And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means “The place of a skull”), they offered Him wine to drink, mingled with gall, but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over Him there. Mt. 27:33-36
“It was SO embarrassing,” my Presbyterian acquaintance complained to me. “I had to take my daughter over to my neighbors’ house to apologize for what she did. It was a terrible witness; they’re not Christians – he’s Buddhist and she’s Catholic.”
Oh, that’s right, she doesn’t know; she assumes that because my kids go to the local Baptist university that we are Protestant. I stand there awkwardly as she natters on. What is the right response in a case like this? A gentle clearing of the throat, followed by a soft reproach along the lines of “WE’RE Catholic”? A loud harrumph and a Reaganesque “There you Protestants go again!“? Or the pathetically ambitious approach – “I’m glad you brought that up – let me explain to you in 7,000 words or less why Catholics actually, truly, and really are Christians!” – which actually means “let’s stand here and argue all day” because she didn’t come to this conversation to get her theology straightened out by a non-Christian like me.
I adopt the cowardly approach, and let it pass.
Many Catholics are surprised when they hear that a substantial number of Protestants do not consider them to be Christians. They are surprised because of course the Catholic Church teaches us that our separated Protestant brethren ARE Christians, by virtue of their Trinitarian baptism. But in our Bible-Belt corner of the country, we routinely encounter folks who will tell you that, while there may be some Catholics who will be saved, it will be because they are “bad Catholics” – i.e., Protestants in Catholic clothing, choosing to adhere to sola fide and sola Scriptura no matter what the old geezer in Rome tries to tell them.
Pity the poor convert to Catholicism. My last denominational affiliation, before being reconciled to the Church, was Baptist. I could have become Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Nazarene, C&MA, Amish or Greek Orthodox and still have been a Christian in good standing in the eyes of my co-denominationalists. Instead, I became Catholic – because I found in the Holy Catholic Church the fullness of the Truth – and I became a “non-Christian” to many of those alongside of whom I had previously worshipped.
The threat of losing one’s social standing can be a deterrent to conversion. For my part, social standing was all I lost when I swam the Tiber. A few people decided to ignore me when I crossed their path at Wal-Mart – not exactly the Via Dolorosa. You would have to ask those who have fallen from the good graces of their parents, estranged themselves from their spouse, and/or given up their livelihood as a Protestant pastor whether loss of social standing is really all that bitter a pill to swallow. When you have been whipped and spat upon, does being stripped of your garments really pain you all that much?
I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. Ps 22:17-18
If clothes, as they say, make the man, then being unclothed is meant to unmake him. It wasn’t enough for sinful humanity to cause the Savior physical suffering – His dignity had to be stripped from Him as well. Not enough to torture His body – His humiliation was mandated for complete satisfaction. Not enough for depraved mankind to shout out, “You are NOT our God” – to that insult must be added the injury: “You are less than human!”
Not enough to cry out, “You are WRONG!” – to that opinion must be added the presumed fact: “You are NOT my brother.”
Did He huddle in shame? Did He cry out with his forebear, Adam, “I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself”? Did He shrink before the derisive shouts of the appropriately clothed mob? Was He tempted to believe their insinuation that He was a worm, and no man? He stood naked as well, remember, before those who loved Him, before St. John His beloved disciple, before St. Mary Magdalene whom He had healed, before the women who followed Him – wailing – to Golgotha, before His blessed Mother whose hands had first lovingly swaddled His nakedness all those years before. Did He try unsuccessfully to hide His degradation from those who loved Him enough to share His shame?
We see Him standing naked at the foot of the Cross. At this moment of His humiliation, Jesus transcends time. In the light of His indignity, we see not a 1st-century Jewish convict on the way to crucifixion, but rather the Son of Man in a peculiar kind of glory – the glory of His intimate association with suffering humanity, with you, with me. No humiliation, from this moment forward, will ever again be borne in an agonized solitude; there will always be that Man standing at Golgotha, willingly embracing His shame along with ours, that we might not suffer alone. And thus when I am stripped of my garments, of the dignity owed me by a brother Christian, I too find myself in a peculiar kind of glory – the glory of identification, in an infinitesimally tiny way, with the suffering Son of God who loved me enough to permit the stripping of His garments.
Jesus, You Who were stripped of Your garments, in Your mercy be with us when we are stripped of ours.
On the memorial of Blessed Hermann of Reichenau
Deo omnis gloria!
Postscript: There is a very encouraging Facebook group for those who may find themselves in this situation: Catholics Are Christians.