In Jose Burciaga’s essay “My Ecumenical Father,” he describes his complex relationship with both his father and the various religions he practices as a result of his upbringing. The opening line is a series of three traditional holiday greetings, each from different languages and religions. This evidences the ecumenical nature of the subject of the story – his father, the Shabbat goy for a Jewish synagogue. Despite being Catholic, he would perform duties for Jews who were forbidden from doing anything during the Sabbath, like polishing the menorah at Christmastime. Over the course of the essay, Burciaga honors his father by showcasing his ecumenical nature, demonstrating just how selfless and willing he was to help his fellow man.
The conflicting nature of these religions, especially around the holidays, were of no concern to Burciaga’s father; he taught his children to celebrate and respect all traditions equally. Not only did they learn English Christmas carols, they learned traditional Latin holiday songs; a big priority for their family was embracing diversity in all forms. Burciaga speaks of these times positively and matter-of-factly, citing the family and its community as a place of growth and learning, with little to no conflict where the clash of religions was concerned.
His father demonstrated values of equality, grace and giving in his life, especially acting as a Shabbat goy, inspiring enthusiasm for these varied religions in his children. Burciaga especially remembers times when they would shuffle back and forth between Hanukkah traditions and Christmas carols. Equal respect was given to the Jewish Day of Atonement and the idea of giving gifts at Christmas. Burciaga’s father was an important component of this, offering his services as Santa Claus to provide presents, and bring Jewish food back over to Baptist and Catholic churches in order to feed the hungry. His father believed in his ecumenical nature even at the risk of his own life; he risked injury many times defending the synagogue he and his family lived in. Burciaga denotes that these values his father had were merely personal moral choices, and not informed by any self-conscious agenda on his part – “He never philosophized about his ecumenism, he just lived it” (Burciaga, p. 117).
At the end of the essay, Burciaga describes the funeral of his father, which was a Jewish ceremony, in keeping with his ecumenical nature. Despite the Jewish customs, aspects of Mexican and Catholic traditions made their way into the ceremony, with the throwing of dirt onto the casket. The last sentence of the essay invokes the statement “Only in America!” from Bernard Malamud, a Jewish-American writer who has just heard the story of his father. This is meant to indicate the extraordinary and symbolic nature of his father’s life in the American story; a man who embraced and worked toward ecumenical pursuits, supporting all religions and observing all, despite his Catholic affiliations. This was not due to any particular religious bias or personal agenda on his part; merely what he thought was right – an aspect of his personality that Burciaga was extremely inspired by.
Burciaga, Jose Antonio. “My Ecumenical Father.” Drink cultura: Chicanismo. Santa Barbara: Joshua Odell Editions, Capra Press, 1993. 114. Print.