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Encountering Modern Culture Is Not Without Its Perils

I think Cardinal Timothy Dolan did a masterful job handling the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heavenly Bodies – Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibit. He knew there would be some liberties taken by the chic-chic crowd, but he realized that such a magnificent display in such a prominent location could reap benefits as the Church continues to confront contemporary culture.

First of all, what we are talking about is a display of how fashion has been influenced by the Catholic imagination throughout the centuries. It features over 50 pieces of sacred art from the Vatican, some never seen outside of Rome. The showing of these priceless works was authorized by the Vatican in an attempt to share its treasures with the world as a way of dialoguing with the culture.

The Met, realizing the significance of the event, coincided its opening with its annual Fashion Gala and tied the themes together. So, some celebrities came dressed in what others might call tasteless, or at least questionable, outfits that didn’t fit well with the sacred atmosphere.

Why Rihanna thought she looked good in a miter escapes my imagination. The angel outfits, complete with wings, seemed over-the-top but didn’t particularly disturb me. Madonna blessing the crowd was simply meant to attract video. But these distractions are always present when you attempt to encounter others.

The gala itself was one night of what passes for fashion for some. But the beauty of the exhibit itself is ongoing and will reap eternal benefits. In conjunction with the show at The Met, some church garments are also on view at its upper Manhattan site at The Cloisters.

Cardinal Dolan handled it all with his usual down-to-earth humor and yet, he was making some profound points. He brushed off the Rihanna miter by joking that he had lent it to her and he kidded his auxiliary bishops that they shouldn’t complain because she was going to take some of their Confirmation duties. He laughed it off, just as he should have.

Our national correspondent Chris White was there and he recorded this statement from Cardinal Dolan:

“How beautiful is it that these people that you might tend to caricature as stuffy or aloof or with their nose in the air, would want to have anything to do with religion or representatives of the Church?… It was just the opposite. They were very appreciative, approachable, and very respectful.”

Many of the stars made it a point to tell the prelate about the positive aspects of their Catholic upbringing.

At the afternoon press preview, the cardinal called it an opportunity to evangelize the culture. That’s exactly what it was –  a chance to meet people on their own turf and share with them some of the glories of the Christian tradition. Who knows what effect it had or will have!

This was exactly what Paul VI and the Vatican did in 1964 when they sent Michelangelo’s Pieta to the New York World’s Fair.  People haven’t stopped talking about it since then. Who can measure the inspiration that one piece of art and that one grand gesture of sharing has had!

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