The problem with the Catholic Church
“So why did you become Catholic?”
After listening to my abbreviated conversion story, Bob explained that he’d born a Catholic but was now an evangelical Christian. Apparently feeling the need to defend his decision to leave Catholicism to a new convert, Bob declared that the crucifix is depressing and too focused on pain and suffering. After thinking another moment or two, Bob looked at at me and said, “The problem with the Catholic Church is the crucifix.”
I thought of that long ago conversation last Thursday, September 14th, the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. And I understand my friend Bob’s repugnance at the horror of our Savior’s suffering and death. In most Catholic Churches, that crucifix is displayed prominently, making it difficult to ignore. Without the crucifix, it’s tempting to believe the gospel of prosperity. And to think that all the blessings of our lives are merited.
Bob’s pithy statement appears in my first novel:
“Lindsey could not deny the sense of peace she had felt
upon walking into St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church at six
thirty that next morning. Kneeling next to Julie, who was deep
in communion with her God, she felt the silence as a tangible
thing. Lindsey finally risked a look up at the huge crucifix
dominating the altar of the church, realizing that she had
looked everywhere but up at that cross. As she stared at
that quintessence of agony and sacrifice, she thought of a
paper Julie had written the year before for her theology class.
Julie had started her paper with the sentence “The problem
with the Catholic church is the crucifix….Lindsey thought of the lovely filigreed gold cross her mother always wore; the cross without the dying Christ was the sanitized version, much more comfortable to contemplate than this God-man displayed in an attitude of such shocking powerlessness and hideousness. And she had found herself asking what on earth could require such pain and suffering and wondering what kind of God would require such an agonizing death from his own son.”
Why the crucifix and not just His cross?
Because the Apostle of the Apostles tells us to do so! St Paul tells us that we preach Christ crucified in the first and second chapter of Corinthians. “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” John Martignoni reminds us of St. Paul’s exhortation: ““O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” Did you catch that? Jesus was publicly portrayed, before their “eyes”, as being crucified. Sounds kind of like they may have been looking at a crucifix, doesn’t it? ”
The reading for the liturgy of the Triumph of the Cross prefigures Christ’s crucifixtion. We travel back to the nation of Israel’s escape from 400 years of slavery in Egypt to a forty-year desert journey.
Again. Ignoring the facts that their clothes and sandals are not wearing out. Or recalling how they walked through the sea with walls of water on each side, saved from the pursuing Egyptians. Or that water appears out of a rock when needed by them and their livestock.
More and more, these readings about the ancient Israelites are like looking into a mirror. One that reveals my image and that of almost everyone around me. The complaints of the Israelites prokoke God’s wrath until finally they see.
“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,
“Make a seraph and mount it on a pole,
and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.”
Monsignor Charles Pope offers an intriguing meditation on the Triumph of the Cross.
“Now remember it was God who had said earlier in the Ten Commandments Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth(Ex 20:4). Yet here he commands a graven (a carved) image. Moses made it of bronze and showed it to the people who looking at it became well (Nm 21:9)
In a way, it is almost as if God were saying to Moses, “The people, in rejecting the Bread from Heaven have chosen Satan and what he offers. They have rejected me. Let them look into the depth of their sin and face their choice and the fears it has set loose. Let them look upon a serpent. Having looked, let them repent and be healed, let the fear of what the serpent can do depart.”
When we adore the crucifix, we face the awful
cost of sin. Mine, yours and those of the whole world: The problem with the Catholic Church is the crucifix.
“There it is, at the head of our processions. There it is, displayed in our homes. And we are bid to look upon it daily. Displayed there is everything we most fear: suffering, torment, loss, humiliation, nakedness, hatred, scorn, mockery, ridicule, rejection, and death.
And the Lord and the Church say: “Look! Don’t turn away. Do not hide this. Look! Behold! Face the crucifix and all it means. Stare into the face of your worst fears, confront them, and begin to experience healing. Do not fear the worst the world and the devil can do for Christ has triumphed overwhelmingly. He has cast off death like a garment and said to us, In this world, ye shall have tribulation. But have courage! I have overcome the world.
The problem with the Catholic Church is the crucifix.