The Cult of the Imperial Self
A VISIT TO NEW BABYLON
Recently, Sampson and I drove to hear a talk by Mr. Famous Catholic. Sampson is a native of the area, so he agreed to drive us to New Babylon. I respect Famous Catholic greatly, so I gritted my teeth and braced for the difficult trip. It would be taxing due to the traffic, which is always miserable in that part of the country. It’s either excruciatingly slow or at a pace and volume that invite painful lessons in applied physics.
Along the way, I saw what most Americans see daily: strip malls, graffiti, pitted roads, litter, and a nearly complete absence of nature or beauty. How do people endure this? How can anyone say it’s not an affront and a harm to the human spirit?
Eventually, we made it to New Babylon, once thought to be among the most beautiful and charming cities in the world. Its fall from grace has been well documented. You can still catch glimpses of its erstwhile character, however, in old houses with odd shapes and quirky designs, brightly and freshly painted. Alas, such buildings are rare. Most are abutted by monstrosities of brutalist architecture, devoid of any indication that they serve a truly human need or purpose. Such buildings dominated the vistas.
Finally, we arrived at St. Medieval’s Parish, where Famous Catholic was to give his talk after morning Mass. The church looked as if it had been built by medieval scholastics centuries ago. It was G & G, that is, “Gothic and Glorious.” A torrent of joy and longing erupted within me. Here was a glimpse of Christendom!
Inside were delights for the mind and the senses: the colors of the windows, the coolness of the stone, and the sternum-stirring rumble of the pipe organ. At every moment, my eyes, heart, and mind were called upward. There was no resting of the senses of body or soul; there was only flight and soaring. How could such a small space be so big and beautiful? I couldn’t help but be caught up by something the walls could not confine. I wanted to pray here. I wanted to worship here. I wanted to see and say, and sing and do, in this little church what Catholics have done for centuries and centuries around the world. Those who love the truth, beauty, and goodness revealed by the order and craft of a Gothic church — I wanted to be one of them, one with them, loving the God who inspired it all. I wanted to be like the saints who brought intact to the shores of the New World the perennial piety and costly fidelity their forebears had entrusted to them, and I hoped that in God’s providence I might take my place in line to receive those treasures and hand them on to the next generation.
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