Financing Eternity

If we are to build beautiful churches it will cost money. Lots of money. The pragmatists look at the price tag and pull back. “Surely we can make some cut backs!” “Surely we should be giving this money to the poor.” “Surely we don’t need quite such a big church or quite such expensive fittings.”
There are a couple of considerations. First, the question of building beautiful churches for posterity or giving to the poor should not be either/or. We should be generous to build beautiful churches and give to the poor. 
Second, we should look at our income and the income of the Catholics in the past who did build beautiful churches. Most of us have far, far more disposable income than our grandparents and great grandparents. They are the Catholics who built the big beautiful churches, convents, monasteries and schools in the big Catholic cities in the Northern states. 
The most important reason Catholics gave generously in the past is that they really believed they were not only building a beautiful church for posterity, but they believed by doing so they were investing not only in their grandchildren’s future, but in their own. In other words, there was an eternal dividend for generous giving here. When you gave a stained glass window or a beautiful altar, or a wonderful tapestry or whatever else, you trusted that whenever that window was gazed at, that chalice or ciborium or vestment or altar was used for the holy sacrifice, that you would be prayed for, and masses would be offered, and your offering would be part of the greater offering of the whole church for the good of your soul, the salvation of the world and the good of all of Christ’s church.
Your donation of a material gift had eternal consequences for you and for others. This is what we’ve lost, and this is the main reason why Catholics don’t give as generously as they once did.
Quite simply, they don’t believe it matters. 
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  • Don’t want to sound a bit bitter here but let me ask you where all the money has gone the past few years. Better yet, ask the next Bishop you bump into.

  • Worst part is it’s not really that much more expensive to build something worth looking at, even if you do without a few feathers and furbelows.

  • Anonymous

    Your donation of a material gift had eternal consequences for you and for others.This has been a stumbling block.To make it clear, we are not attempting to buy salvation when we contribute generously.By our contributions, we distribute God’s graces.

  • Adrienne, contribute to a building campaign. Designate your dollars. Choose your charities. Don’t give to the bish if he’s a stinker. It’s your money. Give where you should.

  • There is no better place to see examples of this generosity than in the ethnic parishes of Pennsylvania. In the most out of the way bergs and towns in the coal mining mountains are archetechtual gems built by immigrants who worked in mines and factories. Some of them worked 12 hours in the mine, and marched to church to help build it like a second job. They were poor but NOTHING was too good for a God to whom they were grateful for even what little they head. Some of the Greek Catholic churches nestled in the mountains that you first see the golden domes of as you come over the mountain in one of these TINY towns are breathtaking. Once you get over how beautiful you are and you look around you ask yourself, HOW did this get HERE in this small place.Then you are truly, truly humbled.

  • Mary Margaret

    Hi, Father L. Check out the Cathedral of the Plains, this is not really a Cathedral, but it is a truly beautiful church, built on the plains of western Kansas at a time when I guarantee you there wasn’t a lot of money available for fol-der-ols. My father was born in Western KS in 1910 (but he was not German-American — Irish/English). It really is a beautiful church out in the middle of nowhere. Definitely worth a visit.

  • Anonymous

    I think this represents old religious thinking.This kind of thinking has given us a continent of beautiful European Gothic churches that are empty every sunday.It is a misunderstanding of theology.We don’t go to “the House of God” on Sunday to meet with God. We ARE now the house of God.That’s because He has poured out His spirit upon all flesh. Jesus declared to the Samaritan woman, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem….Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks”

  • Father,Wonderful post!The reason we give to create great beauty in churches is to manifest our love for Christ and His Church.Anonymous,It is not a misunderstanding of theology. The beauty of the church building is theologically important. It is to be an image of the heavenly Jerusalem, filled with angels and saints worshipping the Lamb on the Throne. It deserves all the beauty we can muster.

  • Anonymous. What is ‘old religious thinking’ and if there is such a thing, why should what is old necessarily be false and what is new be true, or vice versa.I could just as easily portray your reductionist theology on church buildings as ‘old’ for it is the same argument used by the Protestant reformers for the last five hundred years and by the ‘proto-Protestants’ for another five hundred years before them.Neither your opinions nor my opinions on this matter are ‘old’ or ‘new’; they are true or false.My own view is that what you say certainly has an element of truth in it. Our love of God should transcend the buildings in which we worship, but what I say is also true, the buildings we have for worship should transcend our own subjective religious feelings.

  • Anonymous

    “Old” being outside the “New” plan that God has for us begining with with the incarnation.Corinthians 5:17…Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.As the scripture states “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork”.God’s work shows his glory not ours in our accomplishments of aquiring materialism.When we try to reach God through our own architectural marvels then our foundation is indeed on shifting sand.This “marketing of Jesus” is no different than the silly money hungrey Protestants we see on TV.

  • Adam

    Still curious what you think of Houston’s cathedral and whether or not it is even possible to build the old churches. Our tradesmen have all learned to use power tools and prefab bits of things. Our artists are busy making modern art that can be mass produced or placed next to a fountain in a corporate highrise. The money with which you want to build these houses of God may be there but the craftsmen are pushing up daisies. We’ve decided to send our entire (almost) population to college to get communications degrees rather than learn carpentry, masonry, or trades. So then, back to my original question. It looks to me like Houston did the best they could in this situation. Do you have evidence of another modern cathedral, say within the last 10 years, that has done better?Adam

  • Houston’s fine. I am not arguing for antique materials and methods. I’m not even arguing that everything has to be mock Gothic.My point is that if we understood what a church was for we would attempt our buildings differently.

  • anon, “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.”

  • Anonymous

    My point was to clean the inside and worry less about the outside.The most beautiful mausoleum is still full of decay.When the Church is spending millions, and some are going bankrupt because of settlements to victims of pedophile priest why worry about building materials?

  • Both/and, not either/or

  • adam

    I agree with Fr. L, we’re in a church that emphasizes tradition and our buildings ought to be traditional. This should include capturing some reflection of spirituality in our places of worship, where possible. In an impoverished parish somewhere, it may not be possible. But where it is possible it should be striven for. The churches built in the 60s and 70s were failures of architectural experimentation, as were many of the college buildings and other architecture of the era.

  • The outward forms are secondary to the inner reasons. Worship can be beautiful, reverent and worthy even in poor parishes where people care, and understand what worship is really about.

  • Anonymous

    “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.”There’s a problem with that statement………….There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. [Proverbs 16:25]

  • anon. I’m sorry, I didn’t quite follow your logic here. Does Proverbs 16:25 disprove the quote somehow?

  • Rob

    “Do you have evidence of another modern cathedral, say within the last 10 years, that has done better?”Mother Angelica’s new church in Alabama is not a cathedral, but it is definitely an example of fine craftsmanship

  • Anonymous

    “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite follow your logic here. Does Proverbs 16:25 disprove the quote somehow?”If you are an absolutist it does.I am, are you?

  • anon, excuse me for being so thick, but I really don’t know what you’re talking about.All best,FD

  • Fr. Longenecker,What is that magnificent Russian Orthodox cathedral? Or is it Ukrainian? Gorgeous!IrvingD

  • I’ve heard people say that “we don’t build them like that anymore” when I got into discussion about the new Church at where I used to go. I brought up one point. In all that we do it should be reflective of what we believe. Look into a Church, you see how she believe’s.