Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why Megachurches Are Full of Ex-Catholics

I remember when I left the Catholic Church and what drew me to Protestant churches.

It was relationships.

I yearned to talk to other believers about Christianity. I desired fellowship and conversation. However, in the Catholic parish I belonged to at the time, there was little available.

Decades ago, Catholics would attend Mass and that was that. There were a few groups like the Knights of Columbus but not many that focused on simply gathering together to encourage one another in the faith.

I remember the first time I visited a local Presbyterian church. I was astounded that after the service, they invited everyone over to their "fellowship hall" to have coffee and doughnuts. This was a revelation. Wow. Imagine staying all the way to the end of a service and then join others in a room afterward to socialize!

Most of the Masses I attended at that time had a good amount of people heading straight for the exit after receiving Communion. I wasn't used to people actually wanting to stay after church to spend time with other church-goers.

So that's how I got hooked.

It's taken me years to reclaim my Catholic faith. I have found some fellowship online through blogs, articles, and the comment sections. But my true fellowship has come through my own parish where they have... wonder of wonders, a "coffee and doughnuts" social held in the undercroft after Mass.

I think more people yearn for this than some may realize. When I look around at the parishioners who are sitting at tables, munching a doughnut and drinking an average cup of coffee from a styrofoam cup, I see people who are in need of connection. Some of them are older and alone. Others are young with families. But everyone wants to connect with someone.

Dr. Taylor Marshal has an excellent article, "10 Ways to Put Megachurches Out of Business." He didn't mention "coffee and doughnuts" but I think it's worth a mention.

Catholicism is rich with its history and spiritually fulfilling with her sacraments. I'm thinking of going through an RCIA class just to learn the ropes, again.

Here's why I think the megachurches are full of ex-Catholics: because Catholics don't really understand and appreciate the truths of their faith.

Everything looks better "on the other side." Megachurches seem exciting with their worship bands and the hundreds of various ministry groups. There's hustle and bustle going on! Activity like this is often confused with substance. Catholics look at all the energy and excitement as proof that their church life is boring and irrelevant.


Send me any ex-Catholic who attends a megachurch and let me talk with him or her. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Let's have coffee and really talk about why they're there. And then let me tell them the truth about the megachurch.

Busy, Busy!

Megachurches thrive on busyness. There are too many groups and too many activities because they're trying to appeal to everyone.

Their identity is dependent upon how the church members define it. And the identity is always shifting, along with the "new building fund."

They have to keep changing up things, otherwise, they fear people will become bored and leave.

But is that the way the Church should be? Is this what Jesus Christ meant when He said to St. Peter, "Upon this rock I shall build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

I believe the gates of hell won't prevail against the Church but meanwhile, the vulgar, meaningless, culture-of-death crowd is certainly trying.

Perpetual Teenagers

Megachurches, because of their nature, do not have much spiritual depth. They're constantly trying to reach out to "the unchurched" yet once Ben and Jennifer Unchurched is inside, the megachurch realizes they can't look and act too much like a church, otherwise, they'll lose Ben and Jen.

So there is the constant "light and fluffy" spiritual messages that float out to the congregation with enough pop psychology and current cultural references thrown in to keep them hooked.

Meanwhile, Ben and Jen remain perpetual teenagers, having their ADD-style spiritual compass forever spinning around but never finding True North.

There is no grounding, nothing of substance because everything a megachurch does is rooted in keeping up with whatever is popular or trendy. This isn't a good path for deeper spiritual development.

Casual Faith

Finally, the type of faith I experienced during all the years I was involved with megachurches was a casual saunter into God's Coffeehouse.

One megachurch I attended had a specialty coffee area where I could get high-quality espresso drinks. And then I could take that hot beverage with me right into the "sanctuary."

Apologies if the quotes offend anyone, but it's difficult to view a huge multi-purpose room with upholstered chairs and a large stage filled with a drum kit, keyboards, and guitars as the central focal point, as a sanctuary.

We unfortunately live in a time where entertainment trumps substance.

Substance is difficult to grasp. It takes work. It's not as mentally easy as standing up and swaying to the music of a worship team or sitting back sipping your fair-trade cappuccino while watching a multi-media "60 Minutes" style production talking about the importance of Bible studies.

