03 April 2015

Homily - Good Friday of the Lord's Passion

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Reverend Father,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, the Dread Pirate Roberts says to the Princess Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Are we not sometimes tempted to agree with him, to agree that life is pain? Do we not often ask with Job, “Is not man’s life on earth on a drudgery” (Job 7:1)? Even the Psalmist sang, “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong; most of them are toil and sorrow; they pass quickly, and we are gone” (Psalm 90:10).

It does not take long to begin to enumerate the pains of the human heart, a pain felt differently by each of us. There is the pain of a people gripped by those bent on destroying them because they bear with honor and dignity the name of Christ. Our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya know this all too well, to name but a few places where we are persecuted today.

There is the pain of chronic illness that makes day-to-day activity difficult or uncertain and the pain of a failing mind or body. There is the pain of the death of someone we love, especially when they die too young. There is the pain of struggling to support and provide for a family with an income that never quite seems sufficient. There is the pain of knowing that I have not done my best and of disappointing myself, and the pain of knowing that I have done my best and of disappointing others. There is the pain that follows abortion and the pain that follows divorce. There is the pain of watching innocents suffer and the pain of being misunderstood, ignored, or even abandoned. There is the pain of unreturned love or of a love expressed too late.

How many pains the human heart knows! In the face of so many and of such great sufferings we cry out to God and demand to know why he tolerates such pains, why he does not simply wipe them away.

We come today before the Cross of Jesus, before the Cross of him who made our words his own, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mark 15:34)? At the same time, though, he also cries out to us from his Cross, demanding of us, “Come, all who pass by the way, pay attention and see: is there any pain like my pain” (Lamentations 1:12)? The only possible answer to his question is, “No, Lord, there is no pain like yours.” There is no pain like his because – though entirely innocent and without blame or sin – he suffered willingly for us.

Yet here it is, in his Cross, that we find the answer to our question of why. His answer is to take all of the forms of suffering upon himself and to ascend the throne of the Cross. This answer may at first not seem satisfactory, but if we contemplate his Cross, if we embrace it and enter into the wounds of the Crucified, we will see the paradoxical beauty of this most eloquent answer.

From St. Joseph Church
Bonnybridge, Scotland
From his cross the Lord Jesus calls out to everyone who will listen to him or who will look upon him:

Look, man, at what I have endured for you. See the pain that torments me. I cry out to you for whom I died: look at the sufferings I endure; look at the nails that pierce me. And if my external pains be so great, my internal grief is greater still as long as I know you are ungrateful.[1]

How is it that we can remain apathetic before so a great a gift? How can we possibly take this gift for granted? How can we pass by the way and not weep for his sufferings? Looking on his Cross, how can we not seek to fulfill the words of the prophet Zechariah: “…when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born” (Zechariah 12:10)? Yet when we look upon the pains he endured for us, we do not grieve as those who have no hope; rather we grieve for his great pains while hoping for our salvation, entrusting ourselves to the immense depths of his love.

This is why Saint Bonaventure, who spent so much of his life contemplating the mystery of the Cross, says to us:

If at times something sad happens, something bad, something tedious, something bitter, and certainly if sometimes a good thing happens by chance, then you should immediately look to the crucified Jesus hanging on the cross. Look there at the crown of thorns, the iron nails, the lance in the side; gaze at the wounds in his feet and hands, the wounds to his head, his side and his whole body, and recall that this is what he suffered for you, what he bore for you, so that you may know how much he loved you. Believe me: after gazing in such a way, you will find that everything sad becomes joyful, everything heavy becomes light, everything boring lovable, everything harsh sweet and soothing.[2]

We must, then, set the image of Jesus crucified as a seal upon our hearts. “Set me as a seal upon your heart,” he says to us, “for love is strong as death” (cf. Song of Songs 8:6). With King David, we must say to Jesus, “My heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast” (Psalm 22:14). If we so impress the image of his love upon our hearts, then what at first seems the most humiliating and excruciating of images becomes an image of great beauty, of profound consolation, and of immeasurable joy. When the image of Crucified Love is impressed upon our heart, everything changes and we begin to see the world through a new lens.

On this day, dear friends, let us put aside our pride and, like Saint Thomas, examine the five holy wounds of the Savior. We should not simply look upon his wounds, as if from some safe and pious distance, but, rather, we should explore these wounds to know the depth of the Lord’s love for us! We should not be afraid of his wounds, but should enter through the wound in his side into his very heart to bask in the light of his love.

There, within his Sacred Heart, we should seek nothing else, desire nothing else, or be consoled by nothing else except that we may die on the cross with Christ. Then we will be able to say with Saint Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Without the Cross, life is pain and toil and drudgery. But with the Cross, life is beautiful because it is shared with God. If we so unite ourselves to him by embracing the Cross and entering into the wounds