Friday, July 15, 2011

Our Lady of Sorrows Crucifix, Art, and Being Catholic

There's good news from Detroit: an old crucifix, 13 feet tall with a five-foot corpus1, is being restored. Catholics have been keeping it safe, after it survived a fire back in 1963 that took out the Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church.

More good news: nobody was killed in the fire.

Church Flambe

The bad news is that folks lost a church in the '60s. I think the story's best told by quoting part of a CNA article:
"Beloved Detroit crucifix saved from fire finds new parish home"
Marianne Medlin, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (July 10, 2011)

"...The cross was the only surviving artifact from a fire - believed but never proved to be set by arsonists - that destroyed Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church on the city's east side in 1963...

"...Pastoral associate Alton James [of Detroit's Good Shepherd parish, where the crucifix has been kept] told CNA/EWTN News that the spared crucifix was transferred to a nearby parish after the fire, which merged with other parishes over the decades and eventually became Good Shepherd...."

Torching a Church: Unpleasant Idea

If the church down the street, Our Lady of Angels, burned: I wouldn't like that at all. My wife and I were married there, it's the church she grew up in, and we've got decades of shared memories there.

I think I might feel worse, if I thought that someone might have deliberately torched the place.

That's not likely to happen. Sauk Centre, Minnesota, is largely Catholic. With so many of us around, there's even blatantly Catholic stuff in local stores. (December 2, 2010) And, although we've got the usual quota of jerks and soreheads, we're a fairly boring community. From the point of view of someone looking for strife, discord, deep-seated hatred, and all that dramatic stuff.

Vandalism as a Spiritual Exercise, Or Something

Not all areas have quite the infestation of malignant virtue that my part of the world did, when I was growing up. Once in a while, though, someone decides to smash a statue. One of those Catholic ones.

Sometimes, I'm pretty sure that vandalizing a Catholic church is simply - vandalism: the sort of impulse that ended in shot-out windows - around $20,000 worth - in the town where I live, back in November, 2005. Nobody was hurt, thank God, and the local kids may have learned something. And that's another topic. (Sauk Centre Journal (September 2, 2006))

Sometimes, though, I think the vandals are filled with what they probably think is holy zeal: and are, consciously or not, emulating the great Lord Protector. I'm just glad that it's illegal to hunt Catholics in this country.

'Smashing Statues for God?'

'Smashing statues for God' actually makes sense, given a few alternatively-accurate assumptions about Catholics and the Catholic Church.

Like the notion that Catholics are deluded, superstitious folks:Destroying religious art as a sort of spiritual exercise comes from the related idea that we worship statues.

With upwards of 1,000,000,000 of us alive today, the odds are pretty good that a few actually are superstitious. And some may worship statues. In direct violation of Church teaching.

As I've said before, I don't expect to change a zealot's mind: but I also think that a sort of reality check couldn't hurt:
  • Catholics are forbidden to worship statues
    • That's a form of idolatry, and
      • Idolatry is something that's quite explicitly forbidden (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2097, 2112-2114, 2534)

Sacred Art, Yes: Worshiping Art, No

The interiors of all Protestant churches do not resemble sensory deprivation chambers, with plain white walls and plain - well, everything. And I've been in some Catholic churches that could, in my opinion, have stood a bit of livening up. Visually speaking.

Back to that CNA article:
"...'Religious art is absolutely crucial,' Alton said, referencing the growing local media buzz on the crucifix restoration. 'It always inspires us to prayer as well as enriching our faith experience.'

"Alton praised older Church art like the Belgian crucifix, saying 'it's a phenomenal inspiration' that helps us utilize our senses 'in order to draw closer to God.' "
I could say something like "well, that's one person's opinion," and go on with some conventionally-sophisticated observation about reality being relative. Or whatever is in fashion at the moment.

Not gonna happen.

Mainly because Alton's opinion is also what the Catholic Church teaches:
  • Sacred art is okay
    • Truth is beautiful, art is okay, and bishops should promote sacred art (Catechism, 2500-2503)
There's some pretty high praise for art there. And, more importantly, an explanation for why art is important:
"Created 'in the image of God,'294 man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works. Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being's inner riches. Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man's own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill,295 to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God's activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man.296"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2501)
Before wrapping up this post, here's the end of that quote, again:
"...Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man.296"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2501)
Art? That's fine. "Art for art's sake?" That's not a good idea. And I've harangued about that before.

Somewhat-related posts:
In the news:
1 "Corpus?!" That's the statue of my Lord, that's on a crucifix. The word has quite a few other meanings, all of which translate into English as "body." It's Latin, and means - "body." If you have more than one corpus, you've got corpora.

Why can't Catholics use English? Those of us who live in America do, for the most part. But English isn't the common language of the 1,000,000,000 or so Catholics living today. It's Latin - which served as a trade language around the Mediterranean two millennia back.

I suppose the Church could re-translate all its documents every century or so, as new languages emerge and become widely known. But that seems like an awful lot of fuss and bother.

Besides, although I like America just fine - my guess is that two thousand years from now, something besides English may be the language most likely to be understood by at least one person in town.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.