Beauty, Basilicas, and Barcelona

November 9, 2010

Beauty is one of mankind’s greatest needs.

—Benedict XVI

7 October 2010


On Sunday Pope Benedict consecrated the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, a truly awesome rite.  Construction of the basilica, Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece, began in 1882 and is not expected to be complete for another decade and a half.  In that respect, the Sagrada Familia is like many of the other great churches of Europe which took centuries to complete.

Today, the Church celebrates the dedication of another great basilica, St. John Lateran, Rome’s cathedral.  To some, this might seem a rather strange feast on the liturgical calendar, commemorating as it does a building rather than an event in the life of Jesus or a saint.  Some might even disapprove of lavishing such attention on a structure, a sentiment that finds expression in a line from my least favorite liturgical song, “Gather Us In.”  “Gather us in,” the ditty goes, but “[n]ot in the dark of buildings confining.”

The idea of church buildings as “confining,” however, does not do justice to artistic marvels such as the Sagrada Familia or St. John Lateran, wonders as much spiritual as they are architectural.  These buildings are, in fact, a true and profound expression of faith.

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“Be Perfect” (or, Of Steeples and Gargoyles)

November 11, 2009

“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Not “do the best you can.”  Not “try hard.”  Be perfect.  In one sense, Christians must necessarily be hypocrites: they preach a way of life they cannot live.  They preach perfection and live imperfectly.

Said another way, Christianity is a religion of failing to the clear the bar, of coming up short.  The question is, what does one do with the bar after coming up short time and time again?  Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B. muses over this problem in his recently published memoirs, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church.  Recalling his theology studies as a young monk, he writes,

The courses in moral theology left me with the conviction that the Church’s traditional approach was to set the bar high, perhaps too high in theory, but to mitigate it by counseling compassion in practice.  While Europeans seemed very comfortable with this approach, it made us Americans uneasy.   Read the rest of this entry »