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Friday, May 20, 2005

The "Rose Church."

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

One of the great fears observant Catholics with children have is whether they will be able to hand on the faith to those children. I doubt that there is any cradle Catholic today who can say that all of his brothers and sisters are still observant. The phrase "lapsed Catholic" is a staple of the American lexicon for a reason. Ditto the claim to have been "raised Catholic," which is usually followed up with by a reference one's current status as a Buddhist, atheist, hardcore fundamentalist--almost anything but "still Catholic."

Goodbye to all that.

Thus, I am not necessarily brimming with confidence about my own ability to transmit a vibrant faith to my children. On the one hand, I cannot comprehend the "Let them decide for themselves" approach. An odd tack, to put it mildly, and one which manages to trivialize both the faith of the indulgent parent and religion in general. After all, this rule is never applied to the family dinner table. All you manage to convey with this is that relativism is the order of the day. All religions are pretty much the same. Find what works for you and go with it.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet John Walker Lindh.

I'm also not a proponent of the opposite approach: cramming-it-down-their-throats. From what I can tell, that seems to be the perfect recipe for creating the bitterest atheists I've ever seen.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet John Shelby Spong.(1)

The golden mean, perhaps.

For starters, I stay involved. I pray with my kids (the Apostle's Creed being the latest addition to the repertoire), at meals, bedtimes and other times. I read them Bible stories, saints' stories (these are just beginning to hold their interest), and--most importantly--take them to church.

Which is why my older children's response to a particular church has been fascinating to me.

Let me preface this by saying I do not gripe about the state of Catholic life around my kids. I do not read my fisks to them before bedtime.

"Can you say Curran's an 'idiot', Dale?"


"Good job!"

I also spare them liturgical rants, homily critiques and the like. Even when I am sentenced to Saginaw. Instead, I rant at my tolerant wife.

But on a consistent basis for the past several months, Maddie has been demanding we go to "the rose church." In the last eight weeks or so, her brother has taken up the same call.

"Wah go ohs urts."

That would be St. Josaphat's to you--Detroit's home of the Tridentine Latin Mass. "The Rose Church" refers to the huge rose windows at either end of the transept. The one to the west depicts Mary, and is ringed with little roses, and to the east, of course, is the Son. To call the children fascinated is an understatement. Maddie likes to go up to the altar rails, over to the statuary, the crucifix, the candles. Sometimes, she just likes to look at the ceiling, which depicts the Four Evangelists and their traditional symbols. Dale III likes to lunge for the pulpit, with its steep marble stairs. All the better to harangue the faithful from.

In Feburary, following increasingly insistent calls, Maddie and I went alone to St J's.

Croup is an ugly little ailment, and at that time we two were the least sick of the household. We'd told her I would be taking her that day, and to change it because of a mere contagious lung ailment would have led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth. So we went.

I was glad we did.

We arrived and went to a spot about a third of the way toward the altar (you can count on 1-3 legitimate bathroom breaks on her part on any given Sunday, so it's best to set up base camp accordingly). While she was a little fidgety, she spent a lot of time gazing at the art, uninterrupted by the competing antics of her foil and co-conspirator, The Boy™. And, mirabile dictu, about halfway through Mass I got a gentle nudge to the ribs. In a whisper, I heard:

"Look, Daddy--I'm praying!"

So she was.

Would that she did that everywhere, but she does not. The beauty of an older church has captivated her in a way that the modern ones have not. And why shouldn't it? Kids are big on the senses, not abstractions. They glom on to images, odors, to the tactile. Even the dimmer lighting leaves an indelible impression. St. Josaphat has each in abundance. When Mass ended, she gravitated toward the high altar, then the statue of St. Francis, then the candles. The Boy likes candles, too. Lit ones. Which is why I have less of a problem with him charging toward the pulpit.

For the most part, our home parish is lacking in the above. The construction is meant to evoke the Mosaic tabernacle, and I can see how it does that. Abstractly. The altar is table-like, and allegedly movable, though I think I am safe in saying that has not been uprooted once during the forty four years the parish has been in existence.

The church itself is not completely devoid of what can be seen at St. Josaphat's--the dogged Polish/Italian immigrant core has commissioned and placed two statues of the Virgin Mother and St. Joseph in places of honor, flanking the still-centrally located tabernacle, and a painting of the martyr-saint for which the parish is named. But that's pretty much it. No stone, kneelers, altar rails, candles, incense (apart from Christmas and Easter), and only abstracted and faded stained glass. About the only time the kids look up is to gaze at the whirring fans.

Speaking of iconoclasm.

Mark Sullivan brings to our attention the stripping of the altars at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Rochester, New York. Masterminded by (who else?) the tradition-hating minimalist and liturgical heartthrob, Richard Vosko.

While some of the original cathedral remains (though you have to look way up to see it), the overall result resembles nothing so much as a modern airport terminal, right down to the lighting and lack of ornamentation. Compare and contrast.

"St. Joseph, you are wanted in baggage claim. St. Joseph, you..."

Horizontalia. Of course. The Church of Us, it encourages navel-gazing, and with the usual game of "Spot The Tabernacle" in full swing, definitely discourages the fullest Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. The latter happens, frankly, because that's the idea--far better to focus on us and a quasi-Lutheran emphasis on the consecration alone. Wouldn't want to embarrass ourselves in front of our secular friends by leaving the impression we worship the Host, now would we?

Look: banners!

This is the desacralized taste of a generation bent on soothing their preconciliar traumas--any citation to authority is invariably prooftexting or an interpretation based on a penumbra. You will scan in vain for an authorization to sledgehammer generations-old art and architecture. This is an attempt at psychological exorcism, nothing more. And, in keeping with this mentality, no regard is paid to the impact on those who will follow. It's all about therapy. Those of us who do not want to see older relatives burn all of grandpa's stuff because they felt he was mean to them simply do not matter. You can almost hear the murmur: "Closure."

The good news is that the disincarnate, docetic Catholicism preached by the airline terminal architects contains the seeds of its own destruction. It didn't emerge from the faithful--it was rammed down their throats in an exercise of power, with the soothing admonition it was good for them. And, on occasion, you can even can keep your clutter--so long as no one can see it and get the wrong idea. Ipecac spirituality--by the gallon. Unfortunately for its advocates, the only lessons learned were (1) it was a matter of taste, and (2) it was a matter of power. With a personnel change, you can get (2), which will help you install your version of (1). Makes for a tenuous legacy, doesn't it?

And, in the final analysis, the beige Bolshevism has limited appeal, especially to the smallest among us. They much prefer statuary and high altars to stackable chairs and bare walls, thanks. They want more--need more, actually--and so do most of us. It's instinctive. Denying the basic human craving for the transcendent has been the death of sterner ideologies than Voskoism. Once the latter loses its patrons, it will hit the scrapheap, too.

Even my children could predict that.


(1) As has been correctly noted by others, he's a functional atheist. His "god" is an ineffectual, insensate irrelevance who nonetheless affirms us in our wayward okayness. And man, is Spong bitter.

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