By Deacon Joseph Graves
A number of years ago, while hunting for something to read in a second-hand book shop, I came upon a title I couldn’t resist, “I Like Being Catholic.” The tome served up a smattering of reasons, big and small, consistent with the book’s title, as well as scads of essays by American Catholics on their reasons for liking Catholicism.
Parts of the book were enjoyable, other parts disappointing. Completing it left me in the mood to make a list of my own. It is a monumental task; the list goes on and on. I like being Catholic because it is a vehicle for salvation. Hard to beat that one. But there are so many other facets to what it is about being Catholic I find compelling.
Here’s one we don’t always think about or, if we do, sufficiently appreciate: The Catholic Church understands me as a human being. This should come as no surprise since its founder not only created human beings but literally became a human being Himself. It’s enough to make the biologist studying the dolphin, kangaroo or iguana green with envy. They can study their animal from every imaginable angle but one—from the inside.
But Jesus Christ can and does. Because of that, the Church He established demonstrates an innate and often times rather amazing understanding of the human being.
As evidence of this, I would offer the Stations of the Cross. Like Lent, the most popular time for the Stations, and the liturgical calendar in general, the Stations of the Cross provide us with recurring reminders of our faith. This is important because we have notoriously short attention spans. (And there is some evidence today they are growing ever shorter.) If the Church did not regularly remind us of aspects of our faith, that faith would grow cold. When we participate in the Stations, we are reminded of the reality of the Via Dolorosa, the cost that was paid by one who was responsible for none of it, to redeem us.
In addition to a short attention span, the Church demonstrates its understanding of us as both rational and nonrational beings. Rationally, we can understand we have a fallen nature and Christ redeemed us through his suffering, death and resurrection, but it is not enough to just recite that reality, to make that logical argument. We must also feel it. We must immerse ourselves in it if it is to dwell in our hearts and remain there.
As the presider intones those familiar words and we respond with our communal offering, “Because, by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world,” rising from our knees in recognition of our emancipation from the chains of death, we are infused with, drawn into, drenched with the reality of our release.
This feeling is not irrational. It is not some surrender to theatrics or mawkish displays but rather a basking in the edifying. Just as the Church calls us to ensure our places of worship are truly beautiful in their architecture and adornment, so are the Stations, when done well, uplifting and illuminating.
In Mitchell, the high school students annually present the Living Stations. The silence of the portrayers, the beauty of the musical accompaniment, the simplicity of the costumes, and the startling crash of the hammers all combine into an experience both reflective and appalling.
I took my mother to one of these Living Stations near the end of her life when her grandson was portraying the sacrificial victim, and she wept openly as the now inhabited cross rose above the heads of the soldiers and the women who stayed faithfully at his feet.
If we are to hold fast to our faith, to never allow what we know in our heads to grow cold in our hearts, to be reminded in a too-busy world of a greater, an ultimate, reality, to overcome our human frailties and failures which our Savior and our Church understand too well, we must experience a recurring, uplifting and even visceral reminder of the reality of salvation and how it was given, freely, to us.
Thus, the Church gives us the Stations. One of so many reasons I so very much like being Catholic.