I wrote this short “think piece” just before heading out the door on a trip to our old stomping grounds in South Florida.
The timing is a coincidence, with zero connections to some follow-up reflections on my recent post — “New York Times offers flashback to sacraments offered by the priest of the Parrotheads” — about some religion “ghosts” linked to coverage of the late singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.
I had no idea that there would be some Catholic-press coverage pointing to some faith-centered threads in his music. Hold that thought. Here is a small chunk of my GetReligion post noting the Big Idea in the Times story:
The basic idea is that the singer-songwriter was a kind of guru-priest who was looking at the humdrum lives being lived by millions of Americans. He saw this and, looking out from the center microphone on stage during his never-ending tours, he had compassion on them.
After all, he had seen this relationship before. When fans sang along in the crowd, it created, as noted in the Times feature, a “unified hum, reminding Mr. Buffett of the recitation of prayers in church during his altar boy days.”
Was there more to the theological content of Buffett’s lyrics than that? The Catholic News Agency offered a feature with the headline, “Jimmy Buffett: more Catholic than you think?”
While admitting that there was little overt Catholic content in the singer’s public life and remarks, this new piece dug back to earlier interpretive work by Stephen M. Metzger, writing for the Church Life Journal at Notre Dame University.
“[I]t is clear that Catholicism left an indelible mark on his imagination,” wrote Stephen M. Metzger, a scriptor (cataloguer of Latin manuscripts) and graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute. … Buffett attended St. Ignatius Catholic School and went on to graduate from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, which remains the most prominent Catholic high school in Mobile, Alabama.
Metzger said evidence of Buffett’s Catholic upbringing shone through in his work, even if his songs weren’t explicitly Catholic. His easygoing, escapist songs display “an instinctual dissatisfaction with the demands of modern work and a desire to get away, to escape and have a good time, to have fun.”
OK, hang on. This is the deep part:
“Buffett[‘s] at times subtle and at times overt criticism of the modern obsession with work and the demands of the capitalist economy betrays a formation in Catholic teaching, especially in the Church’s social thought. In Rerum Novarum (1891), Pope Leo XIII argues for the fair and humane treatment of workers, emphasizing that time should be allotted to them in order to fulfill their religious devotions and obligations. After all, there is more to life than money and profit. It is clear that in a deep way Buffett internalized this outlook, which found expression in his celebration of the leisurely island and beach lifestyle,” Metzger opined.
“Of the many challenges facing the Church today, perhaps one of the most important is whether her educational institutions and her parishes can still form young people in such a way that they will retain a fundamentally Catholic outlook on life, even when living at their most prodigal.”
More? Try to imagine Buffett as a Jesuit:
Metzger noted that in Buffett’s 1983 song “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About,” Buffett reveals that “I was supposed to have been a Jesuit priest or a Naval Academy grad.”
“Like most Catholic boys, especially in the middle of the 20th century, Buffett would have been introduced in a serious way to the priesthood as an altar boy, and this experience plays an important role in a few of his songs,” he continued, mentioning a song that includes the line “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”
“There must have been a strong Catholic culture in place, if his parents thought that a religious vocation was of equal value and prestige to attending one of the country’s elite military colleges,” Metzger opined.
There are more articles of this kind out there in niche media (surf this Google file to see what I mean).