“Lower your nets”

In today’s Gospel, the professional fishermen who followed Jesus caught nothing all night, but at His word they lowered their nets again and they hauled in huge numbers of fish.

Every pastor wants to fill the nets and gather in the sheep, by hook or by crook, but the question is, how is that done?

When we look at the data, some surprising truths emerge.

Researchers recently decided to study why young people become Christians, and one particular statistic seemed strange, because it pointed to the effect of Church architecture on young people.

Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures.

The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith.

Jimmy Dale, the Church of England’s national youth evangelism officer, said his team had been “shocked” by the results. (More here.)

Some might say that visiting a Church as a tourist is not a very community-oriented reason for becoming Christian, but I disagree. Ecclesial art is very communal. It puts us in contact with other Christians who are our brothers and sisters, even though we may be separated from us from them by centuries of earthly life. They put their faith in stone, in a way that the Scriptures use as a symbol of the Church itself, with Jesus variously as the cornerstone or the capstone. “You too are living stones,” the great cathedrals seem to say. At least, this is the message young people are receiving.

Problematically, however, the great cathedrals often obscure this message with various kinds of “updating.” For example, some of the stunning early Gothic churches in Paris on the banks of the Seine have large cubes of stone standing in their sanctuaries as completely incongruous modern altars. Other churches have carelessly placed microphones and cords and digital pianos amid the pricelessly effective evangelical spaces of Europe. Worst of all is the practice of posting disposable flyers in the primary colors and cartoonish shapes of eurotrash art, advertising this or that expensive, ineffective, “pastoral” initiative.

There is room in the Church, of course, for new art. Some of those same early Gothic churches have layers and layers of paintings, either stenciling or figurative, and some better than others. It is not one generation that builds the great cathedrals. In the exceptional case of the Cologne Cathedral, the integrated work of the exquisite, unified building spanned six centuries.

There is always room for more great art.

7 Replies to ““Lower your nets””

  1. Why are you so concerned about whether this conversion experience is "community-oriented"? Christianity about individual conversion to Jesus and not about some community conversion. In fact, this whole "community" business, a pet theory of a few theologians at the time of the Council, is largely what is driving the Church towards extinction in the West.

  2. Hi, Ted, you ask an interesting question.

    I'm actually not overly concerned about each person's conversion's having an obvious communal referrent. I mentioned this primarily to a) forestall the objections of those for whom this might be an issue, and b) highlight the ecclesial character of liturgical art.

    I agree with you to some extent. There is a personal character of faith that cannot be shared easily. This is true at the time of Communion, for example, when each person shares a one-on-one time with the Lord. To a great degree it is true about the mystical journey, and the hour of death. Jesus told us to pray to our Father in secret.

    On the other hand–and this is in the Fathers, notably St Augustine but abundantly throughout the Tradition–ecclesial life is a shared life. Consider St. Paul, for example. He said "faith comes through hearing," and he did not mean for most people hearing the voice of Jesus directly, as he did. He meant the word of preaching. He travelled to preach to others–a communal act. But first he had to seek out someone to baptize him, and to receive the handclasp of friendship from Church leaders. He used communal metaphors such as the body and family relations to describe the unity of believers.

    So while I agree with you that the personal, hidden aspect has been tragically minimized since the Council, and the communal aspect celebrated in superficial ways rather than as it should be, in serious friendships and in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, I don't think the communal aspect of Catholicism is new or negative, or separable from the Catholic faith.

  3. It seems that what architecture and great art in general have to offer is that wordless experience of beauty, whose source, as Augustine re-iterated is God Himself. Yet the liturgy following the Council deliberately put this aside, praising active participation before all else, including beauty. Some say that the ecclesiology changed to an assembly-based one where people singing together, even with the ugliness of bad voices, was way better than any well trained choir beautifully singing sacred liturgical songs, as if this assembly singing together had some magical powers of sorts.

    One of the things to remember about the "gathering" or "community" in the early Church is that this was necessary for practical purposes. To hear the Word of God, one had to assemble in "community" because books and scrolls were not readily available. Technically, the Scripture readings at Mass are not necessary if people do their homework before Mass, easily done with the Bible virtually omnipresent today, so they could even be in Latin in that case. Moreover, the further back one goes into history the fewer details there are, and the easier it is to make wild claims, such as those concerning the idea of community in the early Church, claims which became popular during the years surrounding the Council as they blended well with the widespread neo-Marxist worldview of the time, even in the Church (Communism or Marxism was not condemned by the Council).

    So when you intentionally mentioned "community", it made me wonder why.

  4. "Not long had the Church of Milan begun to employ this kind of consolation and exhortation, the brethren singing together with great earnestness of voice and heart. For it was about a year, or not much more, since Justina, the mother of the boy-Emperor Valentinian, persecuted Thy servant Ambrose in the interest of her heresy, to which she had been seduced by the Arians. The pious people kept guard in the church, prepared to die with their bishop, Thy servant. There my mother, Thy handmaid, bearing a chief part of those cares and watchings, lived in prayer. We, still unmelted by the heat of Thy Spirit, were yet moved by the astonished and disturbed city. At this time it was instituted that, after the manner of the Eastern Church, hymns and psalms should be sung, lest the people should pine away in the tediousness of sorrow; which custom, retained from then till now, is imitated by many, yea, by almost all of Thy congregations throughout the rest of the world."

    St. Augustine, Confessions, Book IX

  5. But recall though, that Augustine was lead to almost forbid music in the liturgy altogether because of the risk of admiring beauty for its own sake which could be an occasion for sin, but finally dropped the idea because "by the pleasure of the ear the weaker minds may be roused to a feeling of devotion." (Confessions X, 33, 50) As they say, there was a love-hate relationship between Augustine and liturgical music/beauty.

  6. True. But I think we can agree that his thoughts are clearly expressed and available to us. Reference to them is not, as you have been characterizing it, a vague primitivism invented to sway a Council.

  7. Yes, but how much do we know about liturgical music before Constantine? That is where the problem is with regards to the early Church, and from which things are claimed should be done today, despite the fact that music has undergone a revolutionary change since even the time of Augustine. I do not see too many sourced footnotes for claims in a lot of early Church musical studies. Moreover, where Augustine does speak more about interior silent music, a fundamental idea in his understanding of divine music, his De Pulchro et Apto has been lost.

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