Fashion for the Sacred — and the Profane


National Catholic Register, 14 May 2018

The real story of the Met Gala was that the Church, if only for one evening, was paying tribute to the visual arts in a theatrical way.

Evangelical outreach? Blasphemous outrage?

The Met Gala May 7 — which ought to be distinguished from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition itself — brought into stark relief contrasting views in the Catholic world.

Jesuit Father James Martin brought his “LGBT bridge” up to Fifth Avenue and exulted that the Catholic imagination was front and center in the gay-friendly world of fashion’s biggest night.

Father Dwight Longenecker considered the whole matter reminiscent of decadent Florence, with prelates winking at, if not embracing, moral corruption. He was not pleased that Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Father Martin were present as “chaplains to Vanity Fair” and wished for a latter-day Savonarola to show up on the red carpet.

But the next day he changed his mind and thought perhaps Cardinal Dolan and Father Martin were doing what Jesus did, going to “parties with notorious sinners, cheats, frauds, prostitutes, gluttons and drunkards.”

And, it should be noted, Mitt Romney.

The erudite New York Times columnist Ross Douthat thought that the Met Gala reflected the divisions in what moderns think about Catholicism. Did the Met Gala celebrate “an Old Church that’s frightening and fascinating in equal measure” or serve as a contrast to “a New Church that’s a little more liked but much more easily ignored”?

So what does this Catholic commentator think about the Met Gala — again, as opposed to the exhibition, which it inaugurated?

First of all, Pope Francis would have hated it. There’s a good reason there were no official Vatican representatives sent to the gala.

Pope Francis is not eager for the company of the super-affluent in general, so a gathering where the rich and the richer gather to literally marvel at themselves would not be his preferred night out.

From the first day of his pontificate he has made ostentatious displays of simplicity the core image of his pontificate. Ostentations displays of excess make him cringe. Had the Holy Father been present at the gala, there can be no doubt that he would have quickly found his way to the kitchen, the better to chat with the immigrants earning minimum wage who serve Manhattan’s very rich and very progressive fashion set.

Was the gala blasphemous? Many of the outfits paid due honor to the Catholic tradition of sacred art. More than a few were stunningly beautiful. To be sure, modesty was not the watchword, but, then, it never is on the fashion runway, and the ladies were generally less exposed than is otherwise the case.

Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress whose oeuvre wittingly celebrates and unwittingly laments the sexual revolution, balanced a Neapolitan Nativity set on her head. Hard to know what to make of that, but it was a marvel of engineering and balance, if not necessarily piety.

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