Here's an interesting observation: if you ever visit a megachurch, look around to see how many gray heads are sitting in the seats. There may be a few, but usually they're outnumbered by those who are under the age of 50.

I think that says something.

The Fullness of the Faith

When I returned to the Catholic Church, I was stunned by many things. The beauty of the liturgy, which when I was younger, struck me as "boring." Gregorian chant, which always appealed to me but now seemed like the perfect response to a loving, merciful God whose traits we can barely comprehend.

I remembered going to confession and explaining to the priest that I had just returned to the Catholic Church after attending non-denominational churches for years. He graciously said, "those churches do a good job of bringing people into the church and telling them how to live a Christian life, but they don't have the fullness of the faith."

I am still discovering the fullness of the faith but will say that I have found it to be full of substance and meaning. It has intellectually and spiritually challenged me. It has fed my soul to a degree that I never found within the blinking, blaring megachurces.

What brought me back to the Church was the longing for the Eucharist. And not just a symbolic nod to the Last Supper. I wanted the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The words from St. John 6:44-58 call to me:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.

It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.

I am the bread of life.

Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.

This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.

This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."

Upon hearing Jesus' words, many could not fathom their truth. It seemed preposterous to suggest that one would eat someone's flesh. And that claim about "living for ever?" What kind of sense did that make?

It's one of the many facets of Christianity that I love -- the inexplicable, the mysteriousness, the stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks-and-make-you-go-what-ness of it all. Jesus said very thought-provoking things and this definitely was one of them.

I never heard anyone in a megachurch really unpack that section of the Gospel of St. John.

But in the Catholic Church, we celebrate it during every Mass. We look at the bread and wine and solemnly acknowledge that a sacred mystery is unfolding before our eyes as the priest, in persona Christi, takes the bread and the chalice of wine, offers it up to God in a re-presentation of the sacrifice at Calvary, and in that moment, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Receiving tiny tablet wafers and a tiny tablespoon of wine in a tiny plastic cup, passed from person to person on a plate like party appetizers -- is not the same thing.

This to me is part of "the fullness of the faith." There is a richness, a depth, an fuller expression of our faith in the Catholic Church.

I spent over two decades in the non-denominational church. After almost ten years, I asked a few church friends, "So, how do you get spiritually fed?" They admitted they didn't receive much "spiritual meat" from the Sunday service. We talked about various books, radio programs, etc. But it was obvious that once you passed the "Okay, now I'm comfortable in church once again" phase, there was little substance in the messages.

The megachurches may appeal to many Catholics but I think it's because many of those Catholics (and I used to be one), have no idea about their Catholic faith.

Imagine, for fifteen centuries, the Christian Church was one.

United. In bond with one another. That is a long time for church unity.

Compare that to the mere five centuries we've now had with the church universal and the myriad of off-shoots since the Reformation. Those fifteen centuries built some very strong saints, produced intellectual giants who founded universities and hospitals, and overall, changed the world.

I can't help but think "how did they do it?"

And to me, the Catholic Church is a large part of the answer.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why We Need To Forgive Mark Shea

A good friend forwarded me a blog post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, In Defense of Mark Shea. I haven't kept up with Mark Shea's writings because frankly, I was one of many who were turned off by his tone. I remembered thinking to myself, "Here we go, again. I wonder who Mark has taken potshots at this time which requires someone to defend him..."

My own mea culpa

Well, I was wrong. Turns out Shea was delivering a huge mea culpa to everyone for his behavior, which he admitted had been bitter. The post is surprisingly detailed as Shea opened up his heart and not only confessed that he knew he had acted bitter with people, but why he did. He revealed a tender spot in his relationship with God (emphasis mine):

One of the things that lives under the rocks in my heart has been a deep and abiding fear, a kind of heart conviction about the universe that long predates any conscious relationship with God I formed as an adult (recall that I was not raised Christian). I’m not saying it’s a truth about the universe. I’m saying it’s something more like a broken bone in my soul that never knit right. And what it comes down to is a pattern of assuming that I am, at best, a tool of God, not a son of God and certainly not somebody God loves.  And with that has been a fear that, at the end of the day, once my utility to God is spent I would be tossed away like a candy bar wrapper.

