TRINITY SUNDAY                                     MAY 27, 2018


Earlier this month there was a splashy Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Celebrities in many fields of entertainment showed up, dressed up to show off their fineries. Some of the get-ups were pretty bizzare. They were there for the grand opening of a new exhibit called, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” It highlights fashion influenced by both Catholic art and clothing including vestments. Displays both in the Museum itself and up at the Cloisters on the Hudson show various religious artifacts, including some loaned by the Vatican as well as modern clothing. The introduction to the catalog of the exhibit was written by Catholic theologian, David Tracy, titled The Analogical Imagination.

My guess is that not many Catholics are even aware that there is a Catholic imagination.  They know there are Catholic doctrines, laws and observances but an imagination? I find it interesting that the secular world of art recognizes the highly visual culture of Catholicism while many Catholics are losing it. The term, Catholic Imagination, was first popularized by Andrew Greeley some thirty years ago. Some aspects of it, according to Greeley, include, community, sacraments, rituals, sacred place and sacred time, sacred desire, salvation, hierarchy. The cathedrals of Europe, he said, the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Italian American films including Martin Scorsese, James Joyce’s Ulysses, writings of Flannery O’Connor and Alice McDermott, and, perhaps surprisingly, Bruce Springsteen are all examples.  As you might guess, the Catholic imagination does not necessarily express itself in church things nor does one who exemplifies this imagination have to be a practicing Catholic. But there is a Catholic worldview, a way of seeing reality. It is formed by the liturgy, the sacred time of feasts, fasts and seasons in community. It is found in the stories of the Saints. It is found in Catholic social thought with emphasis on the common good. It expresses itself in rich metaphors, analogies, symbols, art, music, theatre, poetry, fiction.

Great religious art, such as that of Michelangelo, recognizes the human body as a sacrament of the spirit. The body, in its nakedness, is to be reverenced. And so the prevalence of nudes in many great paintings. We Americans think we are sexually free but have been influenced by our Puritan forebears. Titillation, as well as shame and embarrassment, at sex, instead of reverence, is often part of this misformed freedom.
Now let me bring God into the picture. Our self-image is ultimately our image of God. Our image of God reflects itself in our humanity.
Here is how one author distinguishes the Catholic imagination. The Catholic classics (Thomas Aquinas) assume a God who is present in the world and the self as part of the world. They assume a God who is present, disclosing the Godself in and through Creation The world’s events, objects, and people tend to be somewhat like God. Animals and all creation share in this disclosure.

The Protestant classics, on the other hand (like Luther, Calvin, Karl Barth) assume a God who is radically absent from the world and discloses the Godself only on rare occasions, especially in Jesus Christ and him crucified. The world and all its events, objects and people tend to be radically different from God, and even evil until redeemed.

Please understand that I am not saying all Catholics and Protestants believe or act this way. Many Catholics lack a Catholic imagination.
Many Protestants and Protestant churches have a Catholic imagination.

This God whom we believe and trust in is a Three-in-One God. Forget the three and one puzzles. We believe in a God who is a community of persons, who is relationship, who is love, who is eternal mystery. This dynamic, living, changing, outpouring God flows through all creation, is the force of evolution, draws the cosmos to becoming divine. Instead of God being the ultimate threatener, we have God as the Ultimate Participant –in everything – both good and painful. God is the life force between every object. The Triune God flows through everything, without exception, and has done so since the beginning. The lone, absent, ultimate, distant God is not the Christian God. The triune God is loving, present, living, creating unity instead of isolation, community instead of enmity.

This God is to be found in beauty, as well as in truth and goodness. Dorothy Day claimed the deepest poverty of the poor is the lack of beauty. She used to quote the saying of Dostoyevsky, “The world will be saved through beauty.”

We really need to refind and relive our Catholic imagination. In that imagination we will find joy and meaning in a Triune God who is reflected in all of our lives, in all of creation.

All praise and thanksgiving be yours, O most blessed Trinity. We rejoice in your love and beauty.  Amen







Fr. Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, STL