Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Weight of the Wood

I will confess that the part of Catholicism that I struggle with the most is the divinity of Jesus Christ. Perhaps that seems odd, as Catholicism is clearly a Christ-centered faith and belief in Christ's divinity is an essential part of considering oneself a devout Catholic. I don't think I've ever really questioned that God exists; I think most of the world believes in God or some sort of higher power, and not believing seems almost irrational to me - not to mention, lonely.

Accepting Christ's divinity has always seemed to me to require a greater leap of faith. It is a belief that I maintain, but it is not what I think of when I call myself Catholic. Instead I think of the strong women of the Bible, such as Eve, the woman who most scholars assert is mythological but who has still shouldered much of the blame for the sins of the world, Ruth and Naomi, the women disciples of Jesus, and the many women who helped build His church on earth after Christ's crucifixion. As a girl making confirmation I admired the Church's strong women saints including Joan of Arc, who I chose as my own confirmation saint. Now as a mother I have delveloped a love and respect for Mary, the mother of a son who was also fated to die.

I enjoy the tradition of Catholicism, and the fact that major change doesn't occur for decades. I like the feeling of community that comes with being a part of the universal Church. I like that Catholicism is a part of my heritage. I like the trinkets, like the prayer cards and rosaries. As a stubborn and independent woman, I require the discipline of a faith like Catholicism but am grateful for the promise of Heaven.

But I struggle in my relationship with Christ.

And no time of year is better to reestablish that relationship than Lent, and in particular, during Holy Week.

Palm Sunday is a particularly emotional day for many Catholics, I suspect. It is a reminder of the price paid for our sins and the cost of our salvation. If I am to accept that Christ is my Savior as Catholicism requires, I must also accept that Christ's suffering was offered for me.

They say that we all have our crosses to bear, and for a devout Catholic, the weight of knowing what sacrifice took place so that we can be saved is one of our crosses. When I have had occassion to visit Protestant churches one noticeable difference between those and the Catholic churches is the lack of a crucifix. Some say the crucifix is gruesome and keeps us focused on something negative. On the contrary, Catholics believe in the redemptive value of suffering and the greatest Redeemer of all is Jesus Christ, who paid the ultimate price, death on a cross, so that we may know eternal life. We cannot forget either that this price was also paid by God whose only Begotten Son suffered that fate and by his mother Mary who brought her son into this world knowing he would one day preceed her in death, but having no idea when that would be and only a cursory understanding of the magnitude of her role. These are the prices that have been paid on our behalf. On Palm Sunday as we read the Passion of Our Lord as a community at Mass, we are reminded that it is we who demanded "Crucify Him!" We are reminded that we crucify Him daily with our selfish, carnal actions -- but forgiveness is always ours if we ask.

On Palm Sunday last year I was carrying another cross as I approached the third trimester of a pregnancy that I knew would result in a son that I would have to say good-bye to, not long after I said hello. On Palm Sunday I reminded myself that I had not been asked to do anything that God had not also sacrificed. This year, as I thought about the many times that I have crucified the Lord with my poor decisions, I shuddered at how terrible it would be to have to live Gabriel's death over and over and over again and how it is not something I would want to experience, even if it meant the salvation of the world. God's love is the Ultimate Love because it is a love we are just not capable of, though it is in our nature to love unselfishly too.

Palm Sunday is a sad day. For those that attend Good Friday services we experience yet another reminder of the cost of Heaven. But I think most Christians will agree that Easter Sunday is the most important day of the year for humans, because it is the day that the gates of Heaven were opened to us all. We can't get to Easter Sunday until we've been through Palm Sunday and Good Friday. We can't have a rainbow without a little rain.

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