At no time of the year, is seems, is the distinction between Catholic and Evangelical more apparent here in Guatemala than during Holy Week and Easter. This is my fifth year to spend Holy Week here in Antigua (2 as a visitor, 3 living here), where the largest Catholic celebration in the world of Lent and Easter takes place. Each year, I feel God teaches me more about Him and His truth through the experience.
The first year I have to admit I was a bit “weirded out” by the statues. I was not used to seeing actual hair and elegant cloth robes on a statue. It was creepy, as were some of the “floats” they carried.
For a number of years, my reaction to the processions was annoyance. The streets become parking lots, and the sidewalks become impassable in some areas. The vendors hawking their wares seem to make a mockery of anything religious about the celebrations.
The past two years, God has been challenging me more personally to come closer to Him during the processions. To intercede for this country, but in a different way than ever before.
Last year, God showed me who the processions can be used to “teach” the Passion of Christ to an illiterate people, in much the same way the Morality Plays taught during the Middle Ages. Not an all together bad thing. He also taught me to build on what folks experience in the processions to spark discussions about the truth of the Gospel. “What did you think of the procession?” is much less threatening to locals and tourists alike than, “Do you know if you are going to heaven if you die tonight?” What a challenge to speak the truth in love to people who are here only to experience the crowds and the pageantry.
This year, God has used the Guatemalan Lenten and Easter traditions to contrast the country where I serve as a missionary with the country that has sent me. And my heart has grieved more for the US than for Guatemala this season.
While here there is much misunderstanding and confusion, even distortion of the truth, Guatemala consistently acknowledges God and his central role in our lives. Jesus is not an offensive word here, but treasured. Government offices display Nativity scenes, and in an number of offices, under the portrait of the chief of that division, I have seen their favorite Bible verse imprinted as their “mission statement.” Schools here begin their parent meetings and graduations with prayer; pastors are often the speakers. I can’t help but contrast this with what is going on the in US, not only in terms of morality, but even more in light of the back seat into which we have pushed God.
Do the Catholics here have some weird and even mixed up theology? You bet you! But do they love Jesus and the price He paid for our salvation? Many of them do. Have I talked with Evangelicals who have mixed up theology? Surely. More sadly, I have talked to many who have correct theology but little passion for Jesus or the Gospel He brings. That saddens me even more.
Many missionaries (and Evangelicals in the US, too) condemn the Catholic world view, often without ever having directly talked with a Catholic to learn what they believe. (I had a visitor, Kathleen, down the first week of Lent, and she is a devoted Christ follower who happens to be Catholic, and wanted to attend mass, so I went with her. I heard one of the best homilies (sermons) explaining the true role of ritual in the Catholic Church, and admonishing the congregation that if their hearts were not united with Jesus, all their actions during Lent were worthless. I was blessed by this teaching, and more than a little surprised to hear it preached from a Catholic pulpit, but also overjoyed that Christ was being lifted up so clearly.)
And Catholics cannot understand why we do not love and cherish their “Papa” (Pope) as head of the church. We emphasize the differences, and make a mockery of Jesus’ Last Supper prayer that “all may be one.”
In the midst of so much Facebook conflict about the new Papa Francisco (Pope Francis) I was feeling guilty about how much I was liking everything I was reading about the type of man Francis I is. Then, a pastor friend posted this link What the New Pope Means for Evangelicals, and my heart rejoiced that two internationally known men of God, Pope Francis and Luis Palau, could “keep the main thing the main thing” and work side by side to celebrate Jesus and serve His people.
On a different note, I have to admit, I was very interested by all the controversy, again on Facebook, about the attempt to eliminate the word Easter from the secular celebration. I much prefer Resurrection Sunday anyway. Have you ever researched the origin of the word Easter? It’s an interesting read if you do. No way is it the same as Christmas, which comes from Christ’s Mass, and I think it would be good for our kids to get baskets of candy from the "Springtime Bunny”, and put to rest the idea that bunnies and eggs really have anything to do with the Resurrection of Jesus. (For another blog: this is syncretism—mixing Christian and pagan beliefs and traditions—done American style.)
Well, if you’ve managed to wade through all this rambling, I can only assume that you share with me Jesus’ desire that “all may be one.” Let’s pray together for this unity, and work together to make it a reality. To God be the Glory!