Identity politics, gradual parish improvements, and YOU

Two articles scrolled across my eyeballs this week that will be of interest to Art and Liturgy readers.

The first article is from the Weekly Standard, a publication I don’t read regularly but surfaced in my Twitter feed. The piece, entitled “Every Picture Tells,” reviews a new book called The New Philistines.

The thesis of this book is that “contemporary high culture has eschewed both beauty and truth, the central artistic signifiers for millennia, in favor of ‘the art world’s one totem, its alpha and omega: identity politics.‘”

Crowds gathered around the Mona Lisa at the Musee du Louvre in Paris. Photo by Patrick Murray.

If you’re reading this blog on purpose, it’s likely that you already had a sense of this trend, but it’s nice to hear someone outside the Catholic Bubble acknowledge the present situation.

In light of this vexing situation, it seems to me more important than ever that our churches become places where Truth and Beauty radiate in a truth-and-beauty-starved world.

Already the Sacred Liturgy is (or ought to be) the part of our lives that allows us to see beautiful gold and jewels and silk, hear beautiful music, and smell beautiful incense. These things lift our measly human hearts to a God who loves each one of us deeply, whether we are great saints or great sinners, black or white, straight or gay, sick or healthy.

In the lowest points of my spiritual life, my greatest consolations have come in dark corners of beautiful churches that didn’t try to make excuses for who I am or tiptoe around the sins I’d committed. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. It’s so clear that the Church needs to be a place — maybe the only remaining place — where all people can experience Truth and Beauty, regardless of who we are, were, or claim to be.

How do we get there?

Our Lady of the Mountains Parish in Jasper, Georgia. Photo from parish website.

A real-life model is provided by David Clayton at New Liturgical Movement, who relates the story of Our Lady of the Mountains Parish in north Georgia.

This small parish has commissioned dozens of beautiful stained-glass windows and paintings in the last several years. The parishioners are happy, their liturgical life is thriving, and they aren’t bankrupt. This is because

  • (a) the pastor had a clear sense of his duty as a teacher,
  • (b) the pastor had a clear vision for how to beautify the church, and
  • (c) the parish took it one step at a time.

If you aim for the highest, noblest and most beautiful in our churches, then people are affected by it and want more. And when people want it, they will make the sacrifices to have it.

This story struck a nerve because in my work with Granda, I hear so frequently from parishes who say “Your art is beautiful, but we’re a small/poor/rural parish and can’t afford to make any improvements.” Sometimes this is indisputably true, but more often it seems like the pastor is thinking “$5 million capital campaign” when “new candlesticks” would be a really good start.

Our Lady of the Mountains is proof that gradual improvement is possible and, in many cases, leads to healthier and more vibrant results.

If you’ve never received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, you are not off the hook. You have some responsibility here. These things don’t just happen. OLM’s parishioners sacrificed to make these liturgical improvements possible, and we all need to do the same. If you’ve read this whole blog post and nodded your head along the way, stop a minute and appraise what kind of commitment you’re going to make to revitalize our churches, helping to make them places where Truth and Beauty radiate to the world.

One comment

  1. This is very helpful, as my parish is in the planning stages of renovating the church. I’ll be passing this along to the committee. Much appreciated!

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