Sometimes I find myself struggling to find the balance between the intellect, beauty, and excellence of Catholicism and the monotony, poop, and half-hearted tries of my every day life as a Catholic. This is even more true when I read the occasional article on Catholicism where we Catholics come off a little snobby. You can disagree with me here, but I think that sometimes when we talk about how awesome our Church is we come off a little holier-than-thou. We come off a little my-way-or-the-highway-to-hell.
When we’re talking about the One Church that Jesus Christ Himself founded, is blessed by God the Father, and led and protected by the Holy Spirit then it can be easy to sound elitist. Understandably.
And it doesn’t help that Catholic architecture, music, and art basically are the most gorgeous things out there – if you ignore most of the stuff that came out of the last 40 years. Plus, the philosophers and theologians that have worked within and written about Catholic teachings are some of the most intelligent people who have ever lived. And on top of it all, Catholicism’s writers and saints have been holy, articulate, and convincing. The Church is filled with a long history of having the best and the brightest.
The result of that long, glowing history is a Church filled with conversion stories, reversion stories, and tales of people who pursued holiness from their childhood. But it’s also has more than its fair share of people who have abandoned the Church or never approached it.
I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of people in my life who could read Aquinas, hear Gregorian chant, or stand in the Sistine Chapel and not be able to consume it – or be consumed by it. These people I know could acknowledge that what they read, hear, or see is truly beautiful, but for one reason or another they are able to then move past it. My best guess is that this lackluster reaction is caused by some sort of immaturity, whether spiritual, emotional, intellectual, or other. These people then move on to something that they can approach and consume. They move on to a church or a faith that doesn’t make them feel inadequate, unintelligent, or immature. They move on to a church that takes them where they are at. Even if where they’re at is a Jesus is My Homeboy t-shirt.
I have stood in St. Peter’s early in the morning. It was quiet and empty, and the Pieta was just to my right. The holiness and beauty were overwhelming. I literally could not speak; I could barely breathe; I did cry. It was perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to ecstasy. My impression from many Catholic articles is that we are to infuse every day and everywhere with beautiful, powerful moments like that. It’s not that I disagree with that thought, but while that moment at the Vatican was a very powerful one for me, it’s not where I live. I live in a home that needs dusting. My days are not filled with the overwhelming beauty of Schubert’s music, opening a heart to God. Instead, Thursday evening I was giving my 13 month old a bath in the Wal-Mart bathroom and then dressing him in pj’s I took off the rack because he had just given me the worst explosive poopy diaper I’ve ever seen. In my home you will not find an abundance of glorious Catholic art. Instead we have crucifixes, family pictures, toys, clutter, and a plastic Virgin Mary nitelite.
God willing, we will eventually live in an eternal ecstasy more glorious, beautiful, and perfect than any of our artists or thinkers could have imagined, and we should live our lives focusing on that hope. But we also need to be careful to not alienate others. It seems that sometimes, instead of flaunting our extreme awesomeness we should be focusing on being charitable and lighthearted. We are Catholics – the masters of “both/and”! We can have both the penetrating beauty of Panis Angelicus or a Michelangelo and the everyday fun of Top 40 Christian radio.
In the end I’m just trying to find the balance between the climax that the Church’s greatest have given us and the wonderful ordinary that Christ has redeemed and made sacred. Maybe to some the kitsch is better left alone, but I for one would much rather have the Blessed Mother watching over me than a blue canary in the outlet by the light switch.