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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Who was Jesus Talking to?

JC Gethsemane

Although I have a lot of fond memories from my sixth grade year in Catholic school, one stands out above all others. We had just finished a unit on Hebrew history, culture and traditions and to celebrate the completion of this unit, our teacher decided to host a watered-down Passover meal and invited one of our priests, Fr. Rick to join us and to recite the words that Jesus said during His Last Supper with His friends.

As we passed the loaf around, ripping small portions from it to eat and sipping Hawaiian Punch from minuscule Dixie Cups, Father offered his knowledge about Jewish customs and asked us what we had learned. Near the end of the event, Father said that he had a few minutes to spare and was willing to open the floor to any faith-related question that we might have since it was pretty rare that we ever had the chance to grill a priest on religious matters.

Now as you might expect from a group of 11-year-olds, most of the theological queries were a bit…shallow. Some kids wanted to know if Father was expected to wear black all of the time. Another kid asked if he had a curfew. Some wanted to know if the Pastor of the parish could “ground” him for coming home late or if he could get in trouble for eating dinner with a woman without a chaperone. Worried that I may never have another chance like this again and with time running short, I tentatively put up my hand.

“Yes, Julie?” Father asked.

“Well, I kind of have two questions,” I told him.

He nodded. “That’s fine, go ahead.” I’m sure he was bracing himself for more of the same kinds of things he’d been asked before.

I took a deep breath. “If Jesus was Jewish and the Jewish people do not believe that the Messiah has come yet, how could Jesus believe in Himself?”

The room fell silent and Father stared at me. “Uh-huh…and your second question?”

I sighed. “OK…if Jesus is God and God is Jesus, exactly WHO was Jesus talking to in the Garden of Gethsemane?”

I felt like the world’s biggest blasphemer, but once the words left my mouth, there was nothing I could do about them.

“You’re a very deep thinker, aren’t you?” Father commented like he was amused.

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

For the life of me I cannot remember how he addressed these two critical issues of faith, but I do remember my parents’ reaction when I told them what went down in religion class that day.

“You asked a priest WHAT?” My mother cried at the dinner table. Needless to say she was not a big fan of my calling into question the very foundations of Catholic belief. My dad, on the other hand thought it was great.

“What did he say?” Dad wanted to know. Although he was a man of faith, he always encouraged my questions.

I cupped my chin in my hand and thought about Father’s rationale, which was about 10 years beyond my comprehension…at least. “He had a big ole explanation for it,” I commented, “But I don’t think he really knows either. I guess it is just a question of faith.”

I looked so sad that my father tried taking a crack at the answer, but his logic didn’t make any more sense than Father Rick’s. No matter how many ways he tried to tackle it, it was a concept I couldn’t wrap my brain around. After all, I was baptized and initiated into a religious organization and I understood that part of the process included the acceptance of certain established tenants as one’s own.By believing Himself to be the Messiah, wasn’t He going against the grain a little and running the risk of being excommunicated from the Jewish faith?

As for the other issue, the one about the garden, well…that one was even harder to figure out. Both Father Rick and my dad tried telling me that Jesus was talking to God the Father as if that explained everything, but I wasn’t satisfied.If God and Jesus were one in the same then the whole thing seemed like a pretty pointless conversation. Looking back on it, I guess I was seeking an explanation on the Holy Trinity, not a bunch of biblical mumbo jumbo.

It would be another two years before I “got it.” I saw Jesus Christ Superstar for the first time and fell in love with the song “Gethsemane” in which Jesus flatly says that He wants out. He doesn’t want to die. Though it doesn’t stray too far from the Biblical account, it is devoid of the Shakespearean language and showcases a guy scared out of His wits. This was God trying to talk Himself out of it, wondering if it would all be worth it, asking if submitting to an all-too-human and grisly death would be enough to save these people from themselves and what would happen if it wasn’t? Suddenly, I no longer wondered who Jesus was talking to. I just knew. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s show stopping number solved a mystery my priest and my father couldn’t  explain and gave me an answer that my way-too-human mind could get behind. Although it would not be the last time I would question the faith, it would prove that God will provide the answers in a way that speaks to you when you just “have to know, have to know, my Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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