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Monday, January 18, 2016

My Crazy Catholic Cabinet

I have an old-fashion country china cabinet in a small room adjacent our kitchen that my husband has named the "Crazy Catholic Cabinet".    You see, we love garage sales!   Sadly, my husband and I enjoy going to the garages of complete strangers, rummaging through their junk and then paying them money to take their junk back to our house.       I think it’s the thrill of the hunt.   My husband is proud as a peacock when he can purchase a shoe box full of nuts and bolts for fifty cents.   Me, on the other hand always have one eye open for Catholic art.     I’m not talking about a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci; I’m talking about carelessly discarded statues of the Blessed Virgin or Saints, religious Icons, crucifixes and such.       To me, there is something sacrilegious about selling Mary for a quarter out of a garage.    My husband understands that if there is something Catholic for sale, we’re bringing it home.  

As I look upon my collection, I realize it is, in fact, one Crazy Catholic Cabinet!  If you survey my explosion of faith, you’ll  catch a glimpse of personal photographs scattered sporadically throughout my chaos.     In 2002, during a manic episode, I loaded my children in my car and drove from Ft. Lauderdale back to Ohio with just the clothes on our back.   We lost everything, but what I regret most was the loss of our photo albums.    All the memories captured on film of my babies, my mom, memories of my High School years, everything lost.   This is why I cherish my family pictures today.  Every picture tells a story so I choose carefully the images I share.   I display these pictures to spark curiosity and conversation.  I want someone to ask me, “Who is this person and why are they important to you?”        How fitting it is that I should have these precious snapshots among my statues and icons of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints.  

Just as my personal photos bring to mind special memories,  my statues, and religious artifacts are reminders of the “superheroes” of our Catholic faith, those extraordinary human beings who lived and sometimes died for our Lord.     When I returned to the Church in 2007, I had misconceptions about the role Saints played in our faith.    I thought Catholic Saints had lost their relevance in today’s society.   What could a person who lived six hundred years ago, possibly understand about life today?  Didn’t Saints live pure, chaste, lives and spend all their days doing good deeds and praying?  Then I learned an important truth; every Saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.    Does that mean it’s possible for anyone to become a Saint? 

When I began facilitating RCIA sessions I had no clue how to broach the subject of Catholic Saints.    I was one of those Catholics that knew we did certain things but didn’t know why we did them.     All I knew about Saints was that we had a slew of them, and non-Catholics didn’t like our statues.     How was I to explain something I didn’t understand myself?     So, I began to read everything I could find about Saints and I made some amazing discoveries.   I found we have modern day saints; they aren’t all from the dark ages, and these people were just as flawed as we are today.    I learned that our Catholic Icons and Statues are teaching tools.   They are artistic images of members of our spiritual family, and every fine detail of an Icon or statue tells a unique story.   

One of the Saints that touched my heart most was Edith Stein.   Edith’s life story revealed to me that our Catholic Faith celebrates, supports and empowers women.  It also affirmed that it’s okay to question the meaning of life and existence of God.  St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) a Patron Saints of Europe was born in 1891 in Breslau, Germany to a devout Jewish family.  In her teens, Edith doubted the existence of God and proclaimed herself an Atheist.   She was one of the first women admitted to university studies in Germany receiving her doctorate in Philosophy in 1916.   Being a celebrated philosopher, Edith was continually searching for the eternal truth.   While vacationing with friends, she was unable to sleep one night and stumbled upon the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila.   She stayed up the entire night reading this book and after she was finished proclaimed “This is the Truth!”     Edith Stein converted to Catholicism and was baptized into the Church in 1922.   

Although she desired to enter the Convent of Carmel, out of respect for her mother, she postponed her decision.  Edith’s Conversion devastated her mother.    She viewed her conversion to Christianity as a betrayal of her Jewish heritage.   Her mother was quoted as saying, “Why did you have to get to know him (Jesus Christ)?  He was a good man—I’m not saying anything against him. But why did he have to go and make himself God?    Edith became a teacher in the Catholic Schools and the leading voice of the Catholic Women’s Movement lecturing throughout all of Germany.    At the age of forty-two she entered the Carmel Convent of Cologne and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a combination of two very important Catholic “Superheroes”, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John the Cross.   Edith’s sister, Rosa, joined the order shortly after their mother’s death.

