Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Do Beautiful Churches Produce Vocations?

March 26th, 2011, Promulgated by Bernie

Thank you to reader Christopher for bringing Fr. Longenecker’s blog post to my attention.

From Standing on My Head Thursday, March 24, 2011

I know a young priest who was brought up as a Baptist. He went into a beautiful old Catholic Church during the liturgy. This was a classic neo-Gothic church with stained glass windows and a beautiful liturgy. He fell to his knees and said that he knew then and there that he not only needed to be a Catholic, but that he was called to be a Catholic priest. He’s not the only one. I know two other guys who…

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Here is a follow-up posting from Joe @ Defend Us In Battle blog.

…if we can inspire people in the Faith, then it would follow that we can inspire people to the Faith, in terms of vocations. It would make sense that a person inspired by the house of God, in the form of a Church, would be inspired to devote their life – a gift from God, back to God in the form of Ordination …

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7 Responses to “Do Beautiful Churches Produce Vocations?”

  1. avatar JLo says:

    Thanks to Fr. Longenecker and to cleansingfire for reminding us of the importance of beauty and mystery in our faith walk. One of the reasons that we from St. Thomas the Apostle want our church reopened is because of its grandeur, its majesty, which speaks to us of all Church history and inspires reverence and orthodoxy, not progressive drivel.

    The beauty and history of Holy Mother Church are brought to mind just by entering STA! Christ the King, for instances, does not carry ones heart and soul anywhere considering the building. It’s a nice space for meetings and such, but in no way does it compare with STA, in no way does one’s spirit soar upon entering CTK.

    One cannot be a Catholic if one does not believe in mystery. Yes, Holy Mother Church not only has no conflict with science, it actually paves the way; but there is also mystery, there is also beauty and art. The human heart needs beauty, especially when considering our Creator and the worship we must always offer to Him. Human beings need to be inspired to reverence and worship (and to silence in the presence of beauty!!), and utilitarian modernism and the push for the social just do not provide that food for our spirits.

    I’m reminded of Pope John Paul the Great’s response to an American cardinal at the airport when the Holy Father was leaving after a visit to America. The cardinal was assuring JP2 that he had nothing to concern himself about in America, that the Church here was doing just great. The Holy Father’s response… “Then where is the music; where is the art?”

    +JMJ

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    If I had a religious vocation based on a beautiful church, or a movie for that matter ( think “The Bells of St. Mary’s”), then where is the substance of that vocation?
    It is like “falling in love” with a woman because she is physically attractive, marrying her, and then trying to live out the rigors of married life on that basis…What happens when she grows old, wrinkled, fat..you name it. Unless there is a deeper connection–in other words LOVE and a realistic understanding of that commitment, then at the first wind of trouble–the whole thing falls apart.

  3. avatar Bernie says:

    Anonymous @ 11:23 AM:
    Thank you for your comment. Our attraction to a beautiful church or Liturgy -or sunset- is, I believe, evidence of our basic human yearning for God who is the source of all beauty. The church fathers often refer to God as the Beautiful or Beauty. A vocation based solely on an aesthetic experience would, of course, not be strong enough. But, the experience of beauty can and does lead people into a closer relationship with God which, in turn, bears fruits that can nourish a vocation. The oppposite of beauty is ugliness or the complete absence of God. The ugly is evidence of a our fallen state and need for redemption. Once Beauty has attracted us into a closer relationship we discover the truths that the Gospel impacts to us. Knowledge of them sustains us through the natural process of decay, corruption and strife for we know that we shall be ultimately reunited with the source of all beauty. I direct you to the first post I made on this website for a little more explanation. http://cleansingfire.org/2010/06/evidence-of-the-unredeemed/

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    But, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? What may be beautiful in church design to you, may leave me cold…And what may inspire me you may think of as garish, or ugly.

  5. avatar Bernie says:

    Anonymous @ 1:06 PM:
    Well, no. Beauty is objective truth. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is taken from one of St. Thomas Aquinas’s famous lines “things are called beautiful upon being seen.” But, the verb ‘visa’ that he uses does not mean just physical seeing but implies contemplating or knowing. A beautiful church is so not only as a result of emotional reaction and sensory prception but also rational inquiry. The experience strikes an intellectual cord.

    An object, or person, is beautiful when it clearly and fully shows forth its ontological reality as understood in the mind of God. In our parochial discussion here that means that churches should look like what they are and not something else; in particular, a Catholic church should show forth its Catholic church-ness. That means, of course, that there are attributes that make a Catholic church not only a church but a ‘Catholic’ church. Now, there are numerous ways of constructing and decorating a beautiful Catholic church but all beautiful Catholic churches have one thing in common: the basic theology that governs the forms of the church is true. The church architecture favored by St. Bernard’s Cistercians is one manifestation of a beautiful Catholic church while a Bavarian Baroque church, another. Each has a beauty proper to itself that reveals Cistercian-ness or Baroque-ness while both still retain ‘Catholic church-ness.’

    What some men have experienced that stimulated their vocations were church buildings that clearly and fully revealed Catholic church-ness, and it touched what they intuitively knew to be true. The aesthetic experience is one that humans want to extend and stay in. We could look at a beautiful sunset ‘forever.’ We can say the same of a beautiful church or beautiful liturgy; we don’t want the experience to end. For some men that meant becoming priests so what they experienced might not end.

  6. avatar Anonymous says:

    Bernie, we’re talking churches here not metaphysics! St. Margaret Mary Church in Irondequoit is considered by many to be beautiful and inspiring. I have always felt it to be cold and vacant. I am much more drawn to God within a smaller setting, a beauty that emanates out of a simplicity.
    So, if we’re talking about beautiful churches which can inspire vocations we need to be aware of what touches each individual’s heart.

  7. avatar Bernie says:

    A church does not have to be big and elaborate or richly decorated to be beautiful and inspiring. It can be intimate, noble and simple. But, in the context of the post, it must be ‘Catholic.’ It cannot be something else. It must be true to the underlying theology of what a Catholic church is. To make this short: a Catholic church must be noble and suggest permanence and sacredness. I must suggest a House of God. It must direct our hearts and minds beyond our fixation on an unredeemed world to a future celestial existence. It does that through many sensory things such as valuable materials skillfully fashioned which point to the transfiguration of the material world -such as a skillfully fashioned altar of stone or marble or some precious material. Also, saintly images should be not only present but prominent and essentially positioned reminding us of our sanctification. Spaces should be arranged hierarchically suggesting movement toward the Lord, ascending a Holy Mountain or going to a high place. A beautiful ‘Catholic’ church carries on a conversation with Catholic tradition in the arts and liturgy. It should be relatively easy to see the connections. It suggests a space that is sacred even when there is no congregation present. A beautiful Catholic church suggests that you are in the presence of the Lord even though you are the only one there. A beautiful Catholic church suggests an objective presence of the Lord that is not dependent on me or the community. Each of us has his own likes and dislikes because we have different experiences. Beauty, however, is not dependent on emotional responses. Beauty that stimulates vocations is necessarily metaphysical.


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