Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Should Churches be Simple and Cheap? 4 Reasons the Answer is NO!

Frequently, Catholics are charged with building churches that are too nice, too ornate, too beautiful, and too expensive. Is this a valid criticism? Wouldn't that money be better spent on the poor? Should we build the cheapest churches possible? If you think we ought to, here are four reasons to reconsider.

1.  The Temple.
The chief architect of the Old Testament Temple was none other the God Himself. We read of God's plan for His Temple in 1 Chronicles 28. As you read this, ask yourself whether this sounds ornate, beautiful and expensive.
 Take heed now, for the Lord hath chosen thee to build a house for the sanctuary. Be strong, and do it.”
Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlors thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat; and the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God and of the treasuries of the dedicated things; also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the Lord, and for all the vessels of service in the house of the Lord. He gave gold by weight for things of gold, for all instruments of all manner of service; silver also for all instruments of silver by weight, for all instruments of every kind of service; even the weight for the candlesticks of gold and for their lamps of gold, by weight for every candlestick and for the lamps thereof; and for the candlesticks of silver by weight, both for the candlestick and also for the lamps thereof, according to the use of every candlestick.
 And by weight he gave gold for the tables of showbread, for every table, and likewise silver for the tables of silver; also pure gold for the fleshhooks and the bowls and the cups; and for the golden basins he gave gold by weight for every basin, and likewise silver by weight for every basin of silver; and for the altar of incense refined gold by weight, and gold for the pattern of the chariot of the cherubims that spread out their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord.
 All this,” said David, “the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern.” (verses 10-19)
The Temple of Jerusalem, inside
Inside of the OT Temple

2. The New Testament
But what of simple Jesus, you ask. Surely, He wouldn't have anything to do with all of this expensive material being used to honor God. No, He wouldn't ever let someone waste money on Him like that! Or would He? We have to go back to the Gospels and forget the widely popular (and inaccurate) idea that He was a first century hippie. Yes, Jesus didn't live in the opulence of a royal court, but neither did He forbid His followers from honoring Him through the material world. Remember, Jesus was buried in a fine (and expensive) linen shroud. If the Shroud of Turin is truly His, His burial cloth was nicer than even that of the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. Whether or not the Shroud is authentic, He was laid to rest in an expensive garden tomb. He also wore a seamless (again very expensive) tunic. One which was nice enough for the Roman soldiers to gamble over rather than divide. Think of His reaction to Mary Magdalene when she poured expensive perfume on His hair,
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you,a but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matt 26:10-13)

It was Judas, making the same argument many do today, who then decided to betray Christ.

3. The Eucharist

Peter Kreeft, in his excellent book Jesus Shock has this to say,
They were technological miracles, far ahead of their time, like the American moon rockets of the sixties. In fact, they were very much like moon rockets: heavy matter taught to fly like angels... What in the world can explain these miracles? Nothing in the world. That's what makes them miracles. Christ alone explains those cathedrals. Stonemasons did not build them; faith built them. His Real Presence built them, and His Real Presence was worshiped in them. They were built to house not man worshipping, but Christ worshipped. (pages 59-60)
 Reflect on that for a moment. A Catholic church is a domus Dei, a house of God, not merely a domus populus Dei, a house of the people of God. A Catholic church is primarily the physical dwelling place of God in that community because God Incarnate (hidden under the appearance of common bread) physically resides within. Yes, He is spiritually present everywhere (or better everywhere is present before Him), but He is uniquely present in a physical way in the Eucharist, which is housed within a Catholic church. One must ask, why shouldn't His people build the nicest house in town for Him?

Cathedral Medieval
Set for Blast-off

4. A False Dichotomy
There is no institution on Earth that has done more for the poor than the Church. The Church feeds more people, teaches more people, and provides health care to more people than any non governmental institution on Earth today and it has been doing so for nearly 2,000 years. In truth, there simply isn't a single institution in the history of the world that has done half as much for the poor than the Catholic Church. If you think Catholics should be spending money on the poor instead of on church buildings, you've set up a false dichotomy, either help the poor or build beautiful churches. What is being forgotten is how the poor are exactly the ones who donated the time, energy, and treasure to build those soaring cathedrals and it is the poor who, free of charge, can enjoy the splendor and beauty of those churches and the masterpieces that decorate them. Should beauty be the exclusive preserve of the rich?

Building beautiful places of worship, places that proclaim the gospel in stone, is an act of reverence and piety. It is a way of drawing people to the One True God. It elevates our worship by imaging the transcendent beauty of Heaven. Christians have understood this from the beginning, giving the best they could to God from the first. Under the draconian persecutions of the Romans, the best was meeting in the home of a member of the faithful, but as soon as the persecution subsided, beautiful churches began springing up. Opting to build a "functional" monstrosity when the resources are available to build something better is simply alien to the true Christian spirit.

1 comment:

  1. For me only one reason is enough, because the most notable saint known for his poverty and love of poverty saint Francis of Assisi say It should be "rich" :-)