Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday

I'm not the best Catholic - I still haven't decided if I really am Catholic, even though I've thought about it on-and-off since I started college. So, here we are at the biggest weekend of the year for Catholics and other Christians. I probably won't go to Easter Mass, because it feels too much like the classic behavior of a C&E Catholic (Christmas and Easter only), but I do plan to be at Good Friday services this evening at St. Therese, a Central District church where my wedding's officiant attends.

Personally, I've always been drawn to Christmas instead of Easter - I love the symbolism of the light in darkness, the coming in from the cold. Christmas brings out that boundless optimism inside me and banishes the cynic for a few weeks. Whenever we miss a midnight mass, I'm crushed.

This year, it's been rough for me to be interested in Easter. The world doesn't exactly feel like a good place to be: every day, we hear word of some new, more-screwed-up-than-the-last tragedy. In our country, I can't even look at someone with different political views without fearing that he or I will tear the other to pieces. The letters in the paper have deteriorated to mindless rants and insipid name calling; our politicians sound like a flock of vultures fighting over strips of meat left on a carcass. Racism and sexism still run rampant, and you might as well call yourself a communist if you describe yourself as an environmentalist. I try to make my mind think about religion, but that very word is tainted in our culture, a symbol of our intolerance, fear and contempt for anyone who's different.

Maybe that's why Good Friday is ringing true to me this year, even if Easter still feels a little distant. I wasn't sure what to do with myself this afternoon - in Catholic school, we were always let out early on Fridays after we did our rounds at the stations of the cross. We'd spend the hours between noon and three kicking our legs in our rooms or reading quietly. As an adult, I've had to work in the past; this year, however, I work for an agency that lets its employees have the day off.

So, after a long bike ride conducted in a futile attempt to be contemplative (which instead resulted in being worn out and dehydrated), I curled up on the couch with a bible I haven't opened in a year. Reading through the Passion sequences in the gospels, I had one of those little personal epiphanies that keep semi-agnostics like me coming back to our faiths.

The main message of Good Friday, according to tradition, is that Jesus gave his life for our salvation. But it was the other cast of characters who stuck out to me this time, the apostles, the judges, the crowd. I started thinking about their motivations for betrayal or for silent acquiescence and imagined the fear that crept over them as they faced this calm, unyielding being who challenged their way of life. I thought about being in the midst of large crowds at protests and remembered how the crowd's energy could sweep you up in a spiraling funnel before you thought twice about what you were doing. I considered how terrified many of our politicians seem to feel when they are challenged to do the right thing all alone.

And I saw that side of the story in a new light. Any one of us could be the betrayer or the one who slips away instead of speaking out against suffering. Not just "could be" - we are that every time we decide not to confront someone abusing power, or when we change the channel to avoid watching hungry children starve in silence. On a small scale, we betray Jesus' message time and again, no matter how often we vow that we're different. It's easy to sit here in the 21st century and condemn the faceless figures who called for the crucificion, but if we part the shadows of history, those faces belong to us. It's a humbling message, not meant to shame us, but to keep us alert to our own frailty. As Catholics, when we turn away from the poor, the oppressed, or the forgotten in their hour of need, we're also turning away from our beliefs. I'm not a great Catholic, and I don't know whether I really deserve to call myself a Catholic at all - but I'm grateful for finding a message in my faith today. It makes me willing to confront the world again by standing up for the voiceless...even though I know there will be times when I just find it too hard or too frightening to act.

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