The Crystal Cathedral Double-Down

Religions News Service recently ran an article on the restoration and rebranding of the Crystal Cathedral as the “Christ Cathedral” for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. If you head over to that article you can watch a promotional video explaining the church’s vision for the revamped campus they purchased for $50+ million. The campus’ extensive restoration is expected to be completed in 2016.

The idea of faith communities purchasing and repurposing property for ministry is hardly a new thing. Still, the audacious nature of the project seems at odds with the popular leadership of Pope Francis. Cathedrals, in and of themselves, are an interesting concept in the way they’ve historically coupled religious and political power. The potential symbolism of the project for a thriving diocese seeking to reassert itself is hard to miss.

A remark made in the promotional video by Mark Dios, the landscape architect hired for the project, caught my ear.

“So we’ve really thought about how you make a space feel sacred. And how do you do that for the Cathedral? That as you arrive, all of a sudden you are in this moment of awe and you feel the presence of God.”

A few years back, I spent a delayed honeymoon with my wife in Italy. For days we explored Rome and visited as many of the various churches and Cathedrals as we could. So many of these buildings are exemplars of ingenuitive architecture and home to some truly incredible works of art. They are indeed impressive and do fill one with awe.

But I must confess that I was troubled as much as I was moved. Was the awe I felt an authentic experience of God or something more terrestrial? Does it matter how many of those projects were funded by abusive practices that took advantage of the piety of the faithful? If their grandeur inspires good works and generosity, at what point does any bad karma get paid down?

Of course, critiques about frivolous spending might be launched at most any religious building project. Perhaps the building of such edifices, and the awe they inspire within us, reflect something deep and primitive about our spiritual longings–some need for a corporeal locus of worship we can’t quite evolve beyond.

Still, this truth about us is painful when the cost of such beauty isn’t matched by a vitality of ministry to those in need. Let us pray that the Diocese of Orange continues to develop and grow their ministries for those who have not a single roof over their heads to take for granted, let alone one made of crystal.

Photo Credit: Image used under Creative Commons from Alejandro C.

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