Commentary pages recently have been debating an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that opened with a star-studded gala that included Rihanna dressed as a pope, bearing a miter that may or may not have been loaned to her by Cardinal Dolan. An office at the Vatican lent some items for the exhibit, and the archbishop of New York took it as an occasion to speak to an audience that might not typically have warm feelings toward the Catholic Church. George Clooney and Jimmy Fallon made comments to the press about their altar-boy days. Thanks be to God for warm memories from people with access to megaphones far louder than anything in the church basement or choir loft. Maybe a word, handshake, conversation with -- or even the mere sight of -- a cleric who seems to care, who seems to have joy, could be an invitation for someone to return to or join the sacraments that are at the heart of the Church.
I met a pope once, and that day he had the most beautiful miter that wouldn't have cut it at the Met gala. When I met him, Pope Benedict seemed full of thanksgiving. We talked briefly about New York and Cardinal Dolan. Little did I know what would transpire only a few months later, when Benedict shocked the world by stepping aside as pontiff.
As take sides in reaction to the Met's party, either outraged at sacrilege or having enjoyed what looks a lot like blasphemy, there's also the possibility of power at work. Christians believe in grace. I hear non-Christians -- the "spiritual but not religious" "nones," as they're called these days -- who seem to believe or want to believe in something like grace, as well. They're "seeking," and I happen to believe they're being sought by the divine in every sunrise and sunset and many an interaction. And whether it was George Clooney or Jimmy Fallon -- or perhaps more likely the cameramen and the wait staff at the gala -- who got something enriching, inspiring or even miraculous from celebrities making a scene (some of whom were quite respectful and beautiful, though you wouldn't know it from the buzz), let it be more evidence that God is at work in all things.
I was recently marveling about some of the news cycles that come and go with a speed that could give you whiplash. There was a whole preposterous controversy about the House of Representatives chaplain who was both originally brought in by a Catholic Republican and asked to leave by another, an event that somehow exploded into Democrats accusing the GOP of anti-Catholicism. The absurdity of Paul Ryan appearing to be in the "no Catholics need apply" business probably did more to set off alarm bells about Catholics behaving badly than any over-the-top couture. One wouldn't have to be especially cynical to wonder if the chaplain controversy had something to do with Democrats reclaiming some ground lost after Cardinal Dolan wrote an op-ed in March expressing disappointment in the party for abandoning Catholics on the fundamental issue of abortion. "[T]he party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
The things we tend to talk the most about are probably distractions. And distractions may just rule the day, from the presidency to our countless screens. It may take a miracle to see beauty, but some of us believe in miracles. And we best pray for them instead of getting wrapped up in the latest frenzy, no matter how glamourous, mundane or profane. We're not here for long, and the moments of grace are the ones with the power to transform, on or off the red carpet.