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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Holy Week

Jesus-Picture-On-The-Cross-It-Is-Finished-Crucifixion-WallpaperMost Catholics consider Holy Week to be the highlight of the Church year. The events commemorated are the cornerstone of our fundamental beliefs and culminate in an occasion more glorious than the coming of the Word made Flesh that we celebrate each Christmas.

Needless to say as a child, I was not a fan.

First of all, NOTHING in a child’s mind is better than Christmas! I mean, Easter is great and all but it always struck me as a watered down version of a much better holiday. If Spring Break corresponds with it, that’s a little better, but you only get one week off instead of two. There is the half day on Good Friday that public school kids didn’t get and that was kind of fun, but again…it’s like a consolation prize for a shorter break. There are fun scavenger hunts to go on and a small cache of toys involved, but then you also have to endure seven weeks of sacrifice and an entire week of Massapalooza, which centers on a rather grisly death before you even get to the Main Event. I just had a hard time looking at Easter as a “happy” time.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood that Jesus died for my sins and Lord knows my teachers liked to point out how He made this big sacrifice for our benefit, but I have to tell you…I would have been fine with a less gruesome sign of His love. However, if you are going to do something to save the world, I guess you have to go big or go home, right?

With time and maturity, my attitude toward Holy Week has mellowed considerably and I am pleased to announce that I actually enjoy it nowadays, but not to the same level my youngest son does. If you think my reactions to all things church related are unique, this kid is going to seem downright peculiar!

Vincent     I can’t remember a time when “Boy Wonder” wasn’t wacky for Holy Week….or more specifically Good Friday. From the time he was very little, I would often catch him staring at the illustration of the crucifixion in his Kids’ Bible fascinated by this particular style of Roman execution. I’m not kidding, he had that page of the book open so much, he broke the spine at its location so if you stood the book on end, it would open to that scene.

“Wouldn’t you rather look at another picture?” I asked. “There’s a really nice picture of Baby Jesus in His manger bed.” Honestly, I wasn’t trying to dissuade his interest, I was just concerned this was going to become an obsession.

“No Mommy, I like this one,” he’d say.

Although there was nothing wrong with his enthusiasm, it occurred to me that it might be misinterpreted by others who didn’t understand or were unfamiliar with the prevalent images of the crucifixion that exist in the Catholic Church. Sure enough, when he was four, I took him to a local Christian church that was having a big Christmas event including barn animals and a live nativity and afterwards the congregation invited us to stay and hear “the rest of the story.” Now, I suspected I knew where this was heading, so I took the kids into the sanctuary to watch what I correctly surmised to be a passion play.

Everything started out fine. Jesus rode in on a live donkey while people waved palm branches and sang “Joy to the World (The Lord has Come)” Side note: I really kind of thought that was a cool tie-in and would pay big bucks to see a Catholic Church sing that song on Palm Sunday for a change. The scene then shifted to the last supper, Judas’ betrayal and the trial before Pilate, who of course, sentences Jesus to death.

As the actor playing Jesus was stripped of his garments and “nailed” to the prop cross, some women sitting in front of us became so moved by the scene that they started crying. Not Boy Wonder. With his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open, he picked that moment to holler, “Check it out, Mom! They’re stringing Him up!”

Now, I don’t want to imply that he was delighted by what he was witnessing…but he was. This was his illustrated Bible, Jesus of Nazareth and every other Gospel-based movie he’d ever seen brought to life. It was dramatic. It was wrenching. It was real! I cupped my hand over his mouth to shush him, lest anyone get the wrong idea, but I’m sure there were a few people in the audience who were convinced I was raising a heathen.

“You know, you really can’t get that excited about the crucifixion,” I explained later. “People get the wrong idea.They think you actually LIKE it.”

“I do like it,” he told me. “You can’t have Easter without it.”

Astonished by his simple wisdom, I knew that I had been beat and every year, I can count on him to get giddy over Holy Week knowing he will hear his favorite Bible story on Palm Sunday, announce “Today’s the big day!” on Good Friday and ask me  if I think they actually commemorate this event in Heaven. (I’m not being sacrilegious when I say I KNOW that kid has visions of party hats, balloons and a cake that says “Happy Crucifixion, Jesus!”) He actually gets excited if the weather is gloomy on that day because he is convinced it’s God’s way of reminding everyone about His son’s sacrifice and I have to admit, more often than not, it is kind of gross and rainy on that particular day. Who knows? Maybe he knows something the rest of us don’t.

They say that the worst punishment a parent can get is having a kid that acts just like them, but sometimes think the greatest gift is having those who are complete opposites, because every once in a while they teach you a thing or two with that child-like faith Jesus admired so much.

Happy Easter Everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: “Julie is ready to be baptized”

VBS Jesus     It was all my cousin’s fault that I started attending Vacation Bible School at my father’s church in the first place. She was spending a few nights with my grandmother and going to VBS so she invited me to come along. We were like Frick and Frack and when she told me how much fun she was having, of course I wanted to go along too.

So the very next day, we were sitting together in a pew singing The B-I-B-L-E song…I loved that tune. There is a lot of stand up/sit down action in that song and…hey, I’m a Catholic…so you know I can totally do that! When the pastor’s wife asked if anyone had brought a friend with them that day, my cousin jumped up and said “I brought my cousin with me, Mrs. Chapman!” which resulted in a huge smile from the pastor’s wife and a special sticker for my cousin’s special evangelization efforts. I narrowed my eyes  suspecting that my cousin was less interested in my theological development as she was about sucking up to the Lady in Charge.

But whatever. We had to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Christian flag. Neither my cousin nor I had ever heard of this practice. She attended public school and wasn’t overly religious while I started every morning with the traditional Pledge, a quick Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be so neither one of us were familiar with the words and had to mumble through 95 percent of it.

The rest of the morning was spent learning the special VBS song, making our crafts, having a snack and learning about Jesus of course. I couldn’t help noticing that as we listened to the Gospel stories and discussed them as a group, I was one of the few kids who tended offer a lot of input to the conversation. I would bring up a LOT of different things, ask questions and give responses that boggled our teacher’s minds. I remember my cousin asking me “How do you know all of that stuff?”

“Religion class,” I shrugged.

“Well the teachers sure are impressed with you,” she noted.

It appeared that way and boy, did those teachers beam at me later in the week when the Pastor’s Wife took a moment to offer  one last solemn prayer just before the end of VBS Ice Cream Social and ask if there was anyone present who “wanted Jesus to be in their hearts forever.”

I was stumped. Wasn’t He already there? What kind of guy was He to leave me hanging like that? Here I am going to a Catholic school, attending Mass each week and praying to Him and He isn’t even THERE yet?? Well,  I wasn’t going to wait a minute longer. I looked at my cousin and nodded and we both raised our hands. The Pastor’s wife called us up to the altar along with a few other kids (I was surprised that there were not more people getting in on this deal…after all, this was JESUS we were talking about!) and took us off into another room to discuss Jesus’ life and ministry while everyone else went outside to eat half-melted ice cream in little plastic pods with tiny wooden paddles. (Yes, I seriously questioned the fairness of this in my head.)

I don’t remember the exact line of questioning, but I do remember Mrs. Chapman asking me why I wanted a personal relationship with Christ and my offering a very long, drawn-out, parochial school child answer. I’m sure I mentioned something about how God made us and wanted us to belong to Him forever, that Jesus sacrificed Himself for me and that I couldn’t take something like that for granted, etc…She had to think that she hit pay dirt with me. LOL Finally she taught me some little prayer in which I was supposed to “invite” the Lord in…as a girl who was a little more accustomed to elaborate rituals this was a bit….simple, but hey…simple can be good.

It didn’t matter. Me and JC were good to go and I happily skipped off to get my ice cream. (I have no clue how my cousin did in the cross examination.) I didn’t give it another thought until a few days later when someone from my father’s church called my mother and said, “We feel that Julie is ready to be baptized.”

“WHAT???” My mother said. I recall her sending me to my room while she and my father gently explained to the well-meaning person on the other end that I was already baptized and a practicing Catholic. When they got off the phone, my mother rounded on me. “What on earth did you tell them to make them think you wanted to be baptized?” She demanded.

“I never told them that I wanted to be baptized,” I countered. “I did that two years ago, remember?”

“So what happened?” My father asked. “Did they say something to you about it?”

I shook my head and then remembered the prayer session. “They asked me if I wanted Jesus in my heart and I said yes, but what’s so wrong with that???”

My father groaned, realizing what had to have occurred. He assured me that I had done nothing wrong but told me not to worry and that Jesus was already there. I didn’t have to go say a special prayer for that. “So if you are ever asked about that again, don’t worry about it and don’t answer the Altar Call.”

I wasn’t completely sure what an Altar Call was, but I was glad that I wasn’t in any trouble and that I was not going to have to endure the dreaded “Dunk” (aka a Baptist Baptism.) I don’t tell this story to bash my late father’s religion or its practices. To the contrary, I am proud that they offered the opportunity to the VBS kids, I just wish I would have known what that whole thing was about before putting my parents in an uncomfortable situation. Still, I can’t help wondering how bummed my father’s church was not to score the child prodigy who waxed ideology in Bible class  and answered deep, theological questions just like she was a 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple…

Of course if I recall the story correctly…His parents put the kibosh on His plans as well.

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