There’s a rather puzzling remark at the end of Peggy Noonan’s column today about the priestly pedophilia scandal. She describes three classes of victim–the abused youth, good clerics tarred by association, and “Catholics in the pews—the heroic Catholics of America and now Europe, the hardy souls who in spite of what has been done to their church are still there, still making parish life possible, who hold high the flag, their faith unshaken.” (Emphasis mine.)
Does she mean the “papal flag” that flies over Vatican City? Does she mean the U.S. or other national flags? Or is this just a loose metaphor, her variation on “keep their chins up”? I want to say the third guess is right, since the other two don’t make sense. But I can’t rule out the possibility that Noonan has actually mixed up her patriotism and religion and the second suggestion is correct. This is another reason to avoid cliche and frivolous metaphor — rather than adding gilt, they may only obscure meaning. And Noonan’s prose is plenty gilded to begin with.