I’ve been thinking about God a lot lately. Well, I think on God or the lack thereof quite a bit anyway; it’s the nature of being a Hindu earth scientist raised in a Muslim country who’s now married to an ex-Lutheran. This past week, though, all the way from Ashley’s passing to the current closing of Catholic churches in New Orleans, God isn’t simmering on the intellectual backburner but actually on call.
Yesterday, the Catholic Church proved itself to be nothing more than a business as the local Archdiocese called for the closure of more than 20 churches throughout the Greater New Orleans metro area. [MAP] One can argue that this is a sensible thing to do given the loss of population since the storm and flood, but such is not the case in New Orleans. Many of these closing churches are located in dry neighborhoods with a significant population, were not damaged in 2005, enjoy a good number of worshippers and form the historic and spiritual cornerstones of their respective communities.
Altar and stained glass in the Garden District’s Our Lady Of Good Counsel Church
I’m normally one to argue for less instances of temples, churches and mosques. Inner spirituality is more important than an outward show. God doesn’t have a checking account nor the need for a tall marble-laden building, how ever gorgeous it is to look at. Again, given an abject hate for proselytizing colonists, I am not fond of the Catholic Church’s modus operandi. Then I look around me. This is New Orleans in Louisiana, one of the largest manifestations of Catholicism in the United States. We live in parishes, not counties. We have more streets named after saints than virtually any other city in the nation. We celebrate Mardi Gras, which is a Catholic tradition, in case anyone has forgotten. This only goes to show that New Orleans reality is an area which houses a large Catholic population, one that needs its places of worship during the most important and taxing time in its recent history. Also, given that the Church is notorious for leaving empty buildings in its wake, the closures only create more blight in neighborhoods on the rebound (The Coliseum Place Baptist Church fire and demolition, anyone?)
Now is not the time for the Catholic Church to take away and to leave more problems instead of solutions. Instead, it reorganizes to save a buck, I mean, “to move into the future with a renewed spirit of evangelization and to be a more vibrant faith community.” Nice going in the name of the Catholic tenets of sacrifice, charity and neighborliness. In the name of God.
Despite its questionable means, does the Catholic Church ever erect some beautiful ends, here in New Orleans and all over the world. I’ve been inside the Vatican. This is a picture I took of just the ceiling of one of its many gilded hallways.
Nice, huh? You can’t convince me that the Catholic Church does not have the funds to keep open much-needed outposts all over the world. Especially at a time when the Church considers dwindling attendance numbers a crisis of faith, the local Archdiocese cites a dearth of priests and parishioners as the reason for closures, when its sole concern should be ministering to its people who are here. This points out a glaring disconnect between the center’s stated goals and local reality. On a larger scale, it indicates the perils of subscribing to age-old organized religions long after they’ve turned into self-sustaining businesses and have lost their spiritual relevance, their raison d’etre.
The business of religion is to minister to its faithful and not to sacrifice them to keep itself in the black. I’ll bet a number of New Orleanians quit going to church because of the closures, but there will be many who fill collection plates where they have been told to go. As long as the Church is thus rewarded, what does it care whether historic houses of God that propped up lifelong followers go to ruin? When a business has new customers to snag, there’s no time to serve the old and loyal.
Tomorrow, we bury Ashley at St. Louis Cemetery #3. The cemetery was named for Louis IX, the only ruler of France to be canonized. According to the New Advent Catholic Encylopedia, he was a “patron of architecture [and was] renowned for his charity.” I like to think that these characteristics of humanity are not historic or theoretical, but ones that can be found and felt everyday even in modern life. The spiritual quest is over when one realizes that the answer has always stared us in the face. It is in living what we hear, read and discuss.
Religion talks a good talk, but often forgets to walk it.