Shea has admitted a weakness that is true for many of us, namely, that we have to work for God's love and earn it by faithfully demonstrating a mastery of the gifts He gave us. We think the more we do this, the more we are valued by Him. In essence, it's a performance issue and one that has many, many facets. Too many to go into here and actually not my business because this has to do with Shea's own spiritual formation, not mine.

The dark night of the soul, but we are not alone

But I can fully vouch for such a wrestling of the mind and spirit because for anyone who wants to be told, "Well done, my good and faithful servant...," they need to understand that God's great love and mercy for us is not dependent on our "deliverables" (if you will pardon my using a term from my business vocabulary), but is an expression of His perfect grace. (Romans 5)

As tempting as it is to delve into that aspect (perhaps, for another post), I want to focus on Shea's contrition. I do not agree with Fr. Longenecker's assessment that it was not necessary. I believe it was absolutely vital that Mark Shea apologize to those he had wronged after recognizing his error precisely because it was in obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Who else can convict our hard-headed and hard-hearted ways? Certainly not the most persuasive spiritual director or admired mentor. Without the Holy Spirit, we are doomed to make the same mistakes over, and over again. The Holy Spirit speaks truth many times, often gently as we kneel in silence after communion or when we contemplate Scripture. Suddenly, BAM! That soft, insistent, and terrible truth comes forth from the Counselor: You have sinned in this area and I am calling you to repent.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.(St. John 16:7-11, RSV)

I don't need no stinkin' apology...

When someone publicly admits they have been in the wrong, there is a tendency in us to want our own pound of flesh. "Yeah, you say you're sorry... but what about this instance? And when you said that? Plus, I don't believe you. You'll likely go back to doing the same thing again!"

Not only is this unfair but it is un-Christlike. I'll speak for myself, here, only because I have said the above and more when it came to someone making a public act of repentance.

It is not my job to evaluate how sincere someone is when they repent, or if they'll be successful in avoiding the same sin again. My job as a Christian is simple. I accept the act of repentance with joy and bless my brother and sister for the faith, humility, and strength it took to make it.

St. Peter wishing Jesus would finally lower the boom...

Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

I remember the first time I read these words by St. Peter. I thought, Hmm. I wonder who ticked him off?

I suspect he was looking for Jesus to respond by saying, "Seven times is more than enough, Peter. Look, you gave the person seven opportunities to make things right and if they're STILL screwing it up, then by golly you're justified in kicking them to the curb! That's it! They're outta here!"

But of course Jesus said no such thing. (Thank you, Lord!)  Here is what he said:

Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.  (St. Matthew 18:21-22, RSV)

For those keeping score (and boy, how we love to do that), that's 490 times. That would be a notebook's worth of forgiveness-keeping, which even the most dutiful and detail-oriented person would probably tire of after the 50th entry.

Jesus then went on to share The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. (St. Matthew 18:23-35) In a nutshell, a servant was shown mercy by a king. The servant owed the king ten thousand talents but was unable to pay it. When the king said the servant, his family, and all his possessions would need to be sold to settle his account, the servant begged for mercy. The king was moved and forgave the servant his debt.

Then the servant went along his merry way and did something that wasn't so smart. He found another servant who owed him a hundred denarii and demanded repayment.

Just to give you an idea of the difference between a talent and a denarius: A denarius was a Roman silver coin weighing about 4 grams, a day''s wages for a common laborer or soldier. A talent, a unit of weight for gold or silver, typically weighed about 33kg (75 lb) varying from 20 to 40 kg.

How many denariis would it take to make 10,000 talents? 

88,831,168.83 (Source)

So this servant, who owed the king much, much more than what his fellow servant owed him, didn't seem to appreciate the irony. He threw his fellow servant in prison until he repaid his debt.

This didn't sit too well with the other servants. They high-tailed it back to the king and and spilled the beans. Their master was none too pleased.

His response?

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?'

