At St. Patrick’s, a Battle of the Icons

I love St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. It was painful to see it the object of a sacrilegious ambush early in Lent.

On February 15, a funeral was held at St. Patrick’s for transgender activist Cecilia Gentili. It quickly became a major media event. The event told us something important about all four elements involved: the cathedral, Catholic funerals, transgender activists, and the media.

The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus often told a story about a visiting clergyman in New York. This Methodist minister jumped in a taxi at the airport and asked to be taken to Christ Church, which is on Park Avenue. He was surprised when the cab driver took him to St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue.

“This isn’t Christ Church,” he observed.

“Reverend, I don’t know where you’re from, but in New York this is where Christ lives,” replied the cabbie.

For Fr. Richard, for taxi drivers and transgender activists, the point is the same. Only St. Patrick’s is St. Patrick’s. The organizers of the event considered Cecilia Gentili an “icon,” hence they wanted an “icon” for the funeral.

The term “icon” is now used to mean merely “famous,” but the proper religious meaning is an image that makes present an intangible holiness. Cecilia Gentili was a kind of reverse icon in that sense, rebelling against the corporality of being made in the image and likeness of God. Transgenderism is a rejection of what St. John Paul the Great taught, namely that “the body is an icon of the person.”

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