There was a bit of controversy recently at the Met Museum’s Gala. The Met Gala is an annual fundraising event for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in NYC.

The Met has a months long (till October) exhibit of Catholic accoutrements, as well as fashion items inspired by Church religious clothing. If you haven’t heard, they kicked it off earlier this month with a fashion show/gala; a preview of the exhibit was included. Some Catholic organizations and individuals were offended and felt that the Church and faithful Catholics were being mocked by anti-religious, anti-Catholic, anti-Christian individuals. There was a lot of anger toward those who participated in the gala.

Many in my Church were in disbelief and even horrified that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as a spiritual leader, was present at the preview. And that was understandable if you only watched the news coverage or saw images from the preview  and gala online.

But if you actually take the time to read some of the thoughtful planning that went into the exhibit and if you take the time to hear what people attending and wearing Catholic inspired fashions had to say, you would understand this was not an event meant to degrade anyone or their faith.

The Met actually spent a great deal of time working with the Sistine Chapel sacristy personnel, including clergy, to ensure that they did things properly, displayed items in a dignified manner in the exhibit, and were/are respectful of the faith of millions of people. These religious articles are in a completely separate building from the secular fashions inspired by the Catholic imagination, part of the theme of the entire exhibit, by the way. Here is a link that highlights some of the Church’s contribution to the overall exhibit if you’d like to see some of what the Sistine Chapel contributed.

Many of the models and celebrities showed up at the gala dressed in rather unorthodox fashion, taking their inspiration from actual Church icons and sacramentals, etc. But I truly do not think, based on interviews at the event that I’ve read, most of them meant to be disrespectful. If a few were dressed inappropriately, I would say forgive them for they truly don’t understand what they did, to paraphrase our Lord. And maybe it’s our job to help them know.

I chose to share the Casting Crowns song, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” because it beautifully reminds us that Jesus did associate and befriend the outcasts and those who were looked down upon by moral people of faith. The people who criticized Jesus for the company He kept lacked compassion, Jesus is “love and mercy itself.” He loves us – then and now – where we are. He doesn’t want to talk about the sin, only to love the sinner.

And that’s what Cardinal Dolan was doing there. Showing love, getting in a tiny bit of catechesis on the Church’s take on truth, goodness, and beauty and vividly displaying Jesus’ love, and ours, as the Body of Christ. It was an opportunity to rub elbows with people who may not know much about who God really is or much about the Catholic Church. I believe there was awe and appreciation by many who walked down the red carpet in their (sometimes) outrageous outfits, for the religious relics on display.

So who knows? Maybe some faith seeds were planted. Maybe some important conversations about God and His and our place in the world began that would never have happened otherwise. With the Sistine Chapel sacristy contents on display until October, that can continue. Many people will get to see and learn about the vestments worn by our Popes through the centuries, for example. The public will learn a little about the Church’s history and the origins of these articles of clothing and other items used in our worship of our Lord. There is nothing objectionable in the way the items from the Vatican are displayed. It is done tastefully and with great respect, if not reverence.

And if you’re wondering as you read the title, why I chose this song. Does that mean I have decided that all those ‘non-Church people’ in their ‘crazy getups’ are sinners and who am I to make that judgment? Let me assure you I am judging no one. The reason I chose this song is to remind us, myself included, that we are all sinners. And Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, He loved us that much. I am a sinner, I am forgiven, I am loved, I am a friend of Jesus. So are you. That’s the reason for the song.

“You may be asking, ‘What’s the church doing here? Why is the church part of all of this?’” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, said at Monday’s preview.

“It’s because the church and the Catholic imagination, the theme of this exhibit, are all about three things: truth, goodness and beauty. That’s why we have great schools and universities to teach the truth; that’s why we love and serve the lord to do good; and that’s why we’re interested in things such as art, poetry, liturgy and, yes, even fashion to thank God for the gift of beauty.”

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