John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
There are two images that drew me to the Catholic Church: the Eucharist and the Crucifix. They are separate, but in essence, the same. The Body of Christ, lifted up before all of man.
I wasn’t always drawn to this imagery. In fact, I was taught to loathe it.
Let me explain. In my early 20’s, I found myself in a mire of sin – lust and drunkenness mostly – and ended up at a non-denominational church at the suggestion of someone God had (supposedly) placed in my path. This was my first lesson in so-called “divine appointments.” This church wasn’t just non-denominational. It brazenly referred to itself as a “Spirit-filled, charismatic, holy-roller, New Testament believing, faith-walking, Bible-believing, born-again, non-denominational church.” No shortage of adjectives could adequately describe the mighty power of God moving through this church. It was so holy, it was the self-appointed “city on a hill” for the area, and obviously the last and final word of judgement on all things religious in our state. Perhaps for all of New England.
This church taught me that the Catholic Church was basically the Whore of Babylon, the Pope was the Anti-Christ, and all Catholics were going to hell. But I had many Catholic friends, and had gone to Catholic mass. I was intrigued by the mystery surrounding the priest as he held up the host, and words he uttered, and that somehow when he said “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world…” he meant it. That there was power in those words. That somehow you could identify with something much greater than yourself, all while gazing on a juxtaposition of the host and the crucifix.
I was confused. My non-denominational church taught that Jesus has already taken away my sins once and for all on the cross, and that there was no body on the cross because He had already risen from the dead, and that we were to celebrate a risen Savior, not a suffering one. They were all saved, and so they’d gotten their lives together. They testified on a weekly basis about being set free from their lusts, their alcohol and drug addictions, their eating disorders, and “Praise Jesus,” they found a new life in Christ and were never going back to their old ways.
So why was I still in my old ways? Sin seemed a part of me, no different than the skin that held me together. Scriptures like “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old things are passed away,” always caused me great distress. The clean-cut, polished-and-shiny church always made me feel I was bad. After all, we were a hospital for sinners, but at this church, we were told we needed to get well. And quickly. There was a mission for us to undertake, and God needed only the healthiest of soldiers.
But the Lamb of God wasn’t taking away my sin, and I was probably to blame. I must have loved my sin too much. I was told I needed to work harder and focus more on Christ, but when I looked around the church, there was no Christ. Not on the cross, not in the imagery (that was idolatry), and seldom in the hearts of the people who were supposed to minister to me.
I didn’t last long there. My already wounded heart was being more and more torn open. I was bleeding internally and didn’t know if anything could save me. When I left, there was a type of “shunning”– if people from church saw me in public, they wouldn’t talk to me. I didn’t know where to go.
I was a victim of spiritual rape, bad theology, and holy neglect.
When I found the Catholic Church, they didn’t greet me with open arms and smiling faces, but with a theology that kept me coming back. Because every time I go, I bow my head, strike my chest, and acknowledge that I am a publican and a sinner. I don’t have to hide it. I can gaze in wonder when the host is raised and I am told to “Behold.” I can receive the Eucharist with the other walking wounded.
Most importantly, I can admit that the Christ who lives in me still bleeds. Christ still suffers with me, even if I hold on to all the sins of the world.
John Robinson is an administrator of the online Sick Pilgrim community and a Krav Maga and kickboxing instructor in Central Florida. He is a Boston sports fan, heavy metal enthusiast, tattoo aficionado, and knows that the only thing that goes on a PB&J is crunchy Jif and strawberry jelly.