Jesus wrapped up the parable by saying this:

So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." (St. Matthew 18:32-35, RSV)

We are reminded of the requirement to forgive every time we pray The Lord's Prayer:

"... and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors..." (St. Matthew 6:12, RSV)

Gratitude for a new attitude

This is why I need to forgive Mark Shea. As much as I found his online behavior repellant and divisive, he has repented and asked for forgiveness. Even if he hadn't asked for forgiveness, I was still required to forgive him if offended.

But now that he has taken the bold step in being transparent with his soul, I am especially called to forgive him, no holds barred and with no fine print attached.

I don't involve myself with online arguments because to be honest, I don't see much spiritual fruit borne from it. I don't consider this intellectual cowardice but a desire to shift the focus away from my intellect and instead, toward God. What more could I add to the conversation when we're speaking of the divine act of our heavenly Father bestowing an unfathomable act of mercy upon me, allowing His perfect and holy Son, Jesus Christ to die for my sins?

Yes, I love to think. Yes, I love to ask the deep questions. But when it comes to my behavior toward my brothers and sisters in Christ, I'd rather find the common ground than the uncommon. This is the Year of Faith. For me, I know my time is better spent living a life of faith rather than telling someone else how to live theirs. This isn't easy, I know. I've already done quite a bit of the latter with this very post.

But the bottom line is this: when a fellow brother or sister in Christ asks for forgiveness, we give it -- fully, abundantly, and with great gladness of the heart.

It's much better than throwing someone in prison.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

This Is How All Will Know That You Are My Disciples

My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. - St. John 13:33-35

Sometimes, I feel older than my years.

I just read an interesting post from St. Louis Catholic that I found troubling. ("The World, The Flesh, and the Devil Have Nothing To Fear")

I have always loved God and His Son, Jesus Christ. There has never been a day in my life when I have not believed wholeheartedly in their complete holiness, their immeasurable love, and their compassion for us fallen men and women.

I remember the first time I experienced betrayal within a church. I was so naive that I truly believed that if another person expressed their faith in God and His Son, then we'd just get along perfectly like peas and carrots.

Suffice it to say, I discovered otherwise.

At heart, I am a lover. A peace-maker. I would much rather state "let's agree to disagree, agreeably" than throw flaming arrows of "I'm-right-and-you're-oh-so-wrong" at my fellow brothers and sisters. It saddens me when I see hard, vicious words being thrown toward those who for all intents and purposes, are part of the family.

But, since the theme of this blog is confessions, I'll reveal yet another one about me.

In the fleshiest part of my being, I am a fighter.

Just ask my husband, who at times had to calm me down because of some development that was just... well... wrong. And I wanted to make it right. Whenever I see injustice, or bullying, or people trying to control others, I go sort of ballistic. So I'm not a complete pussycat.

But when it comes to the Church, when it comes to this glorious Body of Christ that is to be considered the Bride of Christ, a gift... and to see her strip down to her skivvies and land on the mat with a sneer and her gloves itching to fly, I know we've gone way off the rails.

For those who are still scratching their heads, I'll lay it out more clearly.

Jesus Christ said that the way people would know we are His disciples is by how we love one another.

Not how we love sinners.

Not how we love the Magisterium.

Not how we love Vatican II.

And not even how we love the Pope.

It's how we love one another. 

In all of our ugliness, our sinfulness, our idiosyncrasies that often can drive one another nuts... it is that "fleshiness" we are called to love.

This includes those who are "cafeteria Catholics." Pro-choice Catholics. Catholics who think a woman should be a priest. Catholics who believe same-sex marriage is no big deal. It also includes Catholic converts who now are selling a bunch of books about Catholicism. Catholics who poke fun at other Catholics. Catholics who think their brand of Catholicism is better than someone else's.

There is the word "catholic" (lower "c") which comes from the Latin word catholicus, meaning "universal."  And then there is Catholic with a big "C." The first time Catholic was used was found in a letter from St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Christians in Smyrna.

He wrote: "Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (Ignatius Epistle to the Smyrnaeans)

The Greek word for Catholic is katholou, meaning "entirely, in general, on the whole."

What I get from that is this: unity.

Do you remember the movie Independence Day? If not, it's about how aliens are attacking earth. In one of the most well-loved film moments, Bill Pullman's "President Thomas Whitmore" makes a speech that could very well be applied to our own current times:

The President: Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in this history of mankind.

