And now these three remain:
Faith, Hope and Love;
but the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:13
The Republican party proudly parades the image of an elephant, and the Democrats, a donkey. The American Solidarity Party, the small third party of which I am a member, has its own mascot in the pelican. Hence, the official party podcast is called “The Pelican Brief,” and this web magazine came fairly close to being called “The Pelican.” Where does the American Solidarity Party’s fixation on pelicans come from?
“We are a party that seeks the common good, on common ground, through common sense. We believe in the sanctity of human life, the necessity of social justice, our responsibility to care for the environment, and promotion of a more peaceful world. We cherish the individual rights and separation of government powers protected by the U.S. Constitution, and recognize the need for social support and community cohesion. We seek to bridge the bitter partisan divide with principled and respectful policies and dialog.”
Through the years, pelicans became an enduring symbol of “Christianity’s principles of charity and solidarity with the poor” and have “come to be associated with Christian democracy in modern times.”
It’s all about charity. It’s all about love.
When Paul wrote his letters to the new church in ancient Corinth, he sent messages of community and connection. Solidarity was needed as a way of uniting over the truth of Christian love. Paul encourages the believers to remember their Christian core rather than focusing on their divisive details. Paul reminds the Corinthians that above all else, their church would thrive when love was at the center. And the center of that love revolved around the importance of the Eucharist. Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:17).
For Catholics like myself, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the faith. The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” We come together to offer thanks for the gift of Jesus’ lifeblood so that we can live. Jesus gives Himself to us because He loves us. The faithful are united and transported to the last supper, preceding Good Friday when Christ selflessly gives Himself on the cross so that we may be saved. While the cross is a symbol of Christianity as an Easter Faith – faith in the truth of Christ’s resurrection – it is in fact Good Friday that saves humanity. While the resurrection is God’s gift to humanity, Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross are His gift to each of us. God uses Jesus’ loving sacrifice–but it is the free will sacrifice that had to happen first. We see Jesus’ gift in each crucifix as evidence of the depths of what human love can accomplish.
The Corinthian church was not so different from our American church today. Division was rampant despite the thriving and growing community. There was a wide socio-economic and religious divide. Much of Paul’s letters address internal conflicts between the Jewish and Gentile converts and their financial inequality. Paul stayed in Corinth about eighteen months and persuaded fellow believers to join his mission. Once he left, he wrote two canonical epistles to the growing community. The Eucharist is the central message to the Corinthian church, reminding the people that Christ’s sacrifice is of foremost importance. The rest are details, and unity over the Good Friday sacrifice is the most important connection the new Christians have.
“Legend has it that when faced with hunger, mother pelicans would use their beak to pierce their breast, offering their blood to feed their young.”
Are American Christians not the same? We seem to get bogged down in the details and forget the pinnacle of our Christianity–the central person of our identity. Without Good Friday, there could not be an Easter Sunday. The rest are often just opportunities for further division when we need connection.
That brings us back to the Pelican.
The pelican family is at least 30 million years old according to a skull fossil that was found in France. And evidence suggests that pelicans reside on every continent except for Antarctica. Legend has it that when faced with hunger, mother pelicans would use their beak to pierce their breast, offering their blood to feed their young.
The Physiologus is a second century text found in Alexandria, credited to an unknown Greek author. It describes birds, animals and plants in nature with moral implications. The pelican is first described here as feeding her young with her own blood:
“The little pelicans strike their parents, and the parents, striking back, kill them. But on the third day the mother pelican strikes and opens her side and pours blood over her dead young. In this way they are revivified and made well. So Our Lord Jesus Christ says also through the prophet Isaiah: ‘I have brought up children and exalted them, but they have despised me?’ We struck God by serving the creature rather than the Creator. Therefore He deigned to ascend the cross, and when His side was pierced, blood and water gushed forth unto our salvation and eternal life.”
“To his good friend thus wide, I’ll open my arms
And, like the kind, life-rendering pelican
Repast them with my blood.”
And the pelican is pervasive in artwork worldwide, first seen on tabernacles in Catholic cathedrals. The scene of mother pelicans with her young became widespread in medieval and Renaissance Europe. Queen Elizabeth I included the symbol in a portrait, and an early edition of the King James Bible features the image within its pages.
That means that, whatever the elephant and donkey are supposed to represent, the pelican is a perfect symbol for the party she represents. Her charity and self-sacrifice point toward a party centered on love. At the heart of the ASP remains the gift of self.
Emily Clary is a Catholic youth minister and Religion teacher. She has worked in schools and parishes in the Diocese of Providence, Raleigh, and currently in Charlotte. She lives in Charlotte with her husband and three children. She writes to encourage the Christian family to remember we are all interconnected and that our choices affect one another.