The Vatican and Jesus Christ

Because we’re in Rome, and because when Americans travel to Rome they’re required—by unwritten law—to do certain things, yesterday we visited the Vatican.

Now, I’d been to the ol’ Vatican once before. It was 1999, and I spent two weeks backpacking through Italy. I waited on the lines, took the tours, oohed and aahed at the ceiling. When I finally left, I felt neither holy nor enlightened, but in need of a long, long, long, long shower.

Ditto 2011.

I can understand and appreciate faith. I can understand and appreciate God. Hell, i can understand how one walks into a huge Roman church, views the stained glass and the precise scuptures and thinks, “There has to be something. There has to be.”

I can’t understand the Vatican.

How many people are homeless in this world? How many people have little-to-nothing to eat. How many people struggle to get by? Struggle to care for their families? Struggle to find a job? Meanwhile, the Catholic Church runs and operates this … this … city, which—all told—has cost billions upon billions of dollars. I mean, Rome is littered with the poor and hungry and homeless. Literally, they can be found in the Vatican’s shadow, begging for spare change on the steps of churches. Yet The Church—The Catholic Church—insists it needs to honor God and Jesus and Mary in this gaudy manner.

I actually think back to J.D. Drew, the first athlete I recall wearing the WWJD bracelet back in the day. Drew was a humble guy who tried to do right. So I ask here, in the city that houses the Vatican, what would Jesus do? He was a man of no money; a man who walked with the sinners and prostitutes; a man who felt pain and oozed—beyond oozed—compassion.

Would he look at the Vatican and think, “This is exactly what I want?”

I find that hard to fathom.

9 thoughts on “The Vatican and Jesus Christ”

  1. The Vatican is a big deal to a sect known as Catholics.
    For the rest of the Christian world it is just extravagance and pomp, not at all related to Christ.
    I think J.D. would probably say something like, “How was the art work and the architecture?”
    At least that would be my only interest.

  2. Sportswriting Refugee

    The Catholic church, for all of its faults, does more for charity than probably any organization in the world, and has for centuries. Though it certainly takes socially conservative positions, almost the entire moral foundation of the religion is helping the poor.

    Jeff, your post reminds me of the conservatives who blast Al Gore for using electricity or flying in a plane.

  3. Dude, enough. We get it, you don’t like organized religion.

    It’s weird to me that you would look at beautiful architecture, paintings that were inspired by faith, statues that were carved with a simple chisel and hammer and bitch about poverty.

    There are a lot of “wastes” of money in this world: publicly-funded stadia built for billionaires, multi-million Hollywood blockbusters that neither entertainer nor enlighten, billions of spent spent on nuclear warheads (when a few could do the job nicely).

    I would argue that at least the Vatican has some artistic merit.

    Two things:

    1. If you so concerned about the poor, what are you doing about it in your community? (Honest question, I’m not pointing a finger)

    2. Vatican City isn’t a part of Italy, it’s its own country. So, while I get what you’re saying about the poor of Rome, technically the VC can only do so much about another country’s homeless. It would be like looking at the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium and crabbing about the homeless problem of Toronto.

  4. Byron, your analogy is not a good one. The Vatican controls and influences Catholic churches throughout the world, including a good many that are located in Italy. If they wanted to feed and shelter the homeless in Italy, they could do without interfering with the Italian political structure (and for all I know the Vatican may already be doing so). In fact, I’d guess that almost 100% of the Catholic charitable enterprises occur in other countries. I don’t think Jeff is complaining that the Vatican does no charitable work, rather that they run a multi-billion dollar enterprise in which they keep a big share, when Jesus (if he was running the Catholic Church) would more likely run a non-profit organization, giving away everything or almost everything that came in.

  5. Is the only reason you went there is so you could write a blog post to criticize it?

    On August 9th, you wrote this America dissing piece:

    https://jeffpearlman.com/can-you-put-pineapple-and-bacon-on-that/

    So 5 days ago,everything in Rome is clean and recycled yet today, Rome is littered with the poor and hungry and homeless.

    Dissing Americans while traveling abroad and dissing the Vatican while in Rome makes you a man truly without a country!!!!

  6. Dear Jeff,

    I appreciate your post. It raises a great point. I have read a response to this very question in a book on contemporary concerns of Christian faith. It was addressed by an English writer and clergyman. He begins with a story.

    “A guide was once showing a visitor some of the priceless treasures of Rome, and said, half apologetically: ‘I am afraid the Church can no longer say with St. Peter “Silver and gold have I none”‘ ‘No,’ was the quiet reply, ‘nor can it any longer say: “In the name of Jesus Christ…rise up and walk”‘ (Acts 3.6). The message was obvious. The poverty had gone, and with it the power.”

    Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying the Roman Catholic church does not minister to people in both physical and spiritual ways. Nor do I deny that buildings can move people to act for others. However, the story helped me to remember the concern you raised. In the man’s effort to glorify God in its structures both Protestant and Catholic we can easily lose sight of a heart gifted for people.

  7. The Vatican and sundry are the product of a different historical mindset in which raising edifices in order to glorify God (as seen through the lens of Catholicism) was an accepted, even mandatory, cultural purpose. Looking at it from a modern perspective, sure, it can be seen as a gaudy waste of resources. But that’s not what is at the root of its existence.

    We’ll probably never figure out the intricacies of Catholic financing, but I’d put dollars to doughnuts on the annual financing of the Vatican going back to funds accrued as far back, or farther, as the end of the Avignon schism.

    Additionally, it may be a tough jump, but if you can set aside religion and financing and simply view the works of masters towards the goal of glorifying their world and their perspective off it…

    Well, there’s some value there.

  8. Do you feel the same way about the Castles in Europe?
    It certainly was a different way of life in those days.
    On the other hand as a Christian this urks me, the message of the bible is one of Minimalism.

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