Embracing the Crucifix

When I was growing up in various Protestant churches, and in all the Protestant churches of my adulthood, one of the few symbols on display in each church was an empty cross. Usually inside the sanctuary, front and center.

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This type of image is familiar to many, but it hasn’t always made the most sense to me.

Catholic churches, as most probably know, are known for their use of the Crucifix. This practice is odd to some, and unacceptable to others outside of the Catholic faith.

This is why I have embraced the Crucifix.

To start, I would like to share why I’ve come to the conclusion that the empty cross is a less-than-ideal representation of our faith. I’ve been told a few reasons why Protestant churches display only the empty cross. One reason is the idea that Catholics leave Jesus on the cross because we for some reason don’t focus on His resurrection… and that Protestants do focus on his resurrection, hence not leaving Jesus hanging up there. And another reason is that the idea of making “graven images” is clearly forbidden in scripture.

I remember even as a little girl, thinking that the empty cross didn’t make a lot of sense to represent our belief in and focus on the resurrection. Namely, the fact that when Jesus was taken down off the cross, and the cross was indeed empty … he was dead. It feels like to me, wherever there is an empty cross, we are basically displaying an empty instrument of torture. The cross was used to execute many, many people over the ages, including 2 others at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion itself. The cross is how Jesus died, but apart from Jesus being on it, it is an execution device upon which many others died as well.

I always thought that some sort of symbol of the empty tomb, or the stone rolled away from the door would be more appropriate to represent the resurrection. If we want to reflect Jesus risen, let’s make a symbol of the place He rose from, right?! No one else rose from the dead under His own divine power like Jesus did. Lazarus, too, rose, but it was only under the power of Jesus that he did that. So the idea of the empty tomb symbolizing Christ’s resurrection, if that is the ultimate aim of those who leave Jesus off the cross, would probably be a better fit.

And then there is the graven images argument. In my new life as a Catholic, I am so enjoying learning about the Old Testament and how Judaism points to The Gospel in so many different ways. But, as I’ve learned, when one looks specifically about God commanding the Israelites not to make graven images in Exodus, he’s telling them not to make graven images to worship. Not that they can’t make images ever. In fact, shortly after issuing that command, God tells the Israelites to construct two statues of angels for either side of the tabernacle. The Israelites were to make statues, or images of angels. They just couldn’t, and shouldn’t worship them.

Similarly, Catholics don’t worship the crucifix. What a crucifix does is help us focus our minds on Christ, and the love that he poured out for us in his redemptive suffering. Worship is reserved for God alone.

While I still like the idea of the empty tomb, I believe a cross depicting Jesus on it helps remind us of how great the cost of our salvation was. Especially in America, we are generally so comfortable. Many, though not all, of us don’t have a context for extreme suffering. And the cost for our salvation was so, very great. Every time I look at a crucifix I see the love of my Savior and I am so thankful.

And, honestly speaking, sometimes, also, the Crucifix is hard for me to look at. I don’t like picturing Jesus up there on the cross and knowing that he needed to do that because of my sin. I also believe that just because it’s difficult to look at doesn’t mean I shouldn’t. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be Mary, seeing her Son up there, dying, and staying by his side. Not even all the disciples were there with Jesus at the cross. I wonder if I would have had the strength to stay. When I pray through the Sorrowful Mysteries on the Rosary, the crucifixion is by far the most difficult decade for me to meditate on. But I also take comfort that Peter, who denied Jesus 3 times and likely was not at the crucifixion, was still the man God called to be the first Pope of the Church.

Even though it is difficult to look at, the Crucifix reminds me of the abundant grace of God then, and now, and forever. Seeing the Crucifix enables me to raise up my eyes and be willing to carry whatever cross I have before me during any particular moment of any particular day. It helps me think on God more. And it helps me grow in my faith and joy at what was accomplished on Calvary and 3 days later. All good, faith building and life giving things. Embracing the Crucifix has been another of the strengths of my Catholic faith.

 

Why I Love Confession

One of the topics I get asked about most often by my Protestant friends is Confession. So here is a humble attempt to explain what the Sacrament of Confession means to me.

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Let me start by saying I love Confession. Love it. It’s awesome. More on that in a moment.

And then, let me also start by explaining a bit about what Confession is not to me.

To me:

Confession is not a guilt-induced act that is forced upon me by a strict and rigid institution.

Confession is not my only means of being connected with God, nor is it my only means, in most cases, of being forgiven by God.