Mankind -- that word should have new meaning for all of us today.

We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore.

We will be united in our common interests.

Perhaps its fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution -- but from annihilation.

We're fighting for our right to live, to exist.

And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice:

"We will not go quietly into the night!
We will not vanish without a fight!
We're going to live on!
We're going to survive!"

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!

I feel the exact same emotions but for our beloved Church and for one another.

We are fighting the fiercest battle that we've ever seen in an attempt to control humankind. I do not think I am being an alarmist when I say such things. The attempt to control every aspect of our lives is at the heart of an evil plan to destroy the Church, destroy the family unit, destroy freedom, and destroy all that has brought any speck of good into this fallen world.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we don not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. - Ephesians 6:10-13

In my mind, I can hear the above speech like this:

We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. 

We will be united in our faith. 

You will once again be fighting for our freedom, not just from tyranny, oppression, or persecution -- but from annihilation. 

We're fighting for our right to live, to exist. 

And should we win the day, the Church will not be known by its factions, but as the true catholic Church when it declared in one voice: 

"We will not go quietly into the night! 
We will not vanish without a fight! 
We're going to live on! 
We're going to survive!" 

Today, we celebrate God, His Son, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit... and His Church, which the gates of hell shall not prevail against!

Pray for the unity of the Church. And yes, pray for our spiritual leaders. As the world grows louder and more violent in its hatred of Christianity, it is time now to gird up our loins. To pray. To put on the armor of God. To love one another in spite of our differences.

And after having done all, to stand. Because we either will stand together or fall alone. Let's choose together.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review: The Church Building As A Sacred Place

"How can we recover the sense of the sacred in our temples and shrines? We seem to have lost the ability to make new buildings which exude that ineffable sense of the 'sacred' which can be rightly called the presence of the Almighty. Why is it that few of our churches built in recent decades intimate that the church building itself and the celebrations taking place within it are sacred?"
- From the book, The Church Building As A Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal, by Duncan G. Stroik

I was privileged to be given this book for a review. The day I received it, I gasped at its large size, breathing in the lovely scent of thick, quality paper while feasting upon the rich, vibrant images of stunning cathedrals and churches from all over the world.

This is my kind of book.

Not only is the book itself a delight to hold and read, the content itself is (as I shared with Thomas M. Dietz, who contacted me) "right up my alley."

I cannot fully express how starved my soul was during the years I spent attending non-denominational churches. How hungry I was for the visual cues that would direct me toward the sacred, that would remind me of the beauty and grandiosity of our Creator, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

During those years away from the Catholic Church, all I had to look at were the bare, cream-colored walls of a multi-purpose room which had a stage set up for the worship team.

When I was part of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Cincinnati, Ohio, I co-led an artists group. We received permission to have an installation, featuring the art work of our members. I remember working away with Ben (not his real name), the other leader as we gently hung the paintings and framed photographs. Ben was into "found object" art and had created a special piece that was displayed outside the building. He had strung together a collection of found objects that were carefully hung from the roofline, dangling a bit like a large strand of Christmas lights.

Ben's installation was about reminding us that we were all "found objects" God had pulled from the trash but He joined us together to make something beautiful. I was oddly touched as I would gaze up at Ben's work, realizing that no matter how broken or ugly I felt, I was still loved by God and deemed worthy of the saving power of His Son, Jesus Christ.

However, we were asked to take down the art after three weeks. And then it was back to bare walls. The same happened with another church I attended. Artists would be appreciated for a few weeks but then the request would come in to remove the art and "get back to normal."

The problem is, as Stroik so eloquently describes, a lack of understanding what the sacred is and how important it is to preserve it.

An appreciation and investment in the sacred was demonstrated by my ancestors. In Cincinnati, Ohio, there is a beautiful Catholic church called Old St. Mary's. My parents were married there. When Old St. Mary's was being built, the many immigrants who settled in Over-the-Rhine at that time would take the bricks home and bake them in their own ovens. There was a pride in knowing that they were literally part of building the church.

