I attended a talk by Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco this morning, and he had a very interesting statement to make about the cost of building beautiful churches.
The story went that the San Francisco Cathedral was started in 1963 and that there was a fairly sizable budget involved. By the time it was finished a few years later, however, the “social climate” had changed (60s revolution) and at that point people were complaining about the fact that so much money should have been spent on a place of worship instead of on serving the poor.
Dorothy Day was apparently present at one such gathering, and the Archbishop quoted her as having said:
“The Church has an obligation to feed the poor, and we cannot spend all our money on buildings. However, there are many kinds of hunger. There is a hunger for bread, and we must give people food. But there is also a hunger for beauty – and there are very few beautiful places that the poor can get into. Here is a place of transcendent beauty, and it is as accessible to the homeless in the Tenderloin [neighborhood] as it is to the mayor of San Francisco.”
This dovetails very nicely with other things I’ve said in the past here on the blog concerning the importance of beauty in our churches and in our worship and the need to invest money and resources in it (for example, here, here, here, and here).
Unfortunately, the type of utilitarian stinginess that Dorothy Day decried still comes up rather frequently nowadays, so we need to keep speaking about these things. The good Archbishop also spoke about the biblical imperative to give our first fruits to God — the very first and best of what we have. We have a ways to go!