So I’ve had mixed feelings about the Met Gala fashion show themed “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” For some Catholics it was a travesty and offensive. For other Catholics it was seen as an opportunity.
My initial inclination was one of contempt, but then I wondered if that was due to hold-over American Evangelicalism which gets offended at anything remotely close to mocking. (This is the group that gets angry at Starbucks for not saying “Merry Christmas.”)
So, unsure of my own motivations for contempt, I considered the arguments many gave for why we should be upset and reflected on whether they were good reasons.
The main reasons seemed to come down to mockery and lack of respect. This article at National Review has a tag line saying “The Catholic Church won’t win respect by abetting the mockery of its symbols.” Are we sure about that? Consider the sign above Jesus during the crucifixion which read “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum”; Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. It was a mockery, and yet in its mockery told the truth. The cross itself was one of the most humiliating ways to die, and now the crucifix is the symbol of Christianity and has prominent places in churches.
Does this mean we should “abet” such mockery? Not likely, but it’s one more piece of data to throw into the contextual equation. And what would Catholics expect from a culture built on a mixture of Protestantism and Secularism?
Some are saying Cardinal Dolan should not have attended and thereby give sanction to the event. But then I think about what Jesus was accused of; eating with tax gatherers and sinners (Matthew 9:10-13). The scene of Jesus at Matthew’s house from Franco Zeffirelli’s mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth” comes to mind here.
Again, does this mean we should “abet” everything that goes on there? Not likely, but, again, it’s one more piece of data to throw into the contextual equation. And does anyone believe Cardinal Dolan abetted everything at the Met Gala any more than Jesus abetted everything at Matthew’s house?
According to this Crux article, Cardinal Dolan was initially apprehensive about the event but afterward said the people were “were very appreciative, approachable, and very respectful.” The event gave Cardinal Dolan a chance to talk with lapsed Catholics like George Clooney.
Where else would the joyful cardinal get a chance to see Clooney standing alone and strike up a conversation? Answer: Only at events like the Met Gala.
On shepherds, lost sheep, and fashion shows
Would I have gone to the Met Gala? I don’t know. I didn’t even know such a thing existed until the Catholic corner of the internet went abuzz over the affair. But I’m also just a layman and not a shepherd over the people in a parish, so such decisions are not on my shoulders. Cardinal Dolan has a job to do within his New York diocese, and part of that job is going to where lost sheep are.
Is there a line? Probably. Where is the line? I don’t know, and I’d bet most upset people online don’t know where the line is either. It’s easy for laypeople to be armchair cardinals; it’s another thing to actually be a cardinal.
As far as “abetting” what was done there, I can’t help but think about when my nieces want to do a fashion show. They dress themselves up in ridiculous attire, stride out into the living room, and spin for the adults who all say “So beautiful.” And we tolerate such silliness because the children want to do a fashion show and to feel beautiful and special to the adults.
I wonder how close this is to what happened at the Met Gala and what adults like Cardinal Dolan probably feel; “Aw, how cute. The children want to do a fashion show. Okay, let’s all watch and applaud and allow children to be children.”