Archbishop Jason Gordon


Day 20: Nothing Less Than The Best

Day 20: Nothing Less Than The Best
Mary with child
Chris from Korea

Two nights ago while writing the blog; Chris from Korea was asking many questions. He is a Protestant and did not understand the Catholic architecture and culture. For him these are forms of idolatry at worst or distractions at best. We had a really interesting and wonderful conversation.

We are in Leon which has a magnificent 14th Century cathedral, a church from the Roman times where the Holy Grail is supposed to be, and on top of this a Gaudi palace - Casa Botines built around 1891. The place is full with beauty and architecture.

Chris is an engineer, a Protestant and lacks artistic and religious imagination. But he is honest and diligent in seeking understanding. The architecture of Spain points to the transcendent - a God who is magnificent and really big.

The Spanish churches take you into a very different space. You enter and you know the magnificence of God, the art the architecture, the

beauty all speak in one language -God is Great. Your gaze is taken up to heaven and you are transported into a space of prayer and encounter of the divine. The use of concrete, stained glass for light and carvings and statutes all lead to the transcendence

This cathedral took a very short time, only from 1255-1302, The Burgos cathedral took over 800 years to complete. It has 125 windows with 1,200 Sq. meters of glass. Proportionally this is more glass than any other building of its era and so little concrete that the structure is suspect of being fragile. The glass brings light into the building with color and hue that is unique and very beautiful. The Catholic imagination is always drawn to the beautiful and has pushed both architecture and engineering to evolve.

Here is the challenge, The Catholic imagination is also filled with all of these images who are companions on the journey. Like the many companions we have on the Camino. The saints, the angles, the biblical figures all play a part in the journey of the disciple. We believe because God became Human and all human excellence points to God.

In this Cathedral there is a moving image of Mary with her hand on a swollen tummy--she is with child! It speaks of the humanity of Jesus. The side chapels all adorned with many images of Mary, saints or the life of Christ. As Catholics we take these things for granted.

For the Protestant, it is about the bible and you and Jesus in a relationship. What they do well is earthly liturgy. While earthly beauty could be treated as a distraction. But as I reminded Chris without the Catholic Church there would be no bible. For us the Church made the bible, not the other way around. The stained glass and statues were the way to tell the bible stories before the printing press.

The other amazing thing with the Spanish Churches is the extent to which they go to decorate and create interior beauty. Each church has a Retablo - A back piece behind the alter, usually hand carved and painted with gold leaf. The one above is from a small village church.

I know we come from a different time. But those who built churches knew they will not be there to see it finished. They had a sense of art and architecture that spoke to the soul of the human and communicated the essence of the divine message in itself. We have become so functional that our new churches could easily be warehouses; they do not speak to the transcendent in the same way. We are in such a hurry that we now build for utility and pragmatism.

I wonder if this is not also reflected in our living of the Gospel and the way we approach Christianity. I would say the same is true of our music. When I attend a mass in French, the priest will begin a chant and the people all know it and all the priests participate with the people. It is prayerful. We do not have an equivalent in English.

I am worried that our generation has reduced the magnificence of God to pragmatism and utility. We have lost something of the human striving for excellence in the service of God. I fear that we are giving God second or third best. Chris admitted that in the Cathedral there was a presence of God that he experienced.

Where your heart is there your treasure will be also. In our inner Camino have we really made God our first? Do we really value and treasure God above all else? Does our life reflect this value - that God is first, the foundation and the principle upon which your whole life rests? Or is God one amongst many competing agendas in your life to which you allocate time as you can?

If God is first and foundation, then nothing less than the best will be worthy of God. We will be artisans seeking to express the divine and we will be extremely generous with the poor.

+Bishop J

San Isidro basilica. Alleged location of the Holy Grail
The Retablo

Location (Map)

León, Spain
Day 19: God Provides