As a Catholic child, I had always wondered what was so good about Good Friday.
There was this idea floating around our church that the good came from the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins on one particularly good (for us) Good Friday 1,977 years ago, but personally, I didn't think He would have considered a day of insults, flogging, crucifixion, and death one of His better days.
Maybe it was just me. Even as a born-and-raised Catholic, I had a hard time getting my head around the belief that the Father (the bearded man who floated on clouds and got mad from time to time), the Son (the Good Cop to His Father's Bad Cop), and the Holy Spirit (never, ever understood that one) were all the same God. They were three closely related, but distinct personalities. Jesus was the fun one. The one who could do magic tricks. He, more than anyone else of his day, was handy to have around at parties.
My favorite magic trick of all was the Transubstantiation, wherein little wafers of bread were, through sheer belief and the incantations of our priest, turned into the Body of Christ.
I believed in it whole-heartedly as a boy. The idea filled me with wonder and awe. The hovering of our pastor's hands, the quivering of his shaky, Irish voice, and the bells that rang out-- the sound of which I thought came from heaven itself-- always gave me goose bumps. And I was jealous of my brother and sister for being old enough to participate in this weekly miracle.
When preparing myself for the sacrament of Holy Communion, I would practice receiving His body by making little communion wafers at home by taking white sandwich bread, cutting the crusts off, rolling the bits into spheres, and then flattening them out with my fingers while I watched television.
During commercial breaks, I would run through the ritual as best I could by solemnly placing a wafer on the tip of my tongue, nodding gently, and then make a little sign of the cross. Then I would sit through whatever after-school special I was watching at the time and let the bit of bread dissolve on my tongue. One never, ever chewed on Him.
I was a third child-- I was left to create my own forms of entertainment.
When I was finally ready to join the ranks of Communion-receiving parishoners at the age of seven, I was called upon to first cleanse myself of sin by confessing all the terrible things I had done in my life to a priest. Lying, talking back to my parents, punching my stuffed animals-- all the usual seven year-old evils-- were admitted to and the same, shaky Irish voice spoke out from behind an ornate metal screen told me to say three Hail Marys and all would be forgiven. I did as I was told, then went outside to test out my newly-unburdened soul. It felt lighter. I jumped up and down several times on the blacktop near the tetherball court outside the church. I was convinced that the lightness of my soul allowed me to jump several inches higher than I had ever jumped before.
When I approached the altar to receive my first real Holy Communion, I was nervous, but very glad of my home practice. Would the Eucharist fall off my tongue and onto the floor? What would happen then? Would I accidentally lick the priests hand? What would Christ's body filling my own feel like? I'd watched the grown ups around me after they'd received Him and nothing much seemed to happen. In fact, most of them just looked rather bored. How, I wondered, could anyone look bored after receiving the body of Christ into them?
Fortunately, nothing went wrong. The wafer hit the tip of my tongue and I drew it into my mouth much in the same way a frog might capture a passing fly. It was faintly powdery-- more like a rice cake than a piece of the Son of God. I had somehow imagined it would take on the some Everlasting Gobstopper-like ability to taste like something other than it was. But I had no time to be disappointed-- I was too filled with awe. And God.
When I got back to my pew at the front of the church with the other boys dressed exactly like me and the girls who were clothed in white mini-gowns and veils and looked disturbingly like child brides, I held that Communion wafer on my tongue and looked up at the giant crucifix hanging behind the altar. I wondered which part of Jesus I was eating. I thought it must have been from the vicinity of his chest, since the wafer was white. The next time I thought I might ask for a bit of thigh or drumstick. And then I thought better of it.
The weekly ritual of Holy Communion went well for a while, until small cracks appeared in the fiber of my Catholic faith. One morning, sitting closer to the altar than usual and off to the side, I discovered that, when the pastor was acting out the Transubstantiation and invoking Christ's words "Do this in memory of me," the small, chiming bells that I thought came from heaven actually came from an altar boy who was ringing them discretely in front of himself. I was, believe it or not, shattered. Crack.
A little while later came the phone call to my mother from my catechism teacher who was concerned that I was asking too many questions about Mary Magdalene. And when I argued that it didn't make sense that a baby who died at birth and did not receive the sacrament of baptism would never make it into heaven, I got mad and argued, which, apparently, one was not allowed to do. Double crack.
And, finally, when preparing for my confirmation as an adult in the eyes of the church at the age of fourteen, I sat through a face-to-face confession with Father Robert Foley, who upon hearing my sin of reading adult magazines, moved his chair closer to mine, placed his hand on my shoulder and asked me how much I enjoyed them in a quiet, but oddly excited voice. When he suggested he would invite himself over for dinner in the near future, I explained to him that his idea would probably not fly with my mother, and promptly left.
I had never much cared for Father Foley. He had replaced my favorite priest, Father Siegfried Widera-- a beer-swilling, Harley Davidson-riding, kid-magnet-- the one who made me want to be an altar boy (which wasn't allowed, since I did not go to Catholic school)-- who disappeared from our parish without a word. Only later did I learn that, upon his death, The Los Angeles Times referred to him as "one of the most wanted sex-crime fugitives in the Western Hemisphere."
So much for the cleansing power of confession. It was to be my last.
After my confirmation was completed, my mother knocked on my door one Sunday morning and said, "Okay, you're officially an adult in the eyes of the church so you can make your own decision: You can either get up and go to church or you can just stay here and sleep in."
For some reason, sleeping in sounded infinitely safer.
The only time I enter Catholic churches these days is for weddings and funerals or, when traveling, as a cathedral-visiting tourist. I might sit through a mass out of respect for the dead or newly-wedded, but I never take Holy Communion anymore. It just somehow feels wrong to do so.
And yet, I sometimes miss it. I miss those days of simple, childish faith when all I had to do was believe in something strongly enough and everything would be okay. That God would take care of me. These days, my faith is heavily conflicted at best. I can't say it's entirely lost, I've just cut out the middle man, as it were. It just seems like a much less dangerous path.
Christ on a Cracker
According to the Urban Dictionary, the term "Christ on a Cracker" is a shortened version of "Jesus Christ on a Cracker"-- a term used to express surprise, shock, disgust, or even awe.
Before anyone starts telling me I am sacrilegious, I don't think I am. I am just currently anti-Church. I rather like Jesus. A lot.
It's just that, when my friend Daryl asked me a few weeks ago what my next post topic would be, I jokingly told her I was developing a recipe for Christ on a cracker. And she has held me to it, so this is for her.
There isn't any particular recipe, I just thought that cheese was a natural for thin slicing and skin-and-halo tone, black olives are the go-to eye makers, and that pastrami seemed appropriate, since it pairs well with cheese and olives and makes for easy shredding to create a tousled-look for hair.
Experiment with your own versions this Easter.
I have also taken into account those of you who may still feel it is somehow wrong to create edible images of Jesus. Just because I grew up a Catholic and got rather used to eating Him on a weekly basis doesn't mean that you feel the same way. I understand.
So, in that light, I have also created the less-controversial personality-on-a-cracker. I am calling it Crist on a Cracker, in honor of Judith Crist, one of the sharpest film critics of any generation-- the one who panned within one brief appearance on the Today show in 1965 both The Greatest Story Ever Told ("A kind of dime-store holy picture) and The Sound of Music (she found the children "strictly loathsome").
Now that, to some, is sacrilege.