Since the Second Vatican Council, much debate has centered around the liturgy, and much less on the loss of art in our churches. Perhaps this is because the people who dismantled our liturgy are the same ones who stole our art and buried it underneath the new parking lot. I wish to make the case for bringing this art back. We need it now more than ever.
We live in an age that is increasingly visual. The average American over the age of 2 watches about 37-40 hours of TV a week. Over 5 hours a day. We spend as much time at work as we do in front of the TV. On our way to and from work, we are bombarded with visual ads on huge billboards, in subways, on sides of buses, on the backs of other cars, and just about everywhere else we can imagine. At work and at home we spend even more hours at the computer, often while watching TV.
When we consider both the type of images -violent, sexual or pornographic images, and images designed explicitly for the purpose of manipulating our decisions, such as to buy something- and the sheer number of these images that we see, it is more important in this age than ever that we readjust our eyes to that which is holy.
Pornography is rampant in our society. More and more people are accepting it as a normal form of entertainment. In Houston (where I live), it is nearly impossible to drive around the city without seeing ads for sex shops, or the sex shops themselves. Strip clubs abound, and visiting them is seen as a right-of-passage for young men and bachelors about to tie the knot (there are very few worse ways to set a marriage off on the wrong course from the get-go).
As more and more lay Catholics and clergy accept pornography as something normal, it is clear that pornography is a spiritual HIV, attacking those white blood cells, faithful Christians, in order to work its evil so that more women and children are abused, more marriages fall apart, and more men and women become addicted to sex and lose their jobs over pornography addictions.
Getting pornography out of our personal lives is often not an easy task. Addicts will tell you that even after months or years of not viewing pornography, many images still live on in the mind. I first became exposed to pornography in the 7th grade on the internet, and I can still recall very vivid details of some of the first pictures I saw.
I don't think we need to start taking Matthew 18:9 hyper-literally and gouge out our eyes. The first step in removing pornography from your own home, besides throwing out any videos & magazines and deleting all your bookmarks, is to place at least one image of the Blessed Virgin in your home, preferably near wherever it is you normally look at pornography (computer, TV, etc.) As a Church we cannot force people to such things, but we can return Sacred Art to our churches, thereby gradually cleaning the mind of filth and replacing it with the sublime.
Today's semi-iconoclasts tell us that we shouldn't have too much art in our churches. "Let us stick with a statue or two, maybe a modern painting, and some felt banners. Oh, and if there must be a crucifix, let's at least make it a "resurecifix." Too much art makes the church look rich and alienates the poor." Beneath this assertion is a most pernicious presupposition, namely, that art is only for the rich. It doesn't belong to the poor, the semi-iconoclasts assume, but to museums where you have to pay for admission and where there are exclusive parties for those wealthy aristocrats whose names are inscribed upon the walls of the museum and under the paintings prefixed by the words, "From the private collection of".
Furthermore, Sacred Art affirms the worth of the human soul. The souls of plants, animals, and other biological life forms are mortal. When the body dies, the soul perishes with it. Although animals vary greatly in intelligence, they do not make art. Ants and termites make complex mounds, spiders weave beautiful webs. But these are an extension of the brush of the Divine Artist, they are not works of art from the animals themselves. Unlike humans, ants, termites, and spiders are not co-creators with God. Only humans paint paintings, sculpt sculptures, and write books that express the joys and sufferings of an immortal soul.
Art is for everyone, rich or poor, man or woman, young or old, believer or unbeliever, sinner or saint. It glorifies God, raises our souls to God, instructs our minds, and purifies our hearts. Let us return Sacred Art to our churches, so as to begin a new Catholic renaissance, ecclesiae et orbi!