of the Spanish festival called the Running of the Bulls—held in Pamplona, Spain, annually, July 6-14. It often gets a one-two minute coverage on the national networks and, over the years, I have been both amazed and amused at the spectacle. This event is also called the Festival of San Fermin, Saint Fermin being the patron saint of Pamplona. Legend has it that he was martyred by the ancient Romans by being tied to bulls and dragged to his death. The men who run ahead of (and sometimes behind) the bulls on the streets of Pamplona invoke Fermin's protection in this very dangerous "sport." Disaster is a real potential; records show that from 1924-2010 at least 15 men have died and 200 others have been seriously injured during this festival.

The brief running of the bulls each morning (two-three minutes) is accompanied by daily rounds of fireworks, dancing, processions and concerts. Ernest Hemingway popularized this festival in his novel The Sun Also Rises (1926), and each July thousands of tourists flock to Pamplona to participate in or to view the event. I am reminded of how interrelated the sacred and secular can be; we link two worlds—that of faith and that of flesh, the latter sometimes daring death itself. The night before the actual running of the bulls is given to speeches in the town square and prayers in honor of Saint Fermin. Unfortunately, reports tell us that the following days are not usually spiritually attuned.

The city of St. Joseph and Saint Benedict's Monastery are far removed from this type of festival. The closest we could come would be a "running of the squirrels" on campus, herding the little critters down the cobblestones, getting them out of our trees and garden plots. Somehow I don't see this as an annual event. Fortunately we have some grand feasts of our own to celebrate in July, sacred and secular, which negate any such need. They include July 4, which is also the weekend of the St. Joseph parish festival. It combines faith, heritage and the celebration of our nation's birth with an outdoor Mass, games, good food, a parade, a popular quilt auction, fireworks and a concert. Right now we're looking forward to July 11, the Feast of St. Benedict, a major feast at the monastery.

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