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Beatification: At the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus in Prague

In my forty-plus years of having an Oklahoma connection—and many more years, spiritually, having an even tighter Catholic connection—I’ve never pulled the car over to see the religious ecstasy that this holy infant can supposedly inspire; I like to say it was out of consecrated fear, which sounds better than the truth, which, honestly, is apostolic laziness.

However, looking for the most monotheistic-inspired altered states of human vulnerability as of late, a friend and I took a pilgrimage to the shrine last weekend, just to bask in the statuesque toddler’s divine greatness, behind the heavy red doors of the supposedly protective dwelling of the Lord.

I’ve come to realize I have distinct issues with the Catholic Church—the same issues where I decidedly gave myself over to that Plaza District-inspired cult for five long years of profane healing. And while that’s a story for another time, I’ll admit that I started going back to Catholicism a few months ago, specifically to the church within walking distance of me, wholehearted at first.

Over the next few weeks, however, I came to the knowledge that the Priest and his minions weren’t interested in saving souls—in saving my soul—as much as saving the roof of the place, or very earthly things that his homily was often dedicated to. That, and the recent findings of numerous murdered Indigenous children in Canada and beyond, has me drowning in absolute doubt as to mankind’s connection to the supreme being...

I wouldn’t say I’ve given up on God, but I feel that I have given up on churches in general. That brings us to the Infant Jesus of Prague, on a hot Sunday afternoon.

When we got there, there was a truck or two, with different Latinx families walking the grounds, enjoying the statues and such. I will admit, that when in surroundings like this, I’m taken back to South Texas, back to attending mass with my blessed Abuela. It was a momentarily comforting thought; I started to realize that what made that piece of innocent faith so important when I was a small child was that I was with my true family, one that had actual love for me.

But now…nothing.

As I walked around the immaculate building, viewing the torture-filled stations of the cross, enclosed statues of the infant and other loose trinkets of Catholicism that, living in the city, gave me a few moments of religious clarity. I took a family picture for one of the groups of Mexicans, uttering my broken Spanish to them and their broken English to me.

I walked to the front, to the red door of the church. I pulled the handle, fully prepared to view this blessed holy trinket and drop to my knees—or float to the ceiling—in my own inspired form of religious fits…only the door was locked. I could vaguely see the Infant Child on a pedestal inside.

As I stood there, another family came and I told them—the father tried and when it wouldn’t open, looked brokenhearted. I could feel the family’s pain, and understand their hurt; they have given so much of their lives to this beloved specter of celestial well-being that, when denied it, they walk away feeling as though they’ve done something wrong, their heads down as they returned to their oversized GMC truck.

It occurred to me at that moment, however, that God isn’t in a book, a statue, and especially a building—those are just representations of Him. What I hold dear—what I truly believe—is always in me and nothing can take that away, be it a false priest or damnable prophet taking the Bible out of context in a glorious building or a crumbling façade, taking it out on me.

It’s what I believe that matters, not what other people want me to believe, and that’s been the hardest lesson to learn. Today, I feel, I was finally touched by the firm finger of the Holy Ghost to actually realize it, after forty-some years of trying to mercilessly find it.

As we were pulling out of the St. Wenceslaus parking lot, I laughed loudly; across the street was the Red Devil Carwash, eternally doing battle for the sparkling souls of Prague forever and ever, or, given these times, until they go out of business. Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78

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