My Own Personal Jesus

I identify as lapsed, but because I was raised (more or less) as a Roman Catholic, without even trying I always have a lot of thoughts in my head about Jesus. I know: Maybe I have extra thoughts in my head about JC because I am a Lapsed Catholic. 

Anyway, I attended Catholic school from first grade through seventh grade, and we went to mass a lot. This was OK by me because I really hate school, and a Holy Day of Obligation meant we weren’t in the classroom for a couple of hours. Instead, we were in church—which can be entertaining, or at least interesting if it’s a cool church full of statues and art and stained glass and candles. 

The stuff I really remember about church during Catholic school is when we went to some sort of little service every day during Lent, the runup to Easter (the Super Bowl of Roman Catholicism). One of the daily magic shows was this thing on Friday called Stations of the Cross, where the priest and whoever was helping serve mass would walk around the church and there’d be a prayer or a scripture reading at each of the 14 Jesus Crucifiction Tracking Stations set up around the church. 

Again, I am a Lapsed Catholic, so I had to lean on Wikipedia for the classic breakdown:

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus takes up his Cross
  3. Jesus falls for the first time
  4. Jesus meets his Mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls for the second time
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls for the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments (sometimes called the “Division of Robes”)
  11. Jesus is nailed to the Cross
  12. Jesus dies on the Cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

I went to three different Catholic Schools because they kept closing on account of a dwindling population in my city. Not every church had a good setup, because good set-ups (and so much more)  are all about the power of the Collection Plate at any particular parish. Some of the church Stations were just little paintings or plaques, but the last Catholic school I went to had been crazy-rich at one point, and they had this insane church building with a massive, brutal green-glass spire (more like a giant turret) which has since been replaced by metal because it was too expensive to maintain. Inside is a museum’s worth of marble sculptures of saints and angels and putti, including fantastic bas-relief installations built into the walls surrounding the pews. I’m not talking Low Relief, I’m talking almost complete freestanding sculptures, the High Relief. Most High, even, in my memory, and these are the Stations of the Cross. 

So the priest and whoever would stop at each Station, and we’d always be standing and turning to face wherever they were. I always really felt it at “Jesus falls for the third time”: Man, he got beat, then he had to drag his own instrument of death to the crucifixion spot, and on the way he falls because he’s exhausted, and then he falls again, and then he falls a third time. Ugh! And he knew it was gonna happen, he knew he was gonna suffer and be put to death as part of his Father’s plan. 

I can’t speak for other religions or other forms of Christianity, but this is the whole Catholic trip, holding paradoxical ideas in your head. Even the head honcho had to do it, in the form of a human being, sent by his so-called Father, who is part of a mysterious Tripartite God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The straight-up and completely acknowledged Holy Mystery—the Mystery of Faith! We never learned anything about the Holy Spirit.Maybe it’s like Xenu and you only get that Knowledge when you are in deep. I don’t know, I am a Lapsed Catholic, to which I will add I was a bad Catholic—like, I was bad at being Catholic– and that’s not just the relentlessly confessional Catholic Guilt thing, it’s an earnest self-evaluation of my life in this particular Faith, and I’m OK with it, because I know Jesus would forgive me. 

Based on everything I learned, Jesus was a cool dude. He helped people, he didn’t approve of greedy people or bullies, and he always took the side of the weak and oppressed. It’s why I dig the Statue of Liberty, with the whole thing about how we (as in U.S.) are the ones who accept the huddled masses and wretched refuse, the people nobody cares about, who have no place to go. It’s very Jesus to do so!

I admire Jesus, and I often see the suffering and affliction in this world and try to be like JC and help. Although I know I could never handle myself the way he did, stepping up to the Power Structure and taking one for the team—us—with the idea we could learn to be better to each other, even though we the people were the ones who put him up on that cross, until he questioned his Holy Father for leaving him there, and then died his horrible death. Catholic guilt! Which brings me to Bela Lugosi.

Bela Lugosi was an accomplished European stage actor who went on to silent movies in the U.S. and then starred in a huge sound picture, Dracula. He’s basically the ur-Dracula; nobody can get away from the character the way he played it. There’s a muppet based on him. Martin Landau gave the greatest performance of his career channeling Bela in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood

The Dracula role—combined with his pronounced Hungarian accent—typecast Bela, so he never really got to where he wanted to go careerwise. And because of chronic sciatica and the prevailing medical wisdom of the time, he got hooked on opiates. There was a lot of humiliation and suffering in his life. I don’t think he was trying to change the world, but you can certainly see where I’m going here, and this post I saw by a professional digital retoucher on Twitter the other day really nails it:

Jesus will always be with me, and now, I have accepted Bela Lugosi into my heart as My Own Personal Jesus. Thank you.

Joe MacLeod is a once and future gameshow contestant, creative director of Hmm Weekly, and former creative director of the Baltimore City Paper.