Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Beauty for Everyone

Our new pastor wanted to make the parish festival bigger, with more games and rides and attractions, something that would boost revenue and bring in the community. I was dubious because I'm not a fan of festivals myself, or of anything that requires standing in line on a hot day, clutching tickets in a sweaty hand and trying to fend off the kids howling for cotton candy. But we went, and I'm glad. Besides seeing a good portion of the parish out and about, the festival brought in a large cross-section of society at large. There are strata and sub-strata to the local community that I never even see, except at the county fair, and the festival brought them all in: the high rollers, the families with small children, the tattooed, the buttoned-up, the young and the old and everyone in between. People who would never have cause to set foot on the grounds of a Catholic church were wandering the parking lot and the school yard having a great time. They came because they wanted some temporal entertainment on a summer weekend, and St. Mary's was providing it. And this is a legitimate aim of the church: to provide ways to nurture not just the soul, but the community's desire for companionship.

The next day was Corpus Christi, and I sang the shorter form of the Sequence in Latin at Mass. The unaccompanied chant rolled through the church, and it was, despite the singer, a moment full of beauty and peace. It was the kind of spiritual beauty, nurturing the soul's longing for the eternal, that the Church does and must provide. And I hoped that anyone who had visited St. Mary's because of the festival and who had decided to try going to church the next day would find that the Catholic Church could provide both temporal and spiritual solace, and that the temporal kind is only the prelude and invitation to the deeper, fuller, richer spiritual beauties that Catholicism offers.

The festival drew a cross-section of society, and the Church needs to draw a cross-section of society, so that no one ever feels that the Church is composed of "my people". But what the Church must offer, is obliged to offer, is beauty, true beauty. This is egalitarian. This is evangelization: to be a source of beauty in the lives of those who have little temporal beauty, to be a refuge and a waystation and conduit for all the deeper longings of the soul trapped in the squalor and the banality of this world. A Church that sloughs off that obligation, that seeks for "relevance" in worship, or "accessibility", is a failing Church. My pastor had the right idea: offer good accessible entertainment as a stepping stone to the richer beauties of the liturgy. If we believe that the Church really is for everyone, no matter who, then we need to respond to the longing for beauty of women who have butterfly wings tattooed on their backs as much as to the longings of the Sunday regulars and those who have been Catholic all their lives. It's a mistake to make the church a place of easy, cheap beauty to draw people in, as if the deepest longings of their souls deserve no more fulfillment than watery pop music or chintzy liturgy. The church becomes temporally relevant in extra-liturgical activities; she stays spiritually relevant by remaining a source of authentic, rock-solid, eternal beauty.


Kate said...

I found your use of "women with butterfly wings tattooed on their backs" as a contrast to "Sunday regulars" amusing, since last Sunday (what with summer outfits that show more upper arm, etc), I counted 4-5 women with tattoos in attendance--all regular Sunday mass participants. :-)

mrsdarwin said...

I see lots of tattoos at Mass, but I'd never seen (with my own eyes on a real person, I mean) a full-back spread of wings before, anywhere.

JD Cowan said...

"And this is a legitimate aim of the church: to provide ways to nurture not just the soul, but the community's desire for companionship."

In my opinion, this is what we need now more than ever. Your pastor really hit the target dead on, and I can only hope it will lead to even more down the road.

Caroline said...

Love this. Also, folks who prefer "contemporary" services tend to be wealthy and can afford to travel for beauty. The poor are dependent on the local parish. I remember a homeless parishioner at my church in DC - he knew all the words, genuflected before the altar, sang the chant. It would be devastating if some well-meaning person made it more relevant and took away the man's one relief.