I’ve been musing a lot lately on the old insistence that Catholics don’t have a “personal relationship with Jesus”. Heh. There’s a wonderful picture at the Dayton Art Institute of a widow praying, which gives that the lie. Since that picture’s not online yet, I’ll show you another DAI work instead, demonstrating the same thing.
In fact, a personal relationship with Jesus is precisely why we have the religious practices that many non-Catholics find icky and idolatrous. Obviously, some people don’t want us to get that personal!
Since it’s Holy Week, the obvious place to begin is devotion to Christ, and Him crucified. Most people begin to take this stuff personally while looking at a crucifix, and realizing the price Jesus paid for everyone and for every individual. The more early Christian sites we examine, the more early Christian depictions of the crucifixion we find. In every age, we remind each other of what He came to earth to do.
Some people like to focus on bits and pieces of the scene, so it’s inevitable that popular devotion would follow this lead. During the Middle Ages, devotion to the Five Wounds of Christ was very big. People also had devotion to the Instruments of the Passion. Obviously, this would include the precious splinters of the True Cross that St. Helena, Constantine’s mother, dug up. But she also found nails, and a good few other reputed relics are scattered throughout the world: thorns from the crown of thorns, the centurion’s spear, and so on. However, devotion to the Instruments was for most people a mental thing; they meditated upon them and their strange holiness, not expecting ever to see them. There are also relics of Christ’s face and body: the Shroud of Turin, reputed to be Christ’s graveclothes, and the Holy Face, reputed to be the cloth which wiped Christ’s face.
But there are other important points in Christ’s life. Many people are devoted to Christ as an infant or a toddler. St. Ita and St. Anthony of Padua are only two of the many saints granted visions of holding the Christ Child in their arms. Statues of Baby Jesus are also very popular, and mysticism also clusters around these images. The crowned and gowned Infant of Prague is an example of this, as is every Nativity scene. The Philippines were allegedly evangelized by the Santo Nino de Cebu. Of course, many devotions focus on visualizing scenes from the life of Christ — notably, the Rosary, and some of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.
It’s a bit harder to have devotion toward the Resurrected Christ, because thoughts of Him tend naturally to lead to thoughts of Christ the Judge. (Well, not for some people. But we’re not all as optimistic as the folks who hang resurrectifixes and do liturgical dances. Perhaps they have a point, though, and it does count as a popular devotion because they’re people.) Obviously, we all want the Last Judgment to come and peace and justice to flow like rivers, but it takes a saint not to be a bit scared by it. Honesty is apt to lead one to reflect that if Justice is covering the earth, He’s probably not going to like some of one’s own behavior.
Still, we do have Easter, the fifty days after it, and a whole load of holy pictures of the resurrected Christ and Christ the King in pretty much every Catholic Church. The Divine Mercy devotion focuses on the image of Christ in glory, also.
One of the best devotions is the simplest. Countless people have practiced seeing Christ in every person they meet, particularly in the poor — and treating each person accordingly. This is a straight road to holiness, for anyone who can do it.
People also focus on aspects of Jesus. Images of His Sacred Heart, crowned with thorns, and representing both Christ’s kindness and suffering, are very common. After the canonization of its promoter, St. Faustina, devotion to Christ’s Divine Mercy has increased, along with recitations of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the display of images of rays of Divine Mercy streaming from His glorified Body. Devotion to Jesus’ Holy Name is scriptural, of course. Many Holy Name devotees also say prayers for those who use God’s Name in vain.
Probably the most intense devotion is that directed toward Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. This is practiced during Mass, of course, and particularly while receiving the Eucharist — but also during Divine Adoration or Benediction. There’s no doubt that this is the most meaningful devotion. He’s right there in front of you, not just as the invisible God, but in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Evangelical Protestants have just as creative a “pious imagination” as Catholics do, when it comes to finding new ways to worship God. The “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets are a perfect example. Of course, a Catholic would have been more likely to get the bracelet blessed by a priest so it’d be a sacramental, but the principle of the thing is much the same as that of a holy card or medal.
Basically, then, this is not all that strange. It’s a lot easier to live it than explain it.
(If you don’t really get this devotion thing, neither did one of my Constant Readers. Not a good explainer, me. So I’ve posted more about popular devotions here, which will hopefully make more sense.)