Helene pcked me up at my non-tourist-type lodgings to join her family at the Basilique Notre Dame de Quebec in the pews that her grandparents once occupied – a magnificent Cathedral. The French-Canadian girls – precisely groomed and made up as only French women can do so perfectly, wearing brightly colored hats covered by black veils like Spanish mantillas, and escorted by men and boys in somber suits, diverted my attention until Helene nudged me to stop staring.
I couldn’t help but think back at my conversation with Monsignor Sheen on the Meaning of God. I wondered if most of the people present in this immense Cathedral could explain the essence of their Catholicism. The pomp, pageantry and symbolism were certainly sufficient to satisfy their religious senses and the confessional would satisfy their straying from moral and ethical teachings. If Jesus is indeed the Messiah and as omnipresent as God, would he strike down the statues and curse the false idols carved in his name? But why restrict this artifice to Catholics? The hierarchy in the Protestant denominations, as well a the wealthier Jewish congregations, had substituted inanimate objects into forms of architecturally splendid churches and temples, crosses and scrolls, as train rides for the supplicants to take between their souls and God. The Quakers – there are others – do not even permit a Cross to distract the worshippers from their quest for God. Would such Spartan means be sufficient for the spiritual needs of the masses? Give us our duties, show us our idols, let us memorize our rituals, tell us what days to fast, guarantee us eternal life in heaven, but don’t force us to make our own personal contact with God because each person will have to search, not knowing where or how – and they will be damned looking, but hand them salvation on a silver platter and they will be satisfied.
I was jolted from my musings by the tinkle of the bell signaling Christ’s Ascension to heaven and my bodily return to reality. I left the Cathedral disquieted.