The Cathedral was empty.
He paid the price for a ticket and entered, the glow of candlelight drawing him towards the altar. He stood in the center of the aisle and looked up. He was surrounded by the work of masters–carpenters, stonemasons, artists. The culmination of a vision meant to draw man’s heart to the God who loved them. All who entered were embraced by the promise of a kingdom to come–the overwhelming beauty–even while seated in a hard pew to remind them of the kingdom at hand, heaven and earth, found in one place.
The man heard footsteps behind him and turned to see an old woman watching. She entered a pew and took a seat, her eyes fixed upon him. He thought perhaps she had come to make sure he paid the entrance fee.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked.
“Have you come to take photographs?”
“No,” he answered.
He had come to see the cathedral for what it was–a museum that held objects of great beauty. Not a grave as many had suggested, but a museum. Of relics, of art, of sculpture–echoes of an age when the hearts of men could be moved by such things.
Those days had gone. The symbolism itself had not lost power–it couldn’t–but who now had the eyes to see it in a fresco of first creation? Who could look upon the virgin and realize that she symbolized man’s ability to carry God inside of us–to be filled with the light of the Maker of all things? To look upon her was to fortify the truth that man already knew in the deepest fibers of his being. That we were not distinct from God. And he did not live in our hearts, as the evangelicals had simplified it. Rather, we lived in the heart of God.
The story was written all over the walls, but man had to be taught how to see, and man had become blinded in this age. The story of man and God, man’s worth given by God, the pathway revealed through the masters, was here revealed so abundantly and comprehensively, yet the cathedral was empty.
“No one comes anymore,” the old woman said. “They don’t care. We light the candles each morning and pray and no one comes except the photographers.”
“I’ve come,” the man said.
“To see something beautiful and carry it with me. That’s all.”
“You want the beauty, but you don’t want the church. Nobody wants the church. Mass is empty. The young people, they don’t care. They don’t care.”
“They no longer have a desire for truth and meaning in their own lives?”
“Of course they do,” she said. “The music, the phones, everything new. That’s where they go now. They’re lost. A whole generation, lost in a sea of nothingness.”
“And yet you are here, living in a work of art, waiting on them to come back.”
He did not mean for the comment to cut her, but he could tell it did. He didn’t care. The time for niceties came to an end long ago. For too long Christians had politely let the cathedrals decay into museums without saying a word. The church was no longer there.
Across the ocean, the Americans built monstrosities where each Sunday they attended a rock show performance with laser lights and smoke machines, followed by a teacher of fortune-cookie wisdom and moral encouragement. The church was not there either.
It had evolved.
No longer obvious to everyone, the church now lived in a business plan in China. It lived in the curriculum in Nigeria. It lived in the doctor visiting Nepal. It lived in a secret code spoken between the villages of Yemen. The church had, in many ways, gone underground to act as a subversive force to the darkness permeating the world, the prevailing darkness that came as a result of godless rulers, tyrants, profiteers, killers of the man who understands that he bears the image of God and not the image of the ruler of today. A subversive force to the traffickers, the genociders, the slavers, the subduers. Wherever they went, the church followed. No longer in a building with a crucifix on top, but they followed nonetheless. And this church that rattled empires from beneath the surface of the earth was growing stronger, more invisible, more lethal to the darkness.
“You don’t understand. There is no hope left for us,” the old woman said. “The church is dead, and you don’t care. No one cares.”
The man turned and dropped a few bills in the offering box. For a certain sum, you could buy and light your own candle to offer a prayer. He approached the woman and reached out for her hand. She placed it in his.
“The church is not dead. It’s just not here,” he said.