One of the perks of living in NYC is that I’m literally in the cultural hub of the world. And I’m not saying that arrogantly, or with any snooty tone. It’s frankly, a fact. People look to Gotham for the latest in news, entertainment, literature, architecture and design, and fashion.
In case you were snoozing on your pop culture research, the MET gala was last weekend. It’s known as “Celebrity Prom” because every spring, everyone from Beyonce, to Tom Brady, to Kim Kardashian, to Sarah Jessica Parker gets dressed up in one-of-a-kind designer gowns and costumes worth thousands upon thousands of dollars, all based on a theme. Past themes include Fashion in the age of Technology; Punk: Chaos to Courture, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy; Goddess: the Classical Mode, etc. etc. But the theme is always in conjunction with the new, spring exhibit opening up at the MET, and the MET gala is their star-studded fundraiser.
Now typically, aside from scrolling through Buzzfeed’s “who wore what” articles the following day, I typically don’t take too much interest in the whole extravagant affair. But this year, my ears perked up a bit.
For this year’s theme was: Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the “Catholic Imagination.”
And wouldn’t you know, that on the opening weekend of Heavenly Bodies at the MET, my mother was in town. And as two very Catholic women, (heck we even carve out time to go to Daily Mass when she’s in town)…we decided to go and check it out.
Now, I should have done my homework. That was mistake number one. But I heard the theme, and read up about how they had flown in actual Papal vestments from the Vatican, and that Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave a beautiful press conference, opening up the exhibit…I thought this would be a lovely afternoon full of reverence and pride in our Christian faith.
Oh, how wrong I was.
It was…how can I put this…it was mockery disguised in feigned reverence.
I was always a little unsure about the theme. I knew going into it, it could either be incredibly offensive, or a colorful celebration of the beauty and exquisite traditions and relics of our faith.
Because that’s the thing…the Catholic mass is truly a visually stunning worship experience. And the reason for such ornate and magnificent vestments and chalices, and Eucharistic tabernacles – it is all because of Who we are worshiping, and the why behind it.
Why is the chalice so intricately engraved and enhanced, and a work of incredible artistry? Because the Blood of Christ is so incomprehensibly precious that is deserves the absolute best that this earthy place has to offer.
Why do we get all dressed up in our “Sunday best” to go to church? It’s because we’re going to be meeting Jesus. Worshiping Him. Being in His presence. It’s the why. The Who.
So little naive me, believing the best in all situations, believed that this had the opportunity to bring that honor and reverence and beauty of our faith to life.
I’d like to pause here. Shift your attention to another headline for just a quick moment. Just this exact same week, a picture went around Twitter that “broke” the internet for the evening. It was the photo below: a senior in high school, Keziah Daum, wore this traditional Chinese dress – a qipao – to her prom. She found it in a vintage store, and appreciated that it was a “beautiful, modest gown” and wore it to the dance. Well she was dragged through the mud by the Internet for cultural appropriation. Literally, hundreds of thousands of comments and retweets, all bashing this girl for disrespecting Chinese people, their traditions, culture and religion.
Here’s an example of just one of the hundreds of thousands of comments of backlash:
This was literally headline news. The #1 trending topic on Buzzfeed and Twitter.
Question: how is this prom situation any different from say…this?!
Listen. I love Rihanna. So much. Her music is the soundtrack of my life. But this is beyond disrespectful.
These two situations happened in the same exact week — days apart. And yet, because the Catholic Church is at the butt end of the joke, no one even bats an eyelash.
(But then that’s the point, right? We’ve got to make one of the only institutions left with a moral compass irrelevant. That’s the agenda, right?)
But that was the thing about the whole event…there was just blatant mockery going on. Donning a cheap, stereotyped version of a sacred vestment to be edgy or ironic. Women wearing priest collars. Madonna – the outspoken queen of sacrilege – was dressed as the freaking gothic version of the Virgin Mary, complete with rosaries all along her cleavage.
Or how about Jared Leto wearing a golden Crown of Thorns-esq head wreath? I mean, wow. Just. No.
