The Problem of the Palace and the Stable

Catholics with taste for finer things have questioned the use of wild tie-dye looking vestments at Pope Francis’ Mass at Lampedusa. They also don’t like the corny boat-altar. It left me cringing too, but I guess we have to put up with this sort of thing and remember the context and who, what, where and when. The Pope went to minister to the poor who had risked their lives in small boats to migrate to Europe. He’s the successor of the fisherman Peter. He is at the helm of the barque of Peter. There is lots of gospel symbolism there, and if tasteful Catholics think the symbolism is a bit “inyerface” for their liking, they can always become Episcopalians.

I’m joking. OK. Don’t get all upset at me if you were all upset at the purple vestments and tacky altar and I’m not getting myself all worked up either. I’m going to let Mantilla the Hon make some comments about it shortly.

In the meantime, what interests me more is the seeming clash between the style of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. In case you forgot, here is Benedict:

It brings to mind the constant clash between the palace and the stable. What clash? Simply this: Jesus Christ the Son of God came into the world as the seeming son of a simple working class family. He was born in a stable. From the beginning he was an itinerant…a migrant. He was poor and lowly and had no place to rest his head. It would seem to be a no brainer therefore that his followers should be similarly simple and poor. This is the life adopted by the first Christians, then by the first monks, then by the friars of the different orders. It is a worthy and noble tradition. It is the tradition of the stable. It is this Jesus:

However, Jesus Christ was not only a humble carpenter and a poor itinerant preacher. He is now risen, ascended and glorified. He has taken his place at the right hand of the Father. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Before him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. He is the Lord of Glory. To worship King Christ is to enter into his courts with praise. To worship King Christ is to bow before the Lord of Heaven and Earth. It is this Jesus:

This is why Catholic churches and cathedrals were grand and beautiful. They were not magnificent for man, but for the God-Man Jesus Christ. This is why Catholic priests wear fine vestments and use gold and silver vessels on the altar. This is why we spend time and money to worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness. It is not to magnify a man, but to magnify the Lord, and if we forget this, then we are forgetting not only a valuable part of our Catholic tradition, but a valuable part of the gospel itself.’

On the other hand, if too much time, money and attention is spent on the fine vestments, grand architecture and sumptuous music and art, then we are in danger of forgetting the other side of the coin: Jesus the Man of Nazareth. It is necessary to remember the poor, and Pope Francis’ emphasis is a vital part of the proclamation of the gospel.

However, in my opinion, the Catholic Church is not really in danger of forgetting the poor or in danger of neglecting Jesus the poor man of Nazareth. In our age, the Catholic Church is in danger of neglecting King Christ–the Lord of Glory. We’ve got plenty of peace and justice Catholics reminding us of our responsibility to the poor, and that’s a good thing. We’ve also got plenty of liberal theologians who would like to make Jesus into no more than an attractive wandering preacher with an agenda–a kind of proto-Gandhi.

The world needs an authentic witness through an emphasis on the poor and needy, but it also needs to be reminded of Christ the King of Glory. That’s why I like Pope Francis’ emphasis on simplicity, but in that rightful emphasis I don’t want to forget the power and glory of Christ the King and the splendid worship we offer him.

Critics of the finery, the Baroque, the splendor and the glory will argue that it gives the wrong witness. Nonsense. We must take time to explain the reason for the witness and we must also make sure (as Pope Benedict did and John Paul did before him) that the Pope is always concerned with the poor and leads the church in her ministry to the poor. As the vicar of Christ therefore, the Pope must attempt to solve the problem of the palace and the stable. He must, in his own ministry, show the humility and poverty of Jesus of Nazareth, while also showing forth the power and the glory of Christ the King of Glory.

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