Cathedrals and Questions

Existential thoughts from Notre Dame

Ornate wrinkles tumble down wise, old walls near the cathedral’s core, quietly dispensing peace to those who stop to listen. I join them for a moment, in yet another attempt to reconcile my Catholic upbringing with my distaste for corruption and hypocrisy.

As the Canon-clicking hordes push by to get their next forgettable photo, I concentrate on the history engrained in the ancient stone before me: the conflicts of men, the cries of the persecuted, the prayers of lost souls, and the questions of hesitant believers. Many a soaring sermon has been echoed from these damp facades, but it’s the deeper, unspoken thoughts of the masses that have been absorbed by the mortar that binds the building blocks of faith.

Erected by men of Earth to honor an unseen God, these immense cathedrals merely reflect the enormity of man’s inner struggle with the meaning of our existence and the validity of our importance. Towers stretch heavenward, in an attempt to close the gap, and stained glass reinforces messages while coloring our perception. Candles flicker with hope, illuminating altars shrouded in our fear of death. High and mighty men, chosen men, wrapped in extravagant robes, preach from these pulpits and assume stewardship of our holy relations. Those in the pews below relinquish their power in the dutiful pursuit of higher aspirations.

Rituals and recitations, incense and indoctrinations, crosses and confessions, hymns and hallelujahs, gold and glitter, Latin and lace, body and blood, water and wine. All serve their purpose.

The entire masquerade is designed to make us feel small and unworthy, which allows the institution of Catholicism to maintain its control. With little coercion, we follow our shepherds in mass homage, hoping to one day find a seat at the eternal feasting table. We listen to tales of unknown men in far away lands, performing feats too astounding to fathom with our feeble minds. We kneel to the story and bow to the teller.

In spite of the lavish spectacle, God often remains unreachable, and we are left to faith, that noble ideal of believing in what we cannot see or touch or prove with our human faculties. Faith, we are told, is the rock upon which our salvation is built, but when I gaze across the walls of this gold-laden temple, I do not see deliverance. I see blood and sweat and suffering in every stone. Toiling masses constructing mammoth idols to a God who empowers the ordained while simultaneously condemning the flock to an endless process of proving their worthiness.

I admire believers and envy their peace of mind, but faith is not my rock. What lies beyond my five senses and the collective abilities of our human race is unknown to me and remains outside my realm of understanding. I have my own personal beliefs and rationalizations, but I also know them to be guesswork, and I do not thrust them upon another.

Acknowledging my ignorance, however, I’ve listened to the self-proclaimed enlightenment of other men, from different origins, religions and beliefs, to understand many perspectives, but in the end I must shape my own spirituality. I let my stream of consciousness run free, unrestrained by societal customs, divine doctrines and conformist culture. Only then can I choose my own path.

In this way, I am a lone traveler in my journey to comprehend my blip on the screen. I try to have awareness of my higher self, of my eternal possibilities, but I cannot control them entirely. Maybe one day this quandary will prove to be my inner passageway back to faith.

When my end arrives, I may be granted knowledge, or experience rebirth, or I may merely cease to exist, my flame of importance extinguished, having never deciphered the reason for my being. In the meantime, I will occasionally revisit my questions of faith, but for now, I believe my destiny will be fulfilled without guided worship within these dark, oppressive walls.

Wading upstream toward the exit, I stop to take a close-up of a giant stone block, and deem it a selfie. I too am simply one of the ornate wrinkles in the passage of time.

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Observer. Thinker. Mindful Human.

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