Our sign is not the everlasting circle or the harmonious yin and yang. This means the clash between the two extremes may be part of the reality of the life of Christ. Our quarrels are probably interminable, but they can be creative, after all, out of the cross comes life. Out of the conflict victory, out of the friction, forward motion. For this thesis and antithesis to be creative there must be a synthesis.
To effect the synthesis–to make it real Catholics must strive to hold together in both hands the heavens and the earth in a cruciform gesture with arms spread wide. This is why as a priest the gesture of prayer with arms spread wide is every day more and more eloquent and poignant to me. The gesture is one of open ness and vulnerability. Open in an offered embrace to my fellow man and open in a plea from my heart up to the heart of God. It is a gesture not only for priests.
In my own parish we are striving to make this a reality. We are working to build a beautiful new church. Here’s a picture of it. It is being built in a tradition style, but informed by the needs of post-Vatican 2 worship. We’ve salvaged stained glass windows from a church in Massachusetts and preserved part of our heritage. It will provide a beautiful bridge from our modern age to the traditions and history of our art and architecture. You can learn more about the project here (and make a donation if you wish!)
At the same time our small and poor parish is situated in the heart of the most socio economically deprived part of Greenville. A few weeks ago there was a major prostitution bust on our doorstep. The area is riddled with drug abuse, crime, gangs and violence. We already have an active and growing food pantry, and along with the new church we’re working to establish a Catholic charities outpost and to convert the existing warehouse-like church into a community center.
Why do we have to be either-or? If we are the generous people of God, then we should have a beautifully worthy church for splendid worship AND work day and night in love for the needy in our midst. One of the main reasons I am Catholic is because, as a convert, I wanted to bring together all the best strands of our faith. The vision of a beautiful church with beautiful worship in the midst of inner city squalor and crime is one of the inspirations I bring from the Church of England–where in Victorian times the Anglo Catholic priests lived in the heart of the slums and built beautiful churches and schools to minister to the people who were so in need.
Why, asks the Benedictine, should the poor be given mean and degradingly cheap buildings for worship? Why ask the Franciscans, should the rich not minister generously to the poor? Both are right, and if the New Evangelization is to succeed, then we must eschew the partisan pettiness and embrace the synthesis of the cross–in which the love of God and the love of neighbor are one.