The dust up over Met exhibit “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” has confused many since it both mocked the subject and displayed the art -- all with the institutional blessing from Catholics — Cardinal Timothy Dolan opening the museum exhibit and the Sistine Chapel Choir performed for it. Some cannot figure out why Christians have such thin skins and cannot take a little good-natured ribbing and others cannot figure out why Christians put up with impiety and mockery at things very serious indeed. Ross Douthat put it this way: When a living faith gets treated like a museum piece, it’s hard for its adherents to know whether to treat the moment as an opportunity for outreach or for outrage.
Christians are not thin skinned. We are not prone to offense. In fact, just the opposite. We allow too much in the name of good-natured fun about things that are not fun but serious -- the kind of life and death serious. Seeing people dressed up in the fashion of the church through the ages but doing so not so much to inform and surely not to honor but to steal this art from the Church and deprive it of its sacred connection is an outrage. Muslims would be offended and would make their offense known by threat but Christians are supposed to roll over and play dead. It all makes me wonder. . .
Perhaps it would be acceptable if there was respect for the institutions of the church or for its doctrine or even some sense of reverence for its practice. But there is not. The people in the exhibit and certainly the media stars who wore the vestments of the church as mere costumes did not respect the institutions of the church or even allow legitimacy for its doctrine. They certainly had no reverence for its practice. In fact, they are the very voices who seek to silence the voice of the faith anywhere except behind the closed doors of the church. In the end Cardinal Dolan looked the fool for poking fun at his own church and the Sistine Choir performed as if its words and song had no basis in faith or truth but was merely artistic expression. And therein lies the problem. The stuff treated as art and fashion and imagination was never conceived of or used in that way. It is not art or even beauty for the sake of beauty but the holy things of the most holy Divine Service.
Holiness is not something in fashion now. We do not take off our shoes before God or even bother to come before Him in the clothing of repentance. We flaunt our sins and dare the Lord to do something about it. We confuse His patience with a lack of interest or concern or power on His part. We betray His mercy and treat as nothing that which is most precious. All of this too often happens right in the Church -- within the Divine Service. So it is no wonder that others will take their cue from those within and make fun of it all from the outside. Strangely, we find no contradiction here and those, like me, who complain about it all are seen to be narrow minded, judgmental, busybodies.
BTW Reverence is not stiff or rigid and holiness is not an act. Reverence is when what we believe in our hearts and confess with our lips informs, shapes, and directs what we do. So if you were going to hit the comment button to tell me I am too rigid or formal, that is NOT what this is about at all.