Catholics at the Met

My readers know I’m inclined to write about my faith frequently, and guess what, all of a sudden it’s cool and trendy to be Catholic. I know this, because I watched a clip on last night’s evening news about the celebrity-studded gala at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, celebrating the opening of its show on Catholic influence on fashion.  I understand the Vatican is a willing participant in this, contributing some forty or so treasures to the exhibit. I’ll reserve my opinion on the exhibition until I have a chance to see it. I consider myself on the ‘progressive,’ liberal-leaning end of the spectrum (edging dangerously close to agnosticism), but I have to admit, seeing the glitterati out there on the red carpet mockingly parading about in ecclesiastic-themed fashion made me feel as outraged as any rosary-carrying Latin-loving hard-core traditionalist.

I guess that’s the heart of it: Fashion is an ugly business. And combining it with publicity and self-promotion makes it positively Faustian.  I worked briefly in fashion publishing, down on Sixth Avenue, when I was an editorial coordinator for Vogue/Butterick years and years ago. It was a shallow, nasty, competitive and soulless business then, and it still is now. It did not leave me uncorrupted—I still possess an unfortunate weakness for  professionally designed clothing, elegant tailoring, and tasteful details. However, I feel that in popularizing liturgical garments  and putting them on the red carpet, high-fashion is also mocking us, making fun, and that’s never cool. It ignores the point of Catholicism completely, in that our religion is an abstract, spiritual endeavor which is not defined by its architecture and garments. Also, many of the vestments and artifacts displayed were used only by a very few practitioners, those rich, wealthy powerful members of the upper Church hierarchy, and they’re not the real Church either: The Church is, simply, its people, its community, with love, or charity, at the centerpiece. Everything else is background noise.

Or, culture. My own faith is a woefully complicated thing, equal parts belief, theological education (thanks to attending a Catholic college, though with a strong Franciscan bias), school-of-hard-knocks in trying to realistically practice it, and my own passion for history and esthetic appreciation of  Church culture through the ages. But more to the point, my connection to the church is mostly through family members I cherish and love, the people who raised me, the people who educated me; and also, poignantly, along with my husband of 37 years (this month!), who seems to be at the exact same stage of Catholic life that I am—sometimes skeptical and questioning, other times wholeheartedly believing, but also intrigued and informed by the Church’s 2,000-year history and culture.

I understand that some of my fellow Catholics are just thrilled about this media attention, but really, do we need to worry about our Church being popular and well-liked? It doesn’t need a million ‘likes’ on Facebook. It simply is, and will continue to be. If anything, I hope the attention will help erase some of the anti-Catholic, and anti-spiritual, sentiment that has infected literature, art, book publishing and popular culture in general, much of which, alas, may have been prompted by the dreadful pedophile scandals of the recent past. Obviously I feel the answer is to keep moving the Church forward in a realistic and compassionate way, without dismissing entirely its rich and storied past. But before I write anything else, I suppose I should go and see that show…then I can write Part 2 to this post.

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