|Rihanna attends opening of the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibition gala.|
None of this is worth raising an eyebrow over until you get to the fashion gala that accompanied it where celebrities and designers used "inspired by the Catholic Church" as a launching point for heights of imagination. It got a whole lotta crazy. As did the discussion that followed.
Most people have landed on either being outraged or looking at this as an opportunity to reach out about the faith.
I was on the fence.
On the outrage side, I felt none of these "tolerant" people would express themselves in this way if the topic were a different religion, say Islam or Judaism. However, I imagine they were going for edgy, as is the case with fashion and celebrity, rather than outright mockery. And if we do feel they were mocking Catholicism, what do we expect? Jesus said that the world would treat us no better than it treated him, so this was predicted. And do they know how this would make Catholic feel? Probably most of them haven't been around a devout Catholic in years, if ever.
On the opportunity side, I have enjoyed the stories about people using it as a way to inject more knowledge about Catholicism into public conversation. It can be hard to remember, but shedding light instead of heat is usually the better way. I suddenly remembered the time when some podcast hosts were laughing mockingly about saints and saying that they didn't even know what a saint was. I wrote a brief email ("long time fan, first time emailer here") explaining. And got a nice response. So maybe this gala is a launching point for conversation.
Do I love a lot of the outfits? No. But to be fair, I don't love a lot of outrageous fashion. It really is a reflection of the lack of knowledge about Catholicism in America. So what else is new?
Here are some other responses. Needless to say, be sure to click through and read them all:
Elizabeth Scalia at Word on Fire wrote about how kitschy Catholic art fired her imagination as a child and also about using this as an opportunity to inform.
Parked in the #MetGala Twitter feed, I saw a man describe Zendaya’s stunning take on Joan of Arc as “some sort of Catholic soldier” and shot him a note identifying the saint and urging him to look her up. When another praised a nunnish look, I replied, “Then you’ll love the real thing!” and sent a link to an article on millennial contemplative nuns. One brilliant fellow used the hashtag to showcase beautiful church interiors, inviting people to visit and explore them.Cardinal Dolan used his attendance and opening speech as a chance to remind people about what the Church really stands for. He took it all in good fun. Clearly on the "opportunity" side, he told Crux (whose piece is very interesting, especially for Dolan's conversation with George Clooney):
“I did not find the spirit of the evening to be offensive or blasphemous at all,” he said.Catholic News Agency has a nice roundup of different responses, incuding a lot of them from non-Catholic publications which I found interesting.
“Was some of it edgy? Yes, but I never met any person that seemed to be snippy or snotty about the Church, or who intended anything to be offensive,” said Dolan.
National Catholic Register explains the Vatican's involvement and that they were focused on the exhibit (which would be fascinating to see) while knowing nothing of the gala.
Ross Douthat at the N.Y. Times uses the gala as an opportunity to muse about modernizing the Church and Pope Francis.