Background

My history with the idea of Confession, in any form, was rather shallow. I understood that I needed to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins to commit to Christianity, but, honestly, I was a young kid and I didn’t really think much about what “sin” meant… not listening to my parents, spreading a rumor, being selfish… all things I knew were sin, but for the most part, I, personally, felt like I was doing pretty well overall. Also, many Protestant traditions believe that once you are a Christian, your past, present and future sins are forgiven. So I didn’t feel like there was a lot of motivation to think about my sin.

Also, growing up in different Protestant Churches, most of them would have a time of private confession at some point in the church service. It’s where the pastor or whoever was leading that part of the service would have everyone take a moment and think about their sin, and then pray for and thank God for His forgiveness.

To be honest, in my experience, nearly every time that happened whoever was leading the confession didn’t even give me enough time to begin to contemplate my own sin. The pause lasted for like 5 seconds. And… 5 seconds is inadequate for a true examination of conscience. So I usually just stood quietly and looked prayerful during that time. And still, I continued on not thinking much about my own sin.

I have since found out that the community confession time in many Protestant churches harkens back to the early Christians, but it isn’t really a full representation of what early Christians practiced. It’s more of a shadow of it. Though, I think most Protestants would agree that confessing one’s sins is important in some regard, the actual practice of it in many churches today doesn’t reflect the depth and purpose and history of Confession itself, or why it is important.

Sin

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This is how I have come to understand sin. I have come to understand that God is offering, every moment of my life, to come alongside me and walk with me. Everywhere. And all the time. He never will leave me. Sin is where in my heart and my actions, I block God out of my life.

In Catholic Confession, prior to going to Confession, it is most appropriate to process through an Examination of Conscience. Many are based on the ten commandments, but there are others as well, for children, married people, single people, etc. It is a really thorough way to discover where I am not allowing God fully into my life. Even just the 1st Commandment examination… I reflect upon where in my life I am not putting God first. Where am I putting something or someone else in God’s place.

One thing I’m definitely not doing is  sitting around with my head in my hands in hopelessness over how sinful I am. It’s actually really helpful for me, and I can use those reflections to allow God into more of my life.

I’ve also come to understand sin as that which wounds our soul and our relationship with our Creator. God is there, all the time, but when I turn away from Him and do my own thing, it is bad for me… left unchecked, it will contribute to my walk with God becoming unhealthy over time… sick even. Many of humanity’s own classic tales reveal what happens when someone is overcome by sin in their own life. Ebeneezer Scrooge and his greed, the Beast and his lack of charity, the Grinch and his desire for revenge.

Sacraments

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Catholics believe that Sacraments are ways that God makes tangible (something we can see, smell, taste, touch, or hear), something that is a spiritual reality. So, for example (briefly, because this is a whole ‘nother post), marriage is a Sacrament. It’s meant to be a tangible representation of Christ’s relationship with the Church. Something we can see, and, within the marriage itself, touch, that is meant to draw our minds towards heavenly truth.

Confession, is another Sacrament.

Confession Itself

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This is where it gets good. This is the stuff.

I think it is easy for many to think about confession in a church service, or praying directly to God for forgiveness. Catholics also have a time of confession communally each Mass, and Catholics also can pray directly to God for forgiveness in most cases.

I also think it’s easy for Christians to acknowledge that we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world around us.

When I walk into the confessional, I am walking in and talking to the Priest, who is acting as the hands and feet of Jesus for me. Instead of silently admitting my sins in private or at church, or to myself alone, I get to verbally share about the areas in my life where I am struggling to let God in. I verbally ask for forgiveness.

And then I audibly hear I am forgiven.

And that is huge. God knows we are both spiritual and physical. I love that this Sacrament exists, and I can hear the truth of my forgiveness time and time again, audibly, from someone who is representing Jesus.

But that’s not all. The Priest then spends a bit of time talking to me about some of my struggles, and prescribes penance. That word is one that may cause someone who isn’t Catholic to go… Yikes! Danger! Or What is that?

Let me explain what penance is. Just as unrepentant sin can hurt our walk with God, and even make our souls sick, penance is a sort of medicine that helps me to turn back to God in the areas in which I struggle.

Example. If someone hurt me and I am struggling to forgive them fully, my penance for that might be to spend some time praying for those people. Penance is simply helping me turn back to God and let Him into more of my life, in the areas where I am blocking him out through my actions.

And I leave the Confessional full of the Holy Spirit, and so thankful for God’s redeeming work in my life. I leave with joy, and I always look forward to going. It helps keep me tuned into and focused on my Savior, and helps me be more aware to walk more closely with Him. More than ever before.

Summing Up

Here is what, to Lorelei, Confession is.

Confession is one of the many ways that I can receive God’s grace.

Confession is a tangible representation of my forgiven and restored relationship with God.

Confession is a Sacrament of healing, and of helping me walk more closely with God.

 

And that, is why I love Confession. 🙂

 

The Lens We All Have

We all view Scripture through a lens. This is a more thorough discussion, and my updated thoughts on Sola Scriptura, personal interpretation, and Catholic Tradition.

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One of the tricky subjects for a Catholic to talk to a Protestant about is the word “Tradition,” and the role it plays in the Catholic Church. Say anything about how we have Tradition, and you will turn off many a Protestant ear. The word itself, is a barrier to further discourse. This is true often- because, in many ways Catholics and Protestants are using different words when talking about the same or similar things. Though, there are definite and significant differences in the two understandings of Christianity, many times, even on the areas where we agree there is a language barrier. Tradition isn’t one of those areas where we agree, but it is an area where the language barrier is a hinderance to understanding.

Here is one way that helped me, at least in a limited sense, understand Catholic Tradition, and something that may perhaps be helpful when talking to others and attempting to overcome the language barrier in this area.

The fact is that everyone interprets scripture through a lens. You can’t read the Bible as a Christian and not get meaning out of it through interpretation. In fact… you can’t be a literate person and not read anything and not get meaning out of it through the interpretation of your understanding.

In this sense, everyone kind of has their own Tradition. Though Biblical interpretation isn’t the sum and whole of what Catholic Tradition encompasses, it is an important part of it. Tradition, in part, consists of the lens through which Catholics interpret Holy Scripture.

One of the main struggles Protestants have with Tradition is that Catholics place it on par with Scripture, instead of holding Scripture itself as the highest. The problem with that is, our interpretation of Scripture, Catholic or Protestant, is inseparable from Scripture, period. Because a Bible un-interpreted is a book on a shelf without meaning. One could say that interpretation is the way we construct meaning out of Scripture. The problem Protestants run into, is whose interpretation is correct? On any given Sunday at any Protestant church throughout America , a pastor might cite books by theologians as sources for his sermon. Well… what evidence do we have that those theologians are interpreting Scripture correctly? And it also happens all. the. time. that two, or tens, or thousands of Protestants could read the same exact passage of Scripture and come to completely different conclusions about what it means. Baptism, Communion, Genesis… again, whose interpretation is correct? By its very nature, Truth cannot contradict itself. It’s can’t be that Jesus meant Holy Communion to be both symbolic and his actual Body and Blood. He meant one of the two, but not both. And if the answer to that question is important, what did he actually mean, then the lens through which we interpret Scripture is also important.

Scripture requires interpretation, that meaning be drawn out of it. And due to the thousands of Protestant denominations (over 32,000, to be closer to precise), I reject personal interpretation as adequate.

Catholic Tradition has long stood the test of time, more than any other Christian group claims to have had interpretation at all (all the other denominations have 1500 less years to work with!). So I have no problem putting it on level with the written word of Scripture. It is the lens through which I view Scripture. And we all have a lens we put in the exact same spot by the necessity of interpretation.

And that’s also why, in short, I accept the teachings of Tradition that may exist, in a strict sense, “outside of Scripture.” I don’t believe that Truth is contained only within the words of the Bible. God inspired the Bible but I don’t believe that’s God’s last breathed word to humanity. The Bible itself declares Jesus to be the “Word made flesh.” Catholics believe we still have the Word made flesh Himself present and among us today in the Eucharist. He’s still the Word. And He’s still talking. Through His Church.

Walk into any Protestant church and at some point someone will have a Word from God to share with someone else about their life. Nearly all Christians believe God still speaks today in some form, and often to them personally. And if God is actually speaking things to people (if it is indeed God speaking), then what is being spoken is True. And Truth is Truth, whether it’s on the pages of the Bible or spoken by a believer. There is no way to put some Truth (the Bible) on a different level than other Truth (God’s extra-Biblical Word revealed to humanity.) If it’s from God, it’s Truth. And thus they are the same, as they stem from the same ultimate Truth, God Himself.

Catholic teachings corroborate with the Bible in the most logically sound and deeply comprehensive way of anything I’ve found to exist. I cannot pretend that God is not in it, because only Catholicism mirrors  (best as any earthly thing can) the richness and vastness and deepness and intensity of our Creator to a level that feels like it is approaching appropriate. The Gospel is simple, but also amazingly complex. God is able to be understood by young children, but one could spend lifetimeS growing in that understanding (and Catholicism as a whole has!). God is personable, but also unfathomable.

And, in short, that is why, to this former Protestant, Tradition as a word and a belief has brought an increased richness to my faith and understanding of both the Bible and Christianity as a whole, and not detracted from it in the least.

Never Knew You Looked Like That

Today we drove to a Catholic Parish in a nearby town to visit with our friend Nic. He had a speaking engagement in the evening, so we thought we would catch up in person since it’s rare for us to be in the same part of the same state at the same time.

As we approached the Parish, I noticed that there were 4-5 Christian churches within a 2 block radius of the Catholic Church we were going to. Several different denominations were represented, each with their own building.

We spent a bit of time inside the beautifully constructed Catholic Church. Each of the stations of the cross was a hand-made mosaic, along with several other pieces of art on the walls- including a beautiful Mary mosaic above the tabernacle. That, and the pillars, and the stained-glass, and the wooden pews… just everything was so beautiful. We spoke for a few minutes with one of the priests of the parish and ended up talking about how that kind of ornament in a church building used to be offensive to me as a Protestant, but now I find it to be so beautiful.

We talked about Kreeft, and how he argues that only belief in the True Presence built buildings like this. And also how, besides, desiring for Christ to have the best we have to offer, that having beautiful churches and Cathedrals helps to make up for the scandal of the manger. Besides the church itself being beautiful, the very idea of those things is, also, beautiful.

As we left and drove by all those other churches, so close to the building that houses the True Presence of Christ Himself, and yet far enough away that they felt like they had to construct their own buildings to worship in, I wondered how that made God feel… and I was reminded of a song from a little-known Christian musician that used to play in Green Bay when I was younger. He wrote a song called “Never Knew You Looked Like That,” which isn’t about the Eucharist, but is about the many ways Christ shows himself to mankind, and how oblivious we are to it so much of the time.

But with all I’ve been through, I can’t help but see the connection to the Eucharist as well.

Some of my favorite lyrics:

“Does it make you sad that I never knew you looked like that? Does it make you laugh that I never knew you looked like that”

“There you are again, no matter where I turn. You wait for me to notice, wondering if I’ll learn.”

 

 

What does God think about those people who built those buildings, so very close to where he truly and really resides in a physical sense? Is he sad about it? Or does he shake his head and smile, much like I do when my son or daughter just doesn’t understand something that seems so simple to me?

How does God feel about the many, once including myself, that don’t recognize Him in the bread and the wine? I now believe it is no more shocking that God would appear to us as though he were bread and wine than it is to believe God was once a zygote in his mother’s womb.

But those buildings, so, so close to the Real Thing. And yet thick walls separate them. And there are so many Christians who desperately seek nearness with their Savior, too, separated by walls of disbelief in their hearts that His True Presence is here with us now.

Thank you, Jesus, for your True Presence in the gift of the Eucharist. And I pray that all Christians would be united to You, and experience the fullness of faith and life and joy through the Church you established. Please help us to all recognize you in all the ways you reveal yourself to us on this earth, including in the faces of the poor, the suffering, and in the Eucharist.

In Jesus name,

Amen.

Confirmed!

Here I sit, a week after Confirmation, so very thankful!

First of all, the Savaryn’s turned out en masse for Easter Vigil. Another family member and I were both to be confirmed at the Cathedral of St. Paul in the Twin Cities, and the Savaryn’s nearly filled 3 pews. So much support.

I also didn’t know that you receive gifts upon confirmation. I am now in possession of some awesome Catholic Confirmation Swag… rosaries, books, CD’s, decorative pieces for my home. It was so lovely and so thoughtful of everyone. And it was so cool to just see the genuine happiness on people’s faces that had been praying for me for years.

And then to be confirmed by the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and to know that he can trace his lineage, as all priests can, to one of the original apostles… amazing!

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Me and Archbishop Hebda.

I can honestly say that the past several years have been exceedingly restless for me as a Christian. And I can also honestly say that after Confirmation, I looked around the Cathedral and at all the people there supporting us, and having this sense of being a part of something so much bigger than myself, bigger than time and history and Earth, and I just knew that I was home. I am restless no more. Thank you Jesus!