Our mother, Frances Eckert Frei, was Catholic all of her life. She, and us as a family, went to Sunday mass, plus all of the “holy days of obligation”. She followed all the rules and checked all the boxes. She made sure that her kids followed the rules too. When one of my older brothers expressed a little doubt (this I learned much later) she said “Well you had better do it, just to be sure”. Outside of church and Catholic school, our lives seemed fairly secular. Spiritual Holy days were the exception.
‘Good Friday’ was one of the religious Holidays that my mom reverently observed. This is the solemn celebration, or perhaps observance is a better way to put it, two days before Easter, when Jesus had to carry, and then be put to the cross. On this day, the devout will ‘do the stations of the Cross’. People move sequentially from one to the next, as a group, along the fourteen stations, each of which is a depiction of a point between his condemnation and death. People read the description of that incident and say a prayer. Every catholic church has small depictions of each of the stations placed around the church for this lenton event.
Extra power is lent to certain rituals and happenings when life is more lonely and somewhat difficult. My mother’s Father died when she was young and she then grew up in a rural setting with just her and my grandmother. Money was tight, and they were rather isolated. My mother did not complain that it was a particularly bad childhood, but she did cling to the good parts dearly. On Good Friday, my grandmother took my mother to different trees, that were serving as stand ins for the thirteen stations.
My childhood was not particularly isolated or poor, but on Good Friday, our mother gathered us kids, walked us around the woods, stopping at the various trees that she had picked out as being the individual stations. We could feel that this was important to her. At each, we stood in solemn reverence as she read to us out of the bible. I never listened much to, or comprehended much of what was being read. What she taught me was to… WORSHIP TREES!! I admired them. Large stately oaks, with peeling grey armor, wonderfully placed branches, each cleverly, though unwittingly, reaching around their competitors to gain the best advantage of the sun. They had healed wounds from past ice storms and lightning strikes, and little animals calling them home. They called to me, “take hold of my limbs and I will lift you up, to a special place where adults do not go”. Thank you mother for the deep connection. Actually, I’m serious, and thankful.