Naturally, I was dressed all in black with a Roman collar, and naturally they followed the priest rather than the docent when we went in different directions. Secularists attempt to debunk the priesthood, but folks still recognize and follow priests as one follows a father. We want priests, unless we convince ourselves that we don’t want them. I trust I’m not saying this from self-conceit, because I myself yearn to know and to follow good priests. The media’s obsession with clergy scandals is not just an attempt to debunk the priesthood; it is an expression of angry disappointment on their part. If they didn’t believe in the priesthood to some degree, they wouldn’t make such a fuss about it. Even a hardened atheist yearns to call someone “father” and believe that someone can show him order in an apparent meaningless universe.
We were at the Getty to see two exhibits of medieval religious art. Both depicted the Christian and Catholic faith of the middle ages in vivid and balanced splendor. And while the audio commentary assumed that medieval piety was no more than the charming simplicity of uneducated people, even so the museum curators recognized its nobility and beauty. Secularists would like to believe in this “beautiful myth” if they could, and maybe—who knows, they think—it might have some bit of truth to it. I certainly didn’t detect antipathy towards Christianity at the museum, nor even an overt dismissal of faith.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo gave our College a beautiful commencement address last May. “You graduating students,” he concluded, “have been studying the philosophical transcendentals of unity, goodness, truth, and beauty over these four years. You are prepared now to bring them to a faithless world. I think you’d better focus on beauty, because they’re not buying truth and goodness anymore.”
Certainly, the Getty museum and the definers of culture still appreciate beauty, even if they have long since given up on truth and goodness. The beauty of the priesthood, the beauty of the Gospel and the Sacraments, still draws hearts and minds, even in the wasteland of our declining culture. “Beauty will save the world,” wrote Dostoevsky. The priesthood, a sacrament of Christ, is beautiful, despite the ugly distortions some priests make of it. I think most people still recognize this, or at least yearn for it.