The feel of the night was not celebrating the beauty and mystery of our faith, but rather, a flippant display, where you could practically hear the snickering of…”Catholicism, amIright?”
Going to the exhibit with my mom, and seeing the look on her face, it broke me. It wasn’t a look of judgment. It wasn’t a look of disgust. It was a look of hurt — she was hurting for Jesus.
Kind of like how the soldiers cast lots for His garments at the crucifixion. Or how He was mocked on the cross. My mom was just so sad to see Him made so publicly a joke.
Inside the exhibit was a mix of the old with the new. Incredibly old relics and artifacts, some dating back to the 300s! Ancient religious art and sculptures of the saints, who were martyred for the faith, that was being made an ironic spectacle just 50 feet away.
That was the thing. Those incredible artifacts of our faith – they were completely ignored. The room was full and bustling with upper east siders and fashion types, wearing oversized sunglasses indoors, clutching their Prada handbags, looking smug, and like they haven’t eaten a carb in 6 years. The room was packed, but no one was looking at those things. They were all swarming the center, trying to get the perfect Instagram pic of the Dior gown, suggestively riffing on the Virgin Mary. Or the Yves Saint Laurent masterpiece, modernizing a papal vestment.
Leaving the exhibit, I walked past a modern corset type top completely covered with rosaries. Looking at it, I could see, just through the glass, a gorgeous marble statue of Mary taking Jesus down from the Cross. The look on her face, of extreme mourning and anguish, holding the body of our Lord in her arms. That is our faith. That is what we are honoring and worshiping.
Talking about it over dinner that night, my mom and I both walked away from the day feeling as though we had been punched in the gut.
And here’s why.
It wasn’t the sacrilegious outfits the celebs wore on the red carpet. It wasn’t the designers using sacred vestments as a way to be edgy or ironic. It wasn’t even the public’s dismissal of the incredible artifacts flown in from the freakin’ Vatican for crying out loud. The true tragedy was hiding in plain sight all along: the theme.
The Catholic Imagination.
Imagination. The word assigned to children’s make-believe. And fabled fairy tales of neverlands far, far, away.
We read the plaque at the entrance of the exhibit, and allow me to quote it:
“Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures…The fashions…embody the imaginative traditions of Catholicism.”
There is nothing so offensive as to put on display the faith, the beliefs, the traditions, the most sacred part of a person’s soul: their faith, and then to belittle it to an imagination? An “enchanted world?” A series of stories that small minded, simple people believe.
This is our faith. People died for it. People dedicate their lives to serving Jesus in the Church. How dare they disrespect the belief system of millions and millions of people throughout the ages, calling their beliefs, imaginative traditions.
MET, who the hell do you think you are? And further, who the hell signed off on participating in this at the Vatican level.
That’s what I’d like to know.
This post was made possible by my wonderful sponsor, Audible. Listening to audiobooks is literally my new favorite thing. I can grow my brain while I cook, run errands, take a walk, am on my commute. And just for you, they’re offering a Free 30-Day Trial Membership. And with this free membership, you’re going to get 2 free audiobooks! Literally. Free. It is the best deal ever. And if for some reason, you decide it’s not for you, you can cancel within those 30 days and it’s zero money out of your pocket, plus, you get to keep the 2 audiobooks. Soooo…it’s pretty much a no brainer. This is a free and easy way to support this blog! So thank you!!
***THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO HAS ORDERED MY BOOKS, BLOOM: A JOURNAL BY BEAUTYBEYONDBONES AND “MY BLOGGING TIPS“***
@beauty.beyond.bones – Instagram
Next time you’re shopping on Amazon, be sure to stop by my link, amazon.com/shop/beautybeyondbones first! Doing so is absolutely FREE for you, and a great way to support this blog! (When you stop by my link first, whatever you get on Amazon will give this blog a little kickback :))
For Podcast versions of my posts, please check out Patreon! It’s only $2 a month!! You make this blog possible 🙂
***NEW!! For outfit details, you can check out my LIKE.TO.KNOW.IT page or follow me in the Liketoknow.it App!