Friday, May 18, 2018

Met Opportunities

The Met Gala has come and gone. The hoopla has  begun to die down. Most of what can be said has been said, I suppose. It has been analyzed and criticized. Just goes to show what's wrong with the world. Just goes to show what's wrong with the Church. We've drawn our conclusions, we've formed our opinions we've had our say and here is where we end it. But here's the thing...hoopla tends to grab and narrow our focus. We don't realize that we might be missing something. Things can get lost somewhere along the line. Controversy can kick up a lot of dust and it is only when that dust settles that you can often see a bigger picture. 

More than a week later a few articles about the Met Gala continue to trickle across my news feed. Some of them written to express anger and outrage, to justify anger and outrage, to stir up the anger and outrage of others. Articles, blog posts, memes and comments all giving voice to how the Met Gala displayed a mockery of the Catholic Church, loudly proclaiming the many insults and offenses to our Catholic sensibilities. As well as complaints against the Church for allowing it. It may very well be true that we have good reason to feel mocked and insulted. There may very well be good reason for the anger and the outrage. Then again, Satan does like it when there's a ruckus and we get stuck in our right to be right. Dust gets kicked up either way. There's nothing he likes more than an inability to see the God thing because we're too busy looking at and fighting his thing. We may want to ask if the anger and outrage is serving us, the Church and the Gospel or could it be, instead, that it is actually getting in our way? 

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. Eph 4:26-27

Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

It may have been necessary to point out some of the problems and incongruities between what the Catholic Church represents and what was displayed at the Met Gala. Now that we have done that, however, should we move beyond the offenses because to do otherwise might leave room for the devil? By continuing in a posture of anger and offense do we inadvertently give the devil his due? Do we proclaim that the devil had the power to win the day and that he continues to do so? Should we examine if how we have gone about things has really been productive in accomplishing the righteousness of God?

Whomever you forgive anything, so do I. For indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for you in the presence of Christ, so that we might not be taken advantage of by Satan, for we are not unaware of his purposes. 2 Cor 10-11

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is  his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11

Forgiveness, overlooking an offense, even refusing to be offended have practical applications when it comes to spiritual warfare, in order to avert the purposes of Satan. It disarms him. Better yet it often takes the very weapon the enemy intended for evil and turns it  back against him for good. Satan is quite satisfied with our anger and the bitterness that comes with it. It narrows our vision until he and what has been wrought by him are all that we can see. It is all that others will see as well, because we are pointing it out to them. We then ignore opportunities that would allow the last word and the remembered images to point towards Christ rather than away from him. 

Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many may become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15

All the celebrity, all the excitement, all the controversy, all the agitation from the Met Gala has overshadowed the exhibit itself. The last time the Vatican lent pieces to the Met was 35 years ago, in 1983. That Vatican Collections exhibit was the third most visited exhibit in the 148 year history of the Met. The current exhibit Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination will run from May to October, six months instead of the usual three. There are items in this exhibit that have never left the Vatican before. Many will  appreciate the aesthetic beauty of each and every item. The Catholic Imagination, however, is much deeper than a mere aesthetic. Its aesthetics point to literal realities and those realities find their source in Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity here to deepen our own knowledge, appreciation and actualization of that. We then have the opportunity to transmit that to the rest of the world. 

The Met Gala is in the past but the exhibit continues and we can use it to begin conversations that focus on those realities. We can let the misappropriation of Catholic imagery at the Gala be what people will remember, we can cry about it while letting them have it or we can turn our eyes away from the Gala and turn them on the Vatican exhibit itself. We can angrily point to the bondage mask with the rosaries hanging from it in the secular part off the exhibit, thereby letting that be an image that is remembered or we can point to the beauty of a Vatican item. We can leave the image of a papal miter in the hands of Rihanna or we can point people to the authentic miter of Pope Pius XI that is in the exhibit, explaining its symbolism, its function and its importance. The Vatican exhibit can give us many opportunities to talk about the Church and its history as well as the richness and function of its imagery and the literal realities that they represent. The following are but a few examples.
How the Church transmits the word of God. 
The Church's primary function is to answer the question: "Who do you say that I am?" concerning Jesus Christ (Mt 16:15-16) and to bring the Gospel to "all nations" (Mt 28:19). They do more, however, than merely convey the story of Christ but, rather, transmit him throughout history as the living Word of God. This is not confined to the written and spoken words of scripture and doctrine. The Church makes use of the physical world and all of our senses to bring Jesus, as "God with Us" to each generation. The items in the Vatican exhibit are part of that transmission. The visual images of art, symbolism and vestments literally communicate beyond and through barriers of language and literacy.