When I attend Mass at Old St. Mary's, I am reminded of the hard work and sacrifice that went into erecting such a building to the glory of God. For those who so invested themselves, I am deeply grateful and respect them for their contribution. Stroik's book examines the history of sacred buildings and sends out a call to return to such an investment once again.

The book is divided into four parts: The Church as a Sacred Place: Principles of Church Design, Church Architecture Today, From Bauhaus to God's House: Modernism and Modernity, and Renaissance and Revival.

Within each section are chapters devoted to such topics as: the altar as the center of the Church, the purpose of a church, myths of contemporary sacred architecture, and even advice to pastors and laity who are planning to build or renovate a church building.

Some of my favorite sections nailed our culture's deteriorating interest in producing beautiful buildings. From Part II, Church Architecture, Chapter 7: Spontaneous Shrines and Temporary Churches:
Interestingly, while most people can appreciate historic art and architecture of high quality, they do not expect much from contemporary buildings -- perhaps because we think that modern buildings are unique in history, since they are functional, built on a budget and express our age. Thus, we have gotten used to the buildings we visit on Sundays and Wednesday nights being not unlike doctors' offices and shopping malls on the outside, while on the inside they are not even that nice. It seems our priorities have changed.


Stroik goes on to say that many Christians live in homes that are quite beautiful, filled with lots of images and having "transcendent" great rooms, and yet their churches are the opposite of their homes.

He the asks, "Why is it that many of us would not spend money on a beautiful well-built church but would be happy to live in a mansion?"

It is a profound question, one that would likely make most Christians uncomfortable if they really thought long and hard about it.

The book is filled with such observations and pondering. Page after page shows visually stunning cathedrals, both the exterior and interior, alongside the barren and at times brutal images of what I'd call the hideous modern church buildings. How walking into a church that resembles a grim prison cell is more preferable than one that resembles a sacred place of worship, is beyond me. But some committee voted for it.

And since I came out of the "mega-church," I especially appreciated Stroik's thoughts on it. (Part IV Renaissance and Renewal, Chapter 15: Can We Afford Not to Build Beautiful Churches?). He calls such buildings that house mega-churches, "un-architecture."

Following the design principles of the sports coliseum, shopping mall, or office part, it is dropped down in the middle of a large piece of land convenient to major highways and surrounded by a large sheet of asphalt. It is the "media church," the here and now, in which the ultimate architectural philistinism has triumphed. The transience of the American population, the preeminence of the parking lot, and the short term life of an institution build around an individual preacher or a contemporary psychology results in a building that needs to be big, cheap, and built fast.

Wow. Did he nail it, or what?

I think that for many of the younger people who attend my local Traditional Latin Mass, they instinctively recognize how such buildings come up short when it pertains to being transported into a higher realm for worshipping our God.

I spoke to another architectural friend at length years ago as he explained the spiritual significance of  our Catholic parish's building. My eyes grew wide as he revealed the significance of the doorways, the way the pews were arranged, the steps leading up to the altar and how it correlated to the relationship to the Christian,  Jew, and Gentile when we have a Solemn High Mass; and how the altar represented Christ. He said, in essence, that the building itself was to be a place where heaven and earth met. And... it is to be a place where mystery exists alongside faith.

When he said that, the image of all the ugly mega-churches and ghastly modern church buildings flashed before my eyes. I thought about our own parish, which is a traditional Catholic church building with stained glass windows and a beautiful altar with soaring spires and statues of Jesus, Moses, and Abraham within it.

I thought about how I relished entering into that building, knowing there was a clear line of demarcation from the world and I was now on holy ground. Personally, I believe we all need such a sacred place, a place where we go to meet our God and remember the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. To me, these types of meditations are not easily had when one sits inside a box. But when I'm surrounded by inspired architecture, I am humbled and realize how much we need such buildings.

This lovely book has much to offer, not only to the architectural world, but for Christians who yearn to discover once again sacred places that transport them with their beauty into a realm where the eternal and divine meet. Within such buildings, we are transformed and reminded of the unchanging nature of God, and our relationship with Him.

The book can be purchased from Liturgy Training Publications. I highly recommend it. Also, it would make a beautiful gift for anyone who loves Catholic church architecture and enjoys the philosophical examination of it. Whoever is blessed to receive such a gift, will be grateful.