Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You Catholics

"Why do you Catholics focus on the cross so much?" YOU CATHOLICS. Nothing makes me bristle more than a heartily declared YOU CATHOLICS. "You'll notice," my "friend" continued with her blindsiding discourse accompanied by her haughtily pointing at the walls of her living room, "that there isn't a single crucifix in my house. See, we don’t really need to focus on Jesus’ death so much. We Protestants realize that we are really sharing in the resurrection. So why do you Catholics always focus on death?"

I knew it was coming sooner or later. Because I'm so outwardly Catholic, whenever I reach out and make new friends, specifically with protestants, the topic of religion eventually comes up, and it always comes up the same way: a glorious picture of protestant sensibility starkly contrasting the depressing blood and suffering to which we as Catholics so foolishly cling, sometimes followed by a “YOU CATHOLICS" statement depending upon how bold my "friend" happens to be.

This friend was pretty bold. I really wasn’t surprised that it was coming, though, as she had repeatedly insulted my faith in a number of conversations prior to this, the last real conversation we would ever have. After the hair on the back of my neck settled back down, I managed to give her an answer.

"We focus on the cross,” I replied, “because it's by his cross that we are saved. It was because of his sacrifice, through his suffering and his death that we achieve resurrection with Him. But without his death, without that sacrifice, there would be no resurrection.”

How do you know when someone really loves you? Let's turn to the Gospel to answer this question: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you.” Jn 15:12-14

To lay down his life for his friends.

It's by their sacrifice that we know someone really loves us. This is what Jesus said, then it's what he did by his death on a cross.

We Catholics, in our reverence for the crucifix, in our focus on Christ's suffering and death, are entering into the most incredible love that anyone could possibly experience. Michael Pakaluk wrote in his article, “Avoiding the Crucifix” first published in Crisis Magazine’s December 1990 issue:
"According to tradition St. Thomas Aquinas once asked St. Bonaventure how he had acquired the deep theological wisdom he displayed in his writings. St. Bonaventure pointed to a crucifix and said that he had learned all he knew from contemplating it."
(Click here to read the entire article, found at

There are I think a dozen crucifixes hanging on the walls of our home. Quite a few of them were there before I married my husband. We’ll never take them down, except maybe to dust them, or paint the wall behind them. I look at the image of my Lord nailed to the cross, blood rivering down his arms and his side, and I enter into prayer, even if just for a moment as I’m walking by. Those crucifixes are much-needed reminders for when the world becomes hopeless, when work gets unbearable, when we're caught up in distractions and problems, of what's really important in this life, and in the next.

We can hope for ourselves when we encounter the beaten, brutalized body of Jesus, ruthlessly executed through the violence of crucifixion. Not just His physical suffering as he was scourged, crowned with thorns and forced to carry his cross to his death; but the isolation at being utterly rejected by His people; by the humiliation of being spat upon, of falling, being stripped and nailed to a cross, meant to be left for wild animals to devour. Crucifixion is a punishment meant to utterly dehumanize. He took all of the sins that we lash out into the world upon himself, and when he laid down His own life for our sakes, he took all of that sin and let it die with Him. It's from this horrible suffering and death that Jesus rose, conquering sin and death, and He lives.

If I am unwilling to contemplate His death, how can I really comprehend the glory of His Resurrection? How can I understand what He meant when he said to love one another? How can I call myself a disciple if I am not kneeling at the foot of the Cross, the single place where I learn what it means to lay down my life as Christ commands?

More from Michael Pakaluk’s article:
"Perhaps having supposed that the elimination of suffering is the aim of life and of morality, we are confused by the suggestion that Christ desires to suffer, that His purpose in life was to die for us. That Jesus loves us is a consoling thought, but that He loves us that much disturbs as well as consoles. A God Who gives that much might in fact ask that much."

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