The red shoes of Pope St. John Paul II
The Met finds it interesting that the red shoes of Pope St. John Paul II are said to be by Prada. I'm not sure that's true. Catholics know, however, that those shoes are the embodiment of "feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace." Pope St. John Paul II traveled to 129 countries and took more pastoral trips than all of his predecessors combined. He was probably seen by more people in person than any other figure in history. He was instrumental in the downfall of Communism. He not only talked the talk but walked the walk of evangelization and ecumenism. When the red shoes met the road, he was a living testimony to it. Evangelization is not merely a matter of increasing our numbers and filling the pews. It is a mandate of Jesus Christ. We are gathering in all he suffered and died for that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The unity of Christians is not just a matter of "why can't we be friends?" but marks us as belonging to Christ (John 17:23)

The Liturgical and Sacramental Life of the Church
Some of the items in the Vatican exhibit are vestments used during liturgies. Many outside the Church might see the vestments worn by our priests as purely ceremonial. Something to bring gravitas to our ceremonies and they see our ceremonies as pure ritual. In part the vestments do bring a sense of dignity, seriousness and solemnity. They are sacramentals. Sacramentals are "sacred signs instituted by the Church that dispose people to receive the chief effects of the sacraments and they make holy various occasions in human life"  Each piece has a meaning, and function that, as I said before, goes beyond symbolism, acting in concrete ways to transmit the Word of God to us. Our liturgies and sacraments do so as well. The sacraments are more than symbolic ceremonies, but actions that, in fact, produce a result. In the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church something real is going on and the visuals are there to indicate that.

There are so many ways that we could use the Vatican exhibit at the Met as a jumping off point to foster an appreciation of the Church in those who do not understand it. We also have opportunities ourselves to become better catechized concerning our faith. We have an excellent opportunity, as well, to examine how we are presenting ourselves to those outside the Church.

Suiting Up
The Vatican Exhibit will be at the Met for six months. A more influential and lasting exhibit of the Church are Catholics themselves. How do we suit up as Catholics both literally and figuratively so that others can plainly see what the Church is all about? We can't expect others to know better when we haven't shown them better. How do we wear our faith? Do we exhibit the fruits of the spirit in our interaction with others? Do we live the beatitudes? Do we follow the Golden Rule? Do we put on the armor of God? Do we show people what true charity, true mercy, true justice, true holiness and virtue looks like? Do we foster unity? Do we show respect for the things of the Church and for the pope and the bishops? Or do we merely give lip service to such things and act like everyone else? Do we literally wear things that would identify us as Catholic? Do we publically do things such as pray? When we dress for Mass to we show a proper understanding and respect for what is going on there? Do we actualize our faith by what we exhibit? Do we consciously and coherently exhibit what it is to be Catholic and why it is of value? We should be demonstrating this in such a way that not only will others respect us, but they should want to be us.

The Met Gala demonstrated that people outside the Church have only a surface understanding of the "Catholic Imagination". The Met Exhibit gives us an opportunity to demonstrate that the Catholic Church is more than its aesthetics. It reminds, us as well, that we are to constantly look to the bigger picture that we might accomplish the righteousness of God. That we are the living exhibit of Jesus Christ, his Church and the way, the truth and the life he offers. 

Will the Met opportunity be an opportunity met or an opportunity missed?

For What It's Worth.

1 comment:

  1. *Thinking* about what's happening. What a concept! :)

    Well-said, and among the reasonable opinions I've seen expressed about the Gala.

    My own response, tepid as it was and based only on photos on news services's online 'front pages,' was that some of the attendees had rather loud taste. And used Catholic vestments in ways I wouldn't. Mild annoyance and amusement was about as intense as it got for me.

    The worst I can say about it, based on what I know, is that it is - as I believe you pointed out - a missed opportunity.

    Or maybe not so much. The Church has a two-millennia-deep heritage of visual symbolism that's unmistakable and striking. Particularly for artists, patrons of the arts and their fans/imitators - - - the Met Gala display might start at least one wondering what all the visual richness is about.

    Enough. Thanks for making sense!