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Good Friday

April 14, 2006

Blessed Good Friday!

Readings:
Isaiah 52:13- 53:12 (God laid our guilt upon Christ)
Psalm 31:1-25 “Father, I put my life in your hands”
Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9 (Jesus, our high priest, knows our weakness and pleads for us)
+John 18:1-19:42 (the Passion)

“Who would believe what we have heard?” (Isaiah 53:1)

Who would believe that God, exquisitely perfect, stunningly beautiful, would allow us to mutilate Him, to make of Him an unrecognizable horror? Who would believe that the One who overflows with the absolute perfection of happiness would empty Himself, would expose His Sacred Heart to be pierced for our offenses and crushed for our sins? Who would believe that He won precisely by surrendering every power and advantage at His disposal?

We say we believe. Of course we do. God has revealed it. He can neither deceive nor be deceived. It has to be true. But then the weight of our own cross presses hard on our shoulder. Injustice and sorrow threaten what little beauty, what little happiness we have, and we marshal every power at our disposal to expel them. We lose.

Oh, maybe we get what we think we want. Maybe we feel triumphant. But we haven’t put our faith into practise. We’ve demonstrated that our faith is dead (see James 3:26). Deep in our souls, the image of God has been distorted. Our ability to lay down our lives in self-sacrificial love, in His image, suffers. So does our receptivity to love.

So what does it take to breathe eternal life into our dead faith? The short answer is sacrificial love, which is modeled for us so graphically today. Jesus demonstrates that power is not given to us for our own benefit. It’s for the benefit of others, and particularly for the benefit of those who increase the weight of our cross.

As we resume our Triduum liturgy today, as we jostle our way through the crowd to the Place of the Skull and kneel at the foot of the cross, let us study carefully the lessons we will need to put into practise in our own lives. Jesus filled torture with love. How did He do that? How can I, empowered by His grace, do the same in my own life? We don’t have to limit ourselves to observation. Our great high priest sympathizes with our weakness and personally invites us to approach Him in confidence for the help we need (Hebrews 4:15-16) to do as He has done.

We rejoin Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He led us last night. The stillness of the night is broken by the noise of an armed mob invading this serene sanctuary. Jesus uses His power to step forward and meet them. We catch a glimpse of this power as those who have come to arrest Him fall to the ground despite themselves. “At Jesus’ Name every knee must bend in the Heavens, on the earth, and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). He uses His power to hand Himself over, shielding His disciples and commanding that they be allowed to go free. “I have not lost one of those You gave Me” (John 18:9). He uses His power to heal the wound St. Peter caused in his misguided attempt to conquer through his own use of power. He uses His power to keep His own emotions disciplined as He is dragged away, unjustly accused, insulted, spat upon and beaten (which, by the way, is the supreme example of meekness: power under control). He uses His power to proclaim His truth to Pilate, to embrace His cross and to drag it to the Place of the Skull. He uses His power to provide for His mother and to entrust us to her nurturing presence. He uses His power to express His tortuous thirst for our love, even when all we have to offer Him is vinegar. Finally, He uses His power to hand over His spirit, to enter into and to remain for three days in a death that was in itself miraculous.

***
…if it was an astonishing thing that our Lord should die, equally it was an astonishing thing that he should stay dead. The separation of the body from the soul, even in us ordinary human creatures, is not a natural state; it is an unnatural state which only takes effect because we are sinful creatures, fallen creatures, born under a curse. It’s not natural for a soul to be separated from its body any more than it is natural for a fish to live out of water. And in our Lord’s case there was no question of punishment for sin, no question of his having inherited the taint of fallen nature. Therefore you would have expected that as soon as he died he would come to life again. Every second during which he stayed dead, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Easter morning, was a kind of miracle; a much more remarkable miracle really than his Resurrection. -Ronald Knox, The Creed in Slow Motion
***

It was all for us. Our Divine Bridegroom used His power exclusively to lay down His life for His Bride, the Church, to purify us in the bath of water (which flowed from His pierced side) by the power of the word, to present us to Himself holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort (Ephesians 5:26-32). That’s love. That’s the image in which we were made. It’s the only life that lasts forever.

May we submit our lives to the power of the Holy Spirit, Who is the eternal exchange of Love within the Blessed Trinity, that He may breathe new life into our faith and fill us with the fire of His Love.

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