• Dan 7:13-14
• Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5
• Rev 1:5-8
• Jn 18:33b-37
“Would Jesus feel at home among the opulence of The Vatican?” The question was put to me after I’d written defending the Church’s ownership of cathedrals, churches, and artwork.
My article, in turn, was in response to remarks made by a professional baseball player—a fallen away Catholic, it turns out—who had visited the Sistine Chapel and later remarked to a reporter: “They could sell all those things, auction them off and probably feed half that world’s starving population. There is that much wealth stored in the Sistine Chapel. For it just to be sitting there I think is a crime.”
There are numerous flaws with such myopic thinking, including the athlete failing to recognize that no other Christian group in the world operates as many charitable organizations, orphanages, schools, hospitals, hospices, and shelters as does the Catholic Church. And what about his multi-million dollar contract, paid for by fans coming to watch grown men throw and hit baseballs in huge, expensive stadiums?
Yet, if the stadiums and the teams were sold, what then? Are sporting events evil? Is it wrong to make a good living being an athlete? Of course not.
Which brings up a point directly related to this great feast day: cathedrals, churches, and works of art were created over the course of many centuries as essential features of the Church’s worship of Jesus Christ, who is the King of kings. Today’s reading from the opening chapter of The Apocalypse describes Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.” If Jesus really is God, he deserves our praise; if he is King of all, he deserves our obedience; if he is the Alpha and Omega, he deserves our adoration.
Sacrosanctum concilium, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, observed that “the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius … These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.” (par 122). Man was created out of God’s overflowing love, and man returns that love by expressing his love for the Lord, who is king and “robed in majesty,” through prayers, words, songs, art, and architecture.
Ultimately, the cathedrals and statues and artwork belong to the King. This is all the more meaningful when considering that the Eucharist—the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ—is kept in the houses of God. Sure, the Eucharist could be kept in a closet or a gymnasium, but is that any way to show respect and love for the King?
Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Some Christians have mistakenly thought this means they should have no part of churches, vestments and artwork. But it should be understood in light of the Incarnation, which Jesus referred to a moment later, saying, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
The Son was not of this world, yet he came into the world. He had no beginning, but was born a babe in a manger. He was all-powerful, yet suffered and died. And when he rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, he did not shed his humanity. He is standing in heaven—the Lamb, human and divine, “as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6)—surrounded by cherubim and elders singing ceaseless praise.
In other words, Christ’s Kingdom does not belong to the world, but his Church—the “seed and beginning of this kingdom” (CCC 567)—is in the world. And it is growing, mysteriously, not through bloodshed, tyranny, or coercion but through the body and blood of the King, through truth, and through conversion.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the November 22, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
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