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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: What to do when Jesus Returns

jesus_communion    It started out as an ordinary Mass on an ordinary Sunday. The only thing outside of the norm was the presence of extra chalices on the little table next to the altar signifying that the Blood of Christ would be distributed at this particular service. While this is customary now, it wasn’t the case back then and it was something of an occasion when a little kid like me got to partake in a dab of wine. To this day I have no clue how my parish determined which Masses would have wine and which ones wouldn’t but needless to say it felt a little like winning a raffle to see the extra cups lined up for the service.

Of course it also meant that there would be extra communion ministers processing in during the entrance all wearing long while robes similar to the kind that the servers wore. This usually meant an extra verse to the entrance song, but I learned early in life that sometimes, you have to take the good with the bad. I was getting to drink illegally, I could handle an extra few measures of “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”

At the start of the consecration, the Eucharistic ministers all took their places behind Father as he said the prayers over the bread and wine and that’s when I saw….HIM. Standing a little to the left of Father’s shoulder and looking very pious was a young man about 30-something with longish brown hair. He sporting sandals along with a mustache and beard and to be honest, he looked like every picture I had ever seen of, well….HIM. You know who I am talking about. Jesus. Christ. JC, God’s only begotten Son!!

Now, no part of this should have surprised me. I had that rapture-minded softball coach who warned me that this could occur at any time and at any place. I supposed if He was going to come back on that particular day, it made plenty of sense that He wouldn’t start with the Vatican but rather  a random Catholic parish on the East Side of Indianapolis. After all, my world was a LOT smaller when I was eight.

I looked around to see if any of the other parishoners were witnessing the same event that I was but no one seemed to notice. The Second Coming is getting underway, people! I wanted to shout. I was convinced that at any moment, He was going to take over for Father and speak the lines that He made famous during the Last Supper. However, Jesus didn’t do that. He was polite and let Father do his job. Talk about having a servant’s heart!

When the consecration was over and Father passed out the communion bowls and chalices, he handed one of the implements to Jesus but once again, there was no moment of recognition. He must be waiting until announcement time to tell everyone, I thought to myself as I watched Jesus bring His bowl of wafers to my side of the church.

To say that I was flabbergasted is putting it mildly. Jesus was going to give me communion! What would he say, “Body of Me” or go with the usual line? I had no idea but I have to confess I have never been so prayerful as I approached the altar. Looking into His eyes, I don’t know how I got through it, but somehow I did. I went back to my pew and continued confessing every sin I could think of. After all, if I was being taken to paradise, I wanted to be ready. No point in Jesus second guessing His position on me.

Needless to say, “Jesus” never took over the Mass and I left a little disillusioned. I said nothing during the entire ride home and it wasn’t until we pulled into the driveway that I carefully asked my mother, “Did you happen to see that one guy behind Father?”

She didn’t have to ask who I might be referring to. “Yes Julie, I thought he looked like Him too,” she said.

Oddly enough I never saw that particular communion minister again. Perhaps he shaved and cut his hair. Maybe he was visiting. Maybe he was scheduled at other Masses from then on. I have no idea. However, in my quietest moments, I can’t help wondering if maybe, just maybe I saw something extraordinary that day even if no one else wanted to admit it.

Then again, maybe it was the wine.

 

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