Thursday, December 02, 2004

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The word "culture" comes from the Latin cultus or religion. If we look at our American culture today, what religion would you assume we practice? Our Catholic patrimony embodies the gold standard for a moral, civilized, and educated society while our society is fleeing from these norms.

My father has a good test for judging cultural innovations. "What if everyone does it?" he asks. What if everyone is selfish, neurotic, alienated, demanding, childish, greedy, hateful, rude, promiscuous, sloppy, ignorant, drugged, and impious? What if everyone is pious, charitable, sober, noble, faithful, chivalrous, grown-up, polished, and generous? Sadly, our culture is going from the latter to the former. Our culture today idolizes youth and money, instead of praising virtue.

Saint Louis is a beautiful Catholic city, but is in decay, and faces numerous church closings. I fear that our architectural patrimony will be lost, as the Faith itself has been largely lost many years ago. Good art, good piety, good vocations, good culture, and good community are all parts that must stand together and will reinforce each other. If we can sow the seeds of a restoration of culture today, we can help future generations regain what has been lost. Of course, the flight of Catholics to the suburbs, the fashion of Modernism, low birth rates, few vocations, and lower church attendance due to confusion following the Second Vatican Council are the immediate cause for the proposed church closings; this shows a lack of community, lack of art, and lack of faith. All of these must be brought back together for a restoration.

If old, beautiful parish churches are to be closed, I would like to see them held on to as long as possible before being converted to something other than a Catholic church or destroyed. It would take a lot of work and money, but if Catholic families, the city government, and real estate developers could work together to revitalize the neighborhood around it, then the church could reopen and a solid, urban Catholic community could once again flourish. Alternatively, if new religious orders, or existing orders from outside the area be given these churches, they could provide much needed ministries as well as incubate new vocations. A friend of mine, JSM, has the idea that some of these churches could be dismantled and rebuilt in Saint Charles County, where new parishes need to be built due to the growing Catholic population there. Certainly this is preferable to destruction, and more architecturally relevant than most new churches being built today.

We need to make the Church again the center of culture, which will be difficult and face heavy opposition. "Faith" means "steadfastness to duty", so we need to work on our cultural restoration with faith. This depends on restoration of a sense of Catholic identity, and then Catholic community, using the tools of art and education.

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