I had a commenter accuse the Catholic Church of being a “dead religion.” She claimed the only place you can find Jesus Christ in a Catholic church is “hanging dead” on a cross.
For any Catholics who practice their faith, this seems like a very disconnected accusation. But there are a lot of people who seem to have this misconception. So here’s a quick, partial answer to clear it up a bit.
First, let’s start by pointing out that Jesus on the cross is not something to be scoffed at. In fact, his death on the cross is the central event of the entire Christian faith. It wasn’t an empty cross that redeemed the sins of the world. It was the cross that hung the body of Jesus Christ. It is his sacrifice and death, not his resurrection, that saves us. Displaying a crucifix reminds us of the most important thing God did for us. It is the ultimate sign of how much He loves us.
This is why it is displayed so prominently in Catholic churches.
St. Paul says to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:2). What better visual aide is there to such preaching than a crucifix? And in fact, Galations 3:1 actually refers to Christ being “publicly portrayed as crucified” to them (i.e. seems like they were looking at a crucifix). That’s not to say Catholics have anything against empty crosses. We use those all the time, too. I’m just pointing out that the image of Christ crucified is a very biblical one.
And if that’s not enough, the call of the Christian is to take up our cross and follow Jesus. If you ever want to know what that means, you won’t find the answer by looking at a cross…unless of course that cross has Jesus hanging on it. The crucifix is the complete answer to what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus.
For a Christian, the image of Jesus on the cross is not at all a sign of a dead religion. On the contrary, it’s the perfect depiction of what Love looks like. If we miss that, we miss the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
Second, all of that said, Catholic churches are like the masters of beautifully and artistically displaying every Jesus version imaginable. We got Unborn Baby Jesus, Newborn Baby Jesus, Teenage Preacher Jesus, Divine Mercy Jesus, Miracle Worker Jesus, Garden-praying Jesus, Transfiguration Jesus, Crown-of-thorns-wearing Jesus, Cross-carrying Jesus, Wine-making Jesus, Ascension Jesus, Last Supper Jesus, Risen Jesus…and I’m not even done with the mysteries of the Rosary yet.
Probably no Buddy Jesus.
Sorry. He’s still your buddy, though.
Anyway, I could go on and on and on but I’ll spare you the list. My point is that clearly Catholics love Jesus so much that they can’t help painting, sculpting and stain-glassing him in pretty much every way imaginable. Almost all of the above representations of Jesus can be found around my parish (and most parishes). And, not to mention, every Catholic church displays the “stations of the cross,” which visually commemorate the “Passion” of our Lord.
And everything else displayed in a Catholic church, if it’s not Jesus, actually points to Jesus. No lie! Every saint or other piece of art is there because that person or thing inspires us to love Jesus more. That’s the only reason they are there. They are all like big red flashing arrows pointing to Jesus (except way more inspirational and stylish). They are all. about. Jesus. Nothing else.
Third, Jesus is present in the written (and proclaimed) Word of God at a Catholic church. You’ll hear more scripture during a Catholic Mass than in any non-catholic service (at least that I’ve been to, and I’ve been to a lot of them!). Additionally, in a Catholic church, the Bible is displayed, stored, moved, lifted up, read and treated with more reverence than I’ve ever seen anybody treat a book. It’s all done for Jesus.
Fourth, Jesus is present in the congregation in that we are His Body, the Church. And (hopefully!), He is seen and made present by each person in attendance in the living out of their faith, hope and love. This point can’t be overstated. If other people are walking into a Catholic Church and not seeing Jesus, it’s probably not their fault as much as it is ours (the Catholics in attendance). When people look at us, do they see Jesus? Do our lives point to Jesus like the lives of the Saints do? If we do all of these other things and then miss this point, then we miss the entire point. Jesus should be evidently present in each member of the congregation.
But, also, Jesus is uniquely present in the ordained priest. Every Catholic priest has been given orders and authority that have literally and directly been passed down from Jesus and his Apostles. The Apostles literally laid hands on the guy who laid hands on the guy who laid hands on the guy…..who laid hands on the priest saying the Mass. Jesus said “he who hears you, hears me” and then told them to “go!” Well, here they are. Every priest has been officially commissioned and authorized by the direct successors of Jesus. If you love Jesus, you gotta love that!
Fifth, and most profoundly, Jesus is present – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – in the Eucharist (Communion). This (a.k.a. Jesus) is the source and summit of the Catholic Faith. He is the center of every Mass. His once-and-for-all sacrifice is made present at every Mass. Every person, when entering into the sacred space, drops to a knee to worship and honor Jesus. We fulfill Jesus’ command to “Do this in memory of me.” We consume his flesh and blood, as he carefully and clearly instructs in John 6. We make a statement of communion with Him and His Bride (the Church) as the physical presence of the Savior of all Mankind literally becomes a part of our bodies and floods our souls. It’s a straight-up Jesus fest.
And all of this is celebrated in the Catholic Church every hour of every day in every nook and cranny of our planet in communion with each other.
Now how can any Jesus Freak not dig all this Jesus?! Jesus be everywhere up in the Catholic Church. Sure, you might not agree with all of that. You might think some of it’s weird or crazy. But people thought that same thing about the first Christians, too.
If you want to know where Jesus is in a Catholic church, the answer is: Everywhere.