Today we had a tour of Mexico City–I’m afraid I pre-judged it by the junky jumble around the airport. The downtown area is much like a modern Italian or French city…a cathedral, a cathedral square (apparently the third largest after Tiananmen Square in China and Red Square in Moscow.) Little cafes, posh shops and crowds of people.

What was different, of course was not the underground archeological museums like you would find in Rome that take you back 2000 years to Roman times. Instead the remains of the Aztec and Olmec civilizations.

Of course we visited the old churches, and I’m trying real hard to appreciate Spanish Baroque–and not succeeding terribly well. One thing did catch my eye however and made me think. Here it is: A little shrine to baby Jesus (all dressed up in a pretty white dress) and inside the glass enclosed shrine are piles of children’s toys–apparently offerings in gratitude to graces received by children praying to baby Jesus.

I know I know I know. I’m not supposed to be turned off by displays of folk religion like this, but really?

Furthermore, this was in the same church with this amazingly over the top altarpiece that makes up the main illustration of this blog post.

So what does this poor convert who is burdened with good taste make of it all?

I have learned to take it in my stride. The Catholic church is universal.It has room for kitsch and the Sistine Chapel. If children want to share their toys with baby Jesus then bless them and “let the little children come to me and don’t forbid them”. And the Baroque altarpiece? The same. Someone designed and made the awesome thing with a pure heart I suspect, and if doesn’t happen to push my religious buttons–so what? I know the Baroque masters wanted to give people a little glimpse of heaven. Sorry, it doesn’t click, but I do get it.

When it comes to good taste, I remember meeting an AngloCatholic friend on the train after I had become Catholic. Trevor (we’ll call him) was the sort of Anglo Catholic who was all chasubles and china tea cups. Trevor said, “Well now my dear I hear that you have poped! Swum the Tiber. Joined the Romans.”

“That’s right”

“”I’ve thought long and hard about it myself” he confided.

“Oh Trevor. I must warn you about something…”

“What’s that?” He leaned closer

“Something miraculous happened when the bishop laid hands on my and I was confirmed”

“Really! Tell me more! Fascinating!”

“Yes. At that moment all good taste I had instantly vanished. I started liking those holy water bottles shaped like Mary with the lid looks like a crown. I have started collecting glow in the dark rosaries, postcards of Mary that when you move it she changes into Jesus, statues of the Little Flower with armfuls of roses, snowstorm domes with St Peter’s and Our Lady of Fatima in them. You don’t want to enter the Catholic Church Trevor. Think what would happen to your china collection!”

Trevor changed the subject.

So this is to be Catholic and in this I rejoice–that little Mexican children can offer toys to Baby Jesus and Nigerian schoolgirls can sing the Salve Regina and a  gringo convert can hear children sing and find his eyes are leaking and he’s choking back a sob.