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I Dream of Churches

Today is the feast of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, which was consecrated in the year 324AD. This church, a Catholic church, is older than pretty much all of the Christian denominations out there. Let that sink in. This church is older than the United States of America by over 1400 years. Let that all sink in. This church outlived the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and more battles, unstable economies, plagues, wars, famines, and other natural disasters than any of us can imagine (excluding historians). Great civilizations have risen and fallen into obscurity in these 1600 odd years, and this church has withstood all this time.

The pyramids of Giza and other very old man-made structures have also withstood the test of time...but the people that built them, worshiped in them, and once lived near them have disappeared. Though the face of the Catholic Church has changed drastically over the years, its people remain. Its people continue to sweep the floors of St. John Lateran, and its people have brought Christ to just about every corner of the world. The same Christ present in the tabernacle of St. John Lateran is also present in every other tabernacle of the world. It is a testament to the constancy of the church founded by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. Had it been a purely human venture, St. John Lateran would have disappeared under the rubble of countless civilizations that have swept through Europe and disappeared with time. Its floors would have gathered dust and crumbled over time, or been swallowed by nature like some of the temples you find in the forests of Cambodia.

Whenever I enter an old Cathedral with a vibrant parish, I feel at home. I feel peace. I feel God's constant presence. There is something so transcendent about the tall arches....the myriad of colors reflected by the stained glass....the aroma of wooden pews that have been infused with the aroma of centuries-worth of incense, the ethereal sound of bells echoing from cavernous ceilings too high to be touched by human hands...

Suffice it to say, there are no words that can describe the powerful experience of walking through a cathedral and admiring all it has to offer. The closest thing to this experience was Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism series.

I have dreamed of cathedrals and churches for years. I have dreamed of walking through them, partaking in masses with everyone from the Pope to Anne Rice. I have met strangers in these churches from all over the world and I have experienced art that is simply ethereal. One particular cathedral that comes to mind had stained glass windows several stories tall with brilliant hues. One of these windows depicted the Virgin Mary reaching down from heaven to bring people to her son and to God. The image used forced perspective to make her appear three dimensional. If you stood right beneath the image of this woman with a deep blue mantle and serene smile, you were presented with a heavenly scene. Behind the woman reaching down for you stood the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit between them.

In my dream, I admired the stained glass image from the western end of the Cathedral (the window was on the east) and from right beneath it. Impossible as it was, at both positions, the image was just as remarkable. Standing right beneath it, you saw a three dimensional hand reaching out for you. An optical illusion like this one would require the image to be stretched out (much like the remarkable sidewalk art below) in order for the image to appear three dimensional if you were to stand beneath it.

Nativity scene by Kurt Wenner
Viewed at correct position
Notice 3D effect due to forced perpective

Same Nativity scene by Kurt Wenner
Viewed from another position
Notice how everything is stretched out
 Yet, when you stood away from the window, the image was perfectly proportioned so that it appeared no different than the standard stained glass image (save for the brilliant hues of the glass, which were otherworldly). I cannot even imagine how a masterpiece like this one could be designed by human hands as it defies too many rules. Not even the best optical illusionist on earth could ever construct something as impossible and beautiful as this window (though Kurt Wenner does come close). I know I could never draw or paint an image that could do this window justice. It is possible that this image was simply the product of some neurons firing in my brain. It is also possible that there was some divine inspiration involved. I'm leaning towards this possibility simply because I cannot believe that a random firing of neurons can create such beauty.

Whether purely neuron-based or divinely inspired, perfection like this could only be found in dreams, at least in the present world. There may be a day when the prophetic words of the prophet Ezekiel will be realized by the hand of God, allowing for the cathedrals of my dreams to come into physical existence. Until then, I will have to be satisfied with the ethereal beauty of the cathedrals that are built by men that allow God to work through them and guide them through the ages as He has done for millennia.

Pax Vobiscum

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