Monday, December 27, 2010
The earthiness of Catholicism -- its willingness to see (indeed, its insistence on seing) tangible things, stuff, and places (relics, rocks, images, paths) as vehicles for the impartation of grace and the movement towards God -- has long been, and remains, a scandal to many, including (especially?) many Christians. I was reminded of this, the other day, when I was reading various blog entries, written by travellers to Israel, regarding places like the Church of the Nativity, Holy Sepulcher, the Basilica of the Annunciation, Peter's house at Capernaum, etc. For many, the lines of pilgrims waiting to see, and touch, things like the stone where Jesus was born, or the rock where he was crucified, etc., were more humorous (or off-putting) than inspiring. And, there's no getting around it, there's something absurd about the "scene" inside Holy Sepulcher, with its turf wars and all. For the critics, the fact that I was eager to reach through a hole in the marble and touch the rock -- the actual rock, Christians have long, long believed -- where Jesus was crucified shows a superstitious failure to appreciate the real (that is, the "spiritual") nature of our relationship with God, and of God's saving acts.
I was happy, though, to touch the rock, to stand on the shore of Galilee, to stand on the *actual* Roman paving stones that Jesus would have walked on His way to the Temple, and to look at Peter's house in Capernaum and imagine Jesus stopping by to say "hi". And, I was moved, as much as I have ever been moved, by those Jews who, during the tour of the tunnels along the base of the Western Wall (an amazing tour, by the way) stopped, about halfway along and many feet underground, to touch and pray at the section of the 2000-year old wall that, they believe, is closest, physically, to where the Holy of Holies was once housed.
God did not save us by becoming an idea, a spirit, or a feeling. He saved us by becoming a flesh-and-blood person, who walked around, and had meals, and stood on rocks, and was "crucified, died, and was buried" in a real place, one that we can touch.