Over the years I have grown to appreciate tradition and symbolism so much more than ever before. When I first started at Monte Cassino Catholic School at age 9, it all seemed so foreign to me. The crossing, kneeling, various passages to recite, response readings and all the saints. It was all so different from my protestant church. I am not Catholic (although when I was 11 I considered converting to be like my friends) but I have come to embrace some of the rituals and outward, physical signs that are so evident in the Catholic faith.
On my recent European tour with the family, one stop was Cologne, Germany. There was a enormous cathedral in the centre of the city that was originally built in the 1200's! It was mostly finished by the 1500's, but due to two major world wars some parts are more modern than others. In all my travels, to all 34 countries, I have not seen another Cathedral that compares to the majesty and splendour of this place. There are no words that can describe the beauty of the building. So much detail, so much time and effort. I couldn’t help but think that people hundreds and hundreds of years ago were so dedicated and committed that this was their shine to the Lord. I know that is a sweeping statement to make, as Cathedrals were often built larger and more elaborate as a city status symbol. But the fact remains that all the work went into building a place of worship. Not a town hall, or castle, or parliament building-although those are magnificent too- but a cathedral. A building dedicated to prayer, worship, ministry.
No picture or words could truly do the cathedral justice. It is something that needs to be seen. The stain glass windows, the carvings, the pillars, the gold and gem stones everywhere. But one of the things that stood out the most to me was the candles. Candles everywhere. Little alters set up to various saints with row after row of lit and unlit candle, symbolising the prayers of the dedicated. While I am a firm believer in a direct line of communication between God and us, I am always drawn to the candles. In every cathedral or Catholic church I enter into, I always light a candle and say a prayer. I treasure everything that lighting the prayer candle involves. The giving of money to the church, the praying for something specific and lighting the candle in a outward sign of your petition to the Lord. Then it glows for hours, illuminating the physical sign of your hearts cry.
While there is a fine line between true commitment of the heart and only going through the outward motions, I do think there is something to the ritual of Catholicism. Praying through the rosary keeps dedication and focus. If you are doing something, moving your hands through the beads, concentration on what you are saying...it can keep you motivated in those times when you really want to be doing something else. I don’t say the specifics things I am suppose to, I don’t pray Hail Mary and so forth, but the concept remains and it is that idea of staying focused and dedicated that I enjoy. The sign of the cross and having to genuflect when going into a pew as a sign of reverence, those acts seems to prepare the mind and body for worship. It is an outward action that reminds one they are in a place of worship and should therefore act accordingly. And the lighting of candles, it reminds us that there is a big God out there who hears us, who loves us and who appreciates our acts of devotion and dedication, no matter how small.