Mary P and the Buddha

mary poppins booksOn our first anniversary, my wife and I spent a few days in Omaha. Attending Sunday Mass in the cathedral there, we stumbled into the Flower Festival. While stiff winds and semi-blinding snow raged outside, we experienced more flowers than an indoor-plus-outdoor Easter Sunday. I knew the liturgist there, Br William Woeger, and we had a nice chat about the effort. I don’t recall the ’97 festival had a theme, but the one that Mark Kenney crashed this year did.

I appreciate the opposing view against the theme of cinema for a church presentation. Mary Poppins had a few wonderful books and a charming movie. And maybe that was okay in the 60’s because it was Disney. But today Disney is part of a corporation, and if a cathedral’s festival were to honor movies, I’d think Babette Hersant, Bernadette Soubirous, and Father Flanagan were more appropriate. Spare us Mel Gibson, please.

Is it idolatry? I think not. Idolatry is a serious enough sin that it would require premeditation on the part of an artist. Siam and its king seem more like neutral ground to me. If some Nebraska artist giggled at the thought of placing a Buddha in a Catholic cathedral, then it would seem that places the fabricator in a league with Mr Kenney. Do what feels right because it is right.

That said, an important Catholic principle is that the ends do not justify the means. As a cathedral employee, Mr Kenney certainly has stake in the building. If he were a parishioner, I suppose he could have bothered to apply to be on the festival committee. But I suspect this is more about the undercurrent of anger in the protest than the act itself. Seems evident to me in this thread. Even a laughing matter:

I have secretly wanted to sneak into a church with touchdown Jesus and send the cross crashing to the floor, take down the banners and burn them in front of the building, and put large tacks and firecrackers in the priest’s chair. Confess. I bet I am not the only one with dark thoughts. LOL.

I think the virtue we’re searching for here is prudence. One is not absolved from thoughts of iconoclasm because one prefers a different style.

Most every soul has dark thoughts. Among Christians, we are called to set aside Galatian behavior and as much as possible, put a guard over our lips, presumably our fingers, as well as our thoughts. Spiritual directors and confessors are good at helping to sort out this stuff. It’s a matter for discernment. Not match my feelings to the Bible story I love.

Citing Jesus tipping over tables is an easy out. The Lord was quite willing to turn over everything to the point of death. It seems clear that if we’re open to sacrificing personal taste, then perhaps we might merit to pray for people with whom we disagree because of their work or its placement. Otherwise, if we’re intent on the imitation of Christ, I suggest we try harder to model the whole deal. Not just what appeals to “dark thoughts.”

I hope Mr Kenney finds peace. I appreciate the backstory as recounted in the link above. Going to jail for one’s principles is a difficult and honorable thing. Going to jail for doing something stupid is just … stupid.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Mary P and the Buddha

  1. Liam says:

    A different approach to a movie in a Catholic church (this was free to the public):

  2. Melody says:

    I was wondering if this story showed up on anyone else’s radar. I didn’t attend the flower show this year; but I have a couple of times in the past. I don’t live in Omaha but I have family there. Mr. Kenney apparently thought it was irreverent to have the show in the cathedral. It is worth noting, that the times I was in attendance, the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved in the main sanctuary. I am assuming it was reposed in an appropriate place, probably a side chapel. There were cathedral staff and volunteers all over the place, and the crowd was well behaved, by no means rowdy or raucous. So I’m not seeing that it was irreverent. Maybe the theme could have been more edifying? One of the times I went, the theme was the canticle from Daniel 3: 56-88, familiar from the Sunday morning Liturgy of the Hours; which inspired some beautiful exhibits. But the flower show has been going on for many years, I’m sure it is challenging to come up with an aporopriate theme which hasn’t been used previously. . As for a statue of Buddha being idolatry; my understanding of classical Buddhim (admittedly limited) is that they don’t think of him as a god, but more a teacher. I agree with you that prudence is a virtue which needs to be applied. And that “…going to jail for doing something stupid is just… stupid.” I hope this incident won’t put a damper on an event that is enjoyed and looked forward to by the community, or worse, cause it to be cancelled.

  3. David D. says:

    Perhaps the cathedral could host next year’s auto show or maybe even this:

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