06 April 2012

Good Friday - A Tale of Three Kisses

Friday of Holy Week – Good Friday

Today, dear brothers and sisters, we have before, as it were, a tale of three kisses.  There is first the kiss of Judas; second, our kiss of the Cross of our Lord; and, third, the Lord’s kiss of us from his Cross.

The Kiss of Judas

Last night the Lord was betrayed by one of his own, by one whom he chose and who followed him for three years.  His betrayer is one who was with him day in and day out, who heard his words and saw the signs he performed.  As Thomas à Kempis wrote:
I praise and glorify you for your patient sufferance of that disloyal disciple, for though you foresaw that he was hastening to betray you, nevertheless, you did not manifest any anger toward him, nor did you speak any harsh words to him.  You did not make his evil intention known to others, nor after so villainous a deed did you remove him from his office or refuse him Holy Communion.[1]
Some days ago, the Iscariot “arranged a sign” that “the man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him” (Matthew 26:48).  When stepped forward and offered what Saint Thomas More called “the terrible token of his treachery, Christ received him calmly and gently.”[2]  Jesus received his sign with love and said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss” (Luke 26:48)? 

We would do well to recall that during the Last Supper Jesus foretold his betrayer, though it somewhat veiled language: “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it” (John 13:26).  Then “he dipped the morsel and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot” (John 13:27).

From our vantage point, it seems rather obvious that Judas is the one to whom he referred as the betrayer, but it was not so obvious for the Apostles; none of them understood why Judas left the supper thinking he left to obtain something needed or to give money to the poor (cf. John 13:28-29).

For so many years Judas acted like an Apostle; in effect, his life was a life.  He appeared as one of the Lord’s faithful, but in his heart he was not.  The external signs were present in his life, but not the interior motives of the heart.  Is it really any different with us?  How often do we appear to be his faithful followers by our outward appearances, but betray him interiorly by the motives and desires of our hearts?

Our Kiss of the Cross

On this most sacred of Fridays, Holy Mother Church invites us to humbly venerate the Cross of Our Lord.  After the showing of the Cross and the invitation, “Come, let us adore,” we are instructed:
Then the clergy, the lay ministers, and the faithful approach, moving as if in procession, and showing reverence to the Cross by a simply genuflection or by some other sign appropriate to the usage of the region, for example, by kissing the Cross.[3]

When are encouraged to adore the Cross with the very sign used by Judas and Jesus’ words should sound with us: “Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”  The Lord Jesus speaks to us as he spoke to Judas.  “‘Friend’ is what he calls Judas, and he offers him the last and dramatic call to conversion.  He calls each of us friend because he is the true friend of everyone.”[4]
On this day we are very much aware of the great gift the Lord has given us in his friendship.  “No one has greater love than this,” he said, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
We often take great comfort in these words, but we too often forget what he said immediately following: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13).  He said to us last night, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, so you also do” (John 13:15).
Though he continually offers his friendship to us, we know – if we are honest and sincere – that we do not always offer our friendship to him.  Like Judas, we too often turn away from him and unlike Jesus we react to betrayal with deep anger.  How can we not lament with Thomas à Kempis:
Alas!  How poorly I tolerate a brother when he has said or done something against me.  But you, for so long a time and without complaint, have endured your disciple Judas, who would soon sell and betray you, while I, for a paltry insult, quickly yield to anger and think of various ways of vindicating myself or of offering excuses.  Where then is my patience, where is my meekness?
Help me, good Jesus, and instill the virtue of your meekness in my heart in greater abundance, for without your inspiration and special grace I cannot enjoy peace of soul amid life’s many vexations.[5]

Simply put, we do not follow the example of the Lord who gave his life for us.
Today, as we approach the Cross to offer our humble love through the token of a kiss, let remember the words of Father Richard John Neuhaus:
By false veneration he is betrayed again and again.  For those who have accepted his invitation, however, it is following him all the way.  ‘Come, follow me,’ he said, and now it has come to this.  We kneel under the weight of doubt and fear and say, yes, we are prepared to surrender all.[6]
As we kiss the Cross let us desire to give ourselves to him as he has done for us.
The Lord’s Kiss of Us from the Cross
In a sermon preached in Paris in 1272 or 1273, an anonymous priest gestured toward the crucifix spoke these moving words: “Oh, see, Christian, look, look!  See how [Jesus] has his head leaning down to kiss you, his arms extended to embrace!”[7]  As we approach the Lord to offer our kiss to him, so he desires to offer his kiss to us.

How can we fail to hear in this image King Solomon’s words from his Song of Songs: “Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine, better than the fragrance of your perfumes” (Song of Songs 1:1).  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was right when she recognized in Jesus’ cry from the Cross, “I thirst” (19:28) that he thirsted not simply for physical drink, but more so for the spiritual drink of our love.
In these words from the Song of Songs, it is right that we recognize in them our love and desire for the Lord; at the same time, they can also rightly be read as speaking of the Lord’s love and desire for us. 
As we seek today to show our love for the Lord by a kiss, let us not refuse the kiss the Lord seeks to offer us as a token of his love.  Today, let us “look upon him whom they” – whom we – “have pierced” and let us not refuse his look upon us (John 19:37; cf. Luke 22:61).

[1] Thomas à Kempis, On the Passion of the Christ According to the Four Evangelists, 1. Joseph N. Tylenda, trans.  [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004], 17.
[2] Saint Thomas More, The Sadness, the Weariness, the Fear and the Prayer of Christ Before He Was Taken Prisoner: A Commentary on Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 18.  In The Sadness of Christ and Final Prayers and Benedictions, Clarence Miller, trans.  (New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 1993), 49.
[3] Roman Missal, Friday of Holy Week – Good Friday, 18.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Address at the Way of the Cross, 21 March 2008.
[5] Thomas à Kempis, ibid.
[6] Richard John Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 201.
[7] Anonymous Sermon for Good Friday in Paris in 1272 or 1273.  In Sara Lipton, “‘The Sweet Lean of His Head’: Writing about Looking at the Crucifix in the High Middle Ages,” Speculum October 2005 [80:4], 1172.

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