After the Kristallnacht in November of 1938, the Carmel sister of Cologne feared for Edith’s life and she for theirs as harboring Jews, even Jewish Converts was punishable by death under Nazi regime.   Edith and her sister Rosa sought sanctuary in a Carmel Convent in the Netherlands.    After a Dutch Bishop spoke out about the anti-Semitisms of the Nazi’s, the Gestapo immediately began arresting all Roman Catholic Jews.       Edith and her sister Rosa were arrested and transported to Auschwitz.  Before her death, Edith continued to be the face of Christ to everyone she encountered.  “It is said that she showed great courage and remarkable strength on her journey to Auschwitz.   She would help feed and bath the children whose mothers had given up hope.   She also expressed a willingness to offer herself along with the sacrifice of Christ for the sake of her people, the Jews and also for the sake of her persecutors.”   Within a week after their arrival at Auschwitz, Edith and her sister Rosa were put to death in gas chambers and their bodies buried in an unmarked mass grave.

There have been several icons painted of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and I've attached a copy of an icon by artist Lu Bro.   This image tells the story of Edith Stein.    Almost immediately your eyes are drawn to  the yellow star of David painted on her chest symbolizing both her Jewish Heritage and the persecution suffered during the Holocaust.    She is clothed in the traditional garb of a Carmelite nun signifying her religious vows and commitment to our Lord.   The book she is holding indicates her vocation as a teacher and author.  The most haunting artistic expression of this icon is the vine of roses intertwined with barbed wire.    This unforgettable image symbolizes her martyrdom at Auschwitz.     From this single visual tool, I can tell you about the life of this remarkable Christian woman.

Just as we have a communion of Catholic Saints, I have a communion of earthly Saints who have been instrumental in shaping my spiritual life.   The pictures I have on my Crazy Catholic Cabinet are of my personal Saints.   On my shelf, I have a favorite photograph of my mother.   In the photo, she is sitting at her desk at work with her hands perched on her keyboard.  Her eyes are a soulful dark brown reminding me of the love and compassion she had for everyone with whom she came in contact.   Her beautiful bright smile can still bring me joy on my most miserable day and reminds me of her welcoming nature.  She judged no one and welcomed everyone.      A professional photographer didn't take this picture.   A co-worker popped his head in my mom's office and snapped the picture unexpectedly, but it captures the essence of who she was.     When I see this “icon” of my mother, I'm reminded of the sacrifice she made working full-time to help support her family.   Every time I see that picture, I am mindful of the love she had for her children and the lives she touched working in the city school system.   It reminds me of her faithfulness to God and the Church and beckons me to follow in her footsteps as a woman of faith.   

Do I worship the picture of my mother?  Absolutely not!   But I do treasure it and hold it in high regard.    Do I sometimes look up to the heaven’s and say, “Mom, I’m struggling, please ask God to help me out today”?   You betcha!          You see I’m certain my Mom is in heaven communing with our Lord, and I have faith she intercedes on behalf of her little girl.  My Facebook newsfeed overflows daily with prayer requests from friends and family.    If I can ask ordinary people on earth to intercede for me for some trial or tribulation in my life, it seems only natural that I would enlist the prayers of Saints in heaven.  I’m sure, some might find my way of thinking too childlike or simple.    I’m not too big on “theological” explanations, so this is my way of making sense of it all.  

So as time goes on, I will continue to ask St. Anthony for help when something is lost, St. Dymphna when I’m struggling with Anxiety and my mother when I need a little divine intervention.   I also will continue to add icons, statues and crucifixes to my Crazy Catholic Cabinet and unique photographs of loved ones who have passed and I know I am truly blessed to have my own personal Communion of Saints.

Sources: retrieved January 15, 2016 retrieved January 15, 2016 
Global Catholic Network retrieved January 15, 2016 retrieved January 15, 2016

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