To help relieve the household commotion with our newborn, I took my two-year-old for a walk today. She reclined in her stroller, all bundled up to handle the early springtime temperatures.
We were gone for about an hour and encountered so many varied scenes that I wished I'd brought my camera to post some pictures.
The first thing we did was stop at a small corner burger joint and get a burger, fries, and root beer to go. I let her dispense the fries at her own leisure while I chomped down on the burger (forgot to ask them to hold the mustard... eww). I met another young dad who was also taking his two-year-old daughter out to give his own wife peace with their newborn as well. He shamed me by picking up a plastic bag which drifted by on the breeze. I saw it first but was content to let it slide on by; he picked it up in full sight of his daughter. Karma points: him: 1, me: 0.
We kept on going, my daughter and I, to the St. Boniface Cathedral. For those of you unfamiliar with the story of this magnificent building, its construction started in 1905, and it dominated the Winnipeg landscape for more than 60 years, until it caught fire. The solid Tyndall stone walls and edifice remained standing; the rest burned to the ground. To this day the ruins are a magnificent sight to behold.
In 1972 a new cathedral was built within those ruins, in style typical to its era. It's a gaudy, sterile, steel-roofed monstrosity - in short, I don't like it. I've never met a convert to Catholicism who enjoys the architectural reformations of the past few decades.
When you think about what a Catholic church should look like, consider how the entertainment industry does it. If you saw one of the post-modern uglicons portrayed in an episode of Law & Order or The Da Vinci Code, you'd wonder what kind of church you were looking at. But when you see towering stone steeples and dark-stained pews balancing out a symmetrical interior peak, adorned with statues, frescoes, and stained glass windows, you know you're looking at a real example of Catholicism.
I must confess, though, that I have a bit of a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to church renovations. As a Free Methodist, I was raised attending a church that still had strong overtones of traditional Anglican design in its layout. There were pews, a raised platform for the piano and organ, a higher platform for the pastor and any assistants, and even an altar rail where we would kneel to receive a piece of bread and a sip of grape juice on those rare Sundays when we would celebrate the Last Supper.
As I grew older, the church's demographic changed, and we started needing more room for our fellowship meals. So the place was gutted. The raised platforms were lowered and the altar rail was tossed. They also installed a utilitarian carpet and put venetian blinds on the stained glass windows. From then on, we sat in stacking chairs instead of pews, and the whole building took on a much more casual air. This was part of the school of thought in the '90s which held that people needed to be coddled and tricked into coming to church; if you challenge them or present them with something beautiful and magnificent, they'll push away in dread of "organized religion."
At the time I bought into it, but I soon realized that something was suddenly missing in the physical structure we assembled in to worship God. No, it wasn't God missing: it was a sense of reverence, a sense of beauty, a sense of sacrificial workmanship. We would still encounter God there - he meets us where we are, no matter what - but I felt like we had stepped back from him. It was no big deal for him to step closer to us, but when our worship space lost its elevated status it just presented one more obstacle to true intimacy with Christ.
So getting back to my walk... the first time I saw the interior of this new cathedral, inside the interior of the old cathedral, I felt like I had just been slipped a counterfeit bill. Here we have a splendid old building whose ruins still cause one to look upward and ponder the mysteries of the faith - and it's got, basically, a Protestant church inside it. I had to search for the location of the tabernacle the first time I entered the new cathedral. There are no kneelers; the floor is even sloped, which discourages kneeling while in the pews.
The paradox of the two buildings in one caused me to think about the state of the Church today. In many ways we have become a mere shell of ourselves; a massive ruin stands around the withered center of our earthly faith. "Come near and see what God has done for us!" it cries from a distance, and then upon closer approach the answer is, "He has freed us from recognizing his awesome deeds."
There's a rumour about the old cathedral's ruins, however. It is said that when the construction crews began the process of cleaning up the destruction after the fire, they tried to pull down the towering stone edifice but were unable to. They attached more chains and brought in stronger equipment, but for all the might they could muster, the stones would not budge.
That makes me think about the state of the Church today too.