Growing Up Catholic Part Seven

Stephen Arch                        



When and How I Learned the Meaning of my Religion

My extremely serious belief of my religion - the way I see it and the way I believe

March 17, 2015

Note to Reader

With all snarkiness and joking aside, I feel it necessary at this juncture of these essays to explain that indeed a time exist(s)(ed) that I understood the true meaning of my religion and what it really was/is all about.  As I explained early in this collection, as an alter boy I had access - had access to the rectory, to the school, and particularly the church. But what I didn't have really was access to the truth - to what I needed to understand about my religion. I also want to point out that even though I had an extremely difficult time dealing with the abuses rendered toward my classmates and myself in Catholic school, I still feel a closes relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God. Those things that occurred to me during my adolescence were done by human beings, and human beings, including myself, have flaws.  For example, the pictures that I show in this commentary are photos that I would never have been exposed to as a child.  As I state in this commentary, I necessarily didn't need to see the photos - somehow I just how brutal Jesus Christ was treated in this most serious of times in history.

It was at the time of Easter as a young boy growing up that I felt the true meaning of what goodness and kindness meant, and it is these virtues that I learned not from the nuns, not from the priests, but from my own meditation in church, alone, during Easter Vigil.  

Christmas was always a time of celebration, gifts, parties, and more.  It was not just Jesus Christ, it was Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, happy music, tales of Christmases past.  

However, Easter was not a "fun" time of year for me.  For it was Easter, and the entire Easter Vigil, which included Stations of the Cross, a lot of soul searching, tears, and a true understanding that such a good Man, a Man like no other who preached peace, love, eternal forgiveness, Heaven, would be treated so brutally, not only the Roman soldier and politicians who lived in the era, but by his own people as well.  Mel Gibson, in the making of the The Passion of the Christ, was unfairly criticized by the Jewish community because Gibson placed blame where blame should have been placed.  The Roman empire wanted nothing to do with Christ. All that they wanted was order and peace, particularly around the time when Jerusalem was overrun by visitors celebrating Passover.  They wanted no antagonism nor antagonists, no riots, no fighting, no trouble.  It wasn't the Romans who began the imprisonment and torture of Christ - it was men like Caiaphas, treasurer and leader of the Jewish Sanhedrin and Pharisees who wanted to stop Jesus for His claims that He was to be King of the Jews (and He actually never said that - remember - "it is you who say that I am").

But getting back to my understanding of this sequence of events.  Here was a Man, a simple Man, who happened to be the Son of God, placed on the earth to live a mere 30 some years, and then forced to die a horrific, bloody death - and not to die peacefully - but to die being scorned and taunted by those who only days before accepted Him and all of His glory.

I must admit at this time that I have tried in vain to watch the Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ, but I have always, always had to turn off the movie when Christ was being beaten and scourged by the Roman soldiers.  I sat in church for so many years knowing fully well what Jesus Christ was put through.  I didn't need reminded by a movie. I didn't need to be reminded with statues and placards on the walls.  I knew that Roman execution was brutal and evil.  And I know that Christ was not deserving of such torture.  Inherently I knew this. I did not need to be taught this.  I saw it in the writings in the bible.  I felt it while sitting alone in church, alone with my thoughts that traced themselves back thousands of years.

I honestly feel that the Catholic church does a huge disservice by downplaying the brutality that Christ went through. To be scourged was to be beaten with a multi-tipped whip, usually with stones and sharp objects tied to the end of it - Jesus wasn't whipped 100 times by a single whip.  He was brutalized by instruments of torture that literally ripped his skin off.  In fact, historical documents discuss the fact that "no ordinary man" could have endured the to brutality that Christ endured.  The Roman soldiers would beat Him until their arms grew weary.  They would stop.  And they would beat him again, taking turns because the guards were tired and needed fresh arms to swing the whips.

I only show these pictures because they HAD TO BE EXTREMELY CLOSE TO WHAT CHRIST EXPERIENCED before his murder.  I did not need to see these types of photos growing up.  I knew, and I could never come to terms with the brutality of His torture only to know that the reasons were simple - so that I would be saved.  It was up to me now to do my part.

Going back to my early days, I would sit alone in church - make sure I would get to church when no one else was there, and pray and pray and pray that this could not happen, and it was at this time that I knew that I would not let this happen to me.  And if it did, I would take it like Christ took it - as a punishment that would eventually set others free - regardless of what that meant to me as a 10 year old.  I asked God for the strength to endure what I was experiencing with the same peace and strength that Christ did in His last days.

I also could only imagine what Mary His mother was thinking as she saw this cruelty being thrust upon Her Son.

Serving the Stations of the Cross as an alter boy, I loved the act of stopping at each station and reading, understanding, learning what Christ went through. Of course, I still believe the Catholic church sugar coated it because, as was said in a famous movie at one time "you can't handle the truth."  And many Christians couldn't handle the real, brutal truth.  

Again, here was a Man, innocent as any man who ever existed, taken, beaten, spat upon, mocked, murdered, and for what?  For being who He was.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ, the human, begged that he not be put through what was about to happen to Him.  But He accepted his trial.  Why?  That's obvious, but not so obvious to a 10 year old who already was experiencing the injustices of the world.

But, I learned, if Christ could do it, so could I.  And I wasn't anywhere near His greatness.  I would bear my burdens in silence as much as I could and offer my pain up to God, to Christ, in order that He might see that I am okay.  That I will be okay.

And that is the serious side of my "Growing up Catholic."  I understand that I have been hard on the Sisters of Divine Providence, but you know, at many times, they deserved my ire.  Their form of punishment was not to make me Christ-like. It was designed to hurt and make me subservient, and I can't believe God had any real plans for that. I feel that the only way I can explain it is through humor - not that I find it at all funny.  But it is through this good faith gesture that I can bear the pain I was caused.


There is a second part of this story that I feel needs explained. And, it involves a part of my Catholic education that I learned later and was sorely missed.  After the Crucifixion of Christ, and after He rose from the dead, the apostles, the disciples, were hidden away in the very same room where Christ has His last supper, His last Passover meal.  Being men of undistinguished and uneducated backgrounds, for the most part, they were deeply afraid that the Romans and their own people would turn against them.  After all, the thought, if they could kill Christ, what would stop them from attacking them. And they knew that they had been seen with Christ on that particular day that Christ was taken away from them.  What were they to do?

After the Crucifixion, and after Jesus was raised from the dead, while these men and women cowed in the upper room of that small house, Christ appeared to them in the form of the Holy Spirit - a point I sincerely and deeply contend is and was missing from my Catholic education - came to these individuals who neither were worldly nor educated (remember, mostly simple, common men, fisherman and the like) who were extremely afraid regarding their fate.  

Sure, I did learn of the Holy Spirit - but only as a third of a whole.  I never learned the extent of the power of the Holy Spirit, and when I am in church, and I listen to the priest begin to speak of the real power of God, I wait with anticipation to hear of the wonders of the Holy Spirit, only to have the sermon cut short.

The Holy Spirit came to these in the form of a fire above each one's head, and these men and women became suddenly strong and knew that they had to spread the word of Christ throughout their known world.

Proof of this strength can be seen from where these men travelled and  from where these men died. Obviously, Peter (Simon) died in Rome (Latin) and was begged to be killed upside down so that he would not be killed the same was that Jesus was. 

James was killed by the sword of Agrippa in Asia.  Peter was crucified with head facing down in Rome, as stated.  Andrew was killed in Achaia - the western side of Greece.  Thomas was killed by constant stabbing with swords and eventually burned to death in Persia, now Iraq.  Philip was killed violently in Turkey.  Matthew was killed in Ethiopia.  Nathaniel (Bartholomew) was savagely murdered in India.  James (the lesser) was slain in Jerusalem.  Simon was killed in Syria. Matthew was killed in Ethiopia.  John was thrown into a boiling pot of oil in The Island of Patmos.  Paul was beheaded by Nero in Rome.  

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN:   I thought it would be the right time to really pay homage to Jesus Christ and those who served him and who led to our understanding of our own religion. My only wish is that our current priests would speak more of the Holy Spirit and the power He possesses.

Whenever I pray, I pray directly to the Holy Spirit. Heck, if he could get fisherman to go out in the savage and cruel world to preach with passion and strength and eventually be slaughtered, I am sure He will listen to my meager requests.