Off later this afternoon to a conference in, of all places, the Mall of America. I’ve heard rumors. Never liked roller coasters much, and am too old for that sort of thing. So: since my doctor wants my bald head covered (that 20 years of sunburned SoCal youth/melanoma thing), I’ve decided to make lemonade: there’s got to be a decent hat somewhere in a place with the chutzpah to call itself the Mall of America. Right?
Am taking an extra day to rent a car and drive down to La Crosse, WI, to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church building is a masterpiece by Duncan Stroik, whose presence at Notre Dame single-handedly raises my opinion of that otherwise mephitic institution out of the gutter. (1)
He also designed the chapel at Thomas Aquinas College, which it is interesting to compare with the near-contemporary building of the Cathedral in Los Angeles. It is safe to say that, barring disaster, generations of faculty, students, their families and visitors will love and find great inspiration in the chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity at TAC. They do now. It is also safe to say, I think, that a cathedral designed so that you need an ‘overview’ section – a program, like in modern art museums – to explain what you’re looking at stands to be as baffling, if not out and out as repulsive, to future generations as it is to any lover of beauty today. The tapestries are gorgeous – and they don’t need a program. The statue of Mary at the Annunciation that graces the entrance, while a beautiful work in itself, is a baffling choice as a statement piece – again, you’d need a program to explain it. The building itself is such a self-conscious rejection of the traditions and feeling of the millions of Catholics who inhabit LA as to be hard to understand as anything but a conscious insult. A big beautiful church building based on beloved church buildings from *any* of the myriad cultures represented in LA – Mexican, Filipino, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese would work as well as anything strictly European – would have been instantly loved, instead of in need of constant explanation.
The bad news: because of its cost and its construction – thousands of tons of steel reinforced concrete – it is likely to be a century or more before it gets replaced. I fantasize about a billionaire convert cutting a deal with the Archdiocese – here’s a billion to pay off debts and fund new programs, provided you let me build you a new cathedral. We can convert the existing into the (weirdly designed) parking structure or warehouse it more closely resembles.
And then he hires Stroik.
A man’s gotta dream.
This Thursday, my beloved is taking the Feasts & Faith group for me at church while I shop for a hat. This week, we’re observing the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, a commemoration of, among other things, Christendom’s surprising victory at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The 15 to 30 people who show up are going to get, in addition to the stories of saints, pictures of artwork and church buildings, and the Sunday Scripture reading, a brief recap of the situation leading up to the battle and from the battle up until today, largely based on this. (2) The things my wife puts up with.
Feasts and Faith is an experiment. What if you spent an hour a week trying to get a feel for Catholic culture and tradition as a gateway to discipleship? There are a million ways to God, and I’m biased by my own experiences, of course, but I find it inspiring and comforting to see that the Church, despite the many and grievous failings of us, her sheep, has nonetheless spread to the whole world and inspired and fed sanctity and beauty everywhere. As is her job.
That I should appoint myself to do this, to lead the tour, as it were, is laughable. Inspired by St. Phillip Neri, I’m trying to embrace the absurdity and do good anyway. All our efforts are ridiculous in and of themselves, why should mine be any different? Then, to top it off, I make my poor wife lead the day I’m gone. May God have mercy on us!
- Am sorely temped to quip that Notre Dame’s relationship to Catholic higher education stands in the same relationship as Bill’s and Hillary’s partnership stands to marriage. But that would be mean. To at least one of the parties.
- A better and much more detailed explanation of the background situation by Mike Flynn can be found here, here and here.