We all know the worst seat on a plane- the middle seat in the very last row of coach, the non-reclining one gainst the bulkhead. Directly behind your head is the…well, head, where the aroma of blue bathroom juice swirls in the air. Add the constant rattling of accordion bathroom doors and cattlecar service, and you have a sensual experience worth forgetting. Oh, to be a first class passenger, sitting in a cushy wide seat, with warm hand towels, complimentary drinks and the intimacy of personalized service.
Now, the new Boeing Dreamliner is a beautiful airplane. She oozes grace and style, even sitting on the tarmac. She is a technological marvel. She is arguably “THE” airplane! Yet, if you hold the boarding pass for the middle seat in the last row, it won’t be a “Dreamliner” experience. Give me a first class seat on a commuter jet instead- anytime!
You see, the sensual experience is an important thing. As Catholics, we should understand this. The Catholic faith is meant to be lived sensually, where the lived experience in our body connects to our soul and spirit. Viewing Michelangelo’s frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a sensual experience of art that moves the soul. The soaring architecture of cathedrals is a sensual experience of architecture that inspires awe. Matt Maher’s music is a treat for worshipful ears. Incense touches our sense of smell. Yes, Catholicism is, and is meant to be, a sensual experience.
But, when you ask fallen away Catholics why they’ve left the Church, it’s almost never a matter of theology. It’s about the experience. Common complaints are bad preaching, bad music and uninspired liturgies. The architecture of many churches is pitiful, and sacred artwork almost non-existent. Essentially, nothing in their EXPERIENCE of the Church connects them to their soul and spirit.
You might be crying, “Foul.” at this point. “We have the Sacraments, and we have real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.” On behalf of my non-Catholic brothers and sisters, I have only one response to that- “Dreamliner”. She may ooze grace and style. In Pope Francis’ words, “a tidy Church… a Church that is nice to look at.”. But, if the experience of her is the center seat on the back row, many will opt for a first class experience on a commuter jet.
It is to our shame that we excuse poor preaching, pathetic music, uninspired liturgies, bland architecture and amateurish artwork (think banners) because we “have” the Sacraments. We do not own the Sacraments- they are a gift from Heaven. Because of the Sacraments, because of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, because the sacrifice of the mass is the source and the summit of our faith, we should accept nothing less than the best. It should be a sensual experience of music and word and sight that agitates the soul to worship, directing our entire being toward a more intimate communion with God.
The Catholic invitation should not merely be to “Fly the “Dreamliner”. The Catholic invitation should be nothing less than “Have a “Dreamliner Experience”. Big, beautiful, bold, expressive, and every seat first class.