I went to the Catholic cathedral in downtown Los Angeles because I wanted to buy a cross. Specifically, I wanted to buy a replica of the cross that the Pope wears. It’s kind of an unusual thing for me to do. I’m not Catholic. My grandmother is, and being raised Episcopalian, a denomination my mother lovingly called “Catholic Lite,” I’m familiar with the phenomenon of Pope-love. I’ve just never had a case of it, myself.
But then comes along Pope Francis, acting all salt-of-the-earth Christian-like, and I want to wear his cross. I want to remember him, and I like the idea that he’s out there praying for me.
I picked up the small, pewter replica, along with a prayer card for St. Francis (I’ve always loved his “Make me an instrument” prayer) and a little Pope/St. Francis reversible medal. It was a veritable Catholic shopping spree, and appropriately inexpensive.
I left the shop and headed across the courtyard to the cathedral. The building is staggeringly beautiful. It’s more modern than any other cathedral I’ve seen. The lines are unusual, as is the shape of the structure.
The sign by the door said, “Welcome to your cathedral.”
That’s nice, I thought.
The interior did exactly what a cathedral is supposed to do: it inspired in me a feeling of awe and wonder. It made me feel small, but not insignificant. It felt womb-like, peaceful and quiet. There were art students scattered about sketching and taking photographs of the architecture. Their business didn’t disturb me, and I made my way to a pew in the middle of the room.
I sat there for a long while and was still. Then I let my eyes lift upward to the large tapestries on either side of the room. These pieces of art were tall — perhaps 12 or 15 feet high — and they stretched from the back of the sanctuary to the front. Each panel of the tapestry contained depictions of figures from Christian history. It was ecumenical, too: there were Protestants and Catholics, Saints and other Christians who’d made an impact in the history of the Church.
That’s amazing craftsmanship, I thought.
Then I realized that the figures were all facing the same direction, lined up one behind the other. They were each looking forward with expressions of sorrow, hopefulness, or a deep and visible reverence.
I followed their gaze to its natural conclusion and realized that these people, these ordinary people like me, were all staring at the same thing: the simple, black iron crucifix standing on the floor behind the altar.
For a moment I stopped breathing.
All of this grandeur, all of this extraordinary art was there for the sole purpose of drawing my attention back to this one man. I found myself sitting there, and at the same time standing behind an untold number of Saints, all resting our sight on this one man.
I placed the Pope’s cross around my neck and tucked it into my shirt. I took a deep breath and let it out. I bowed my head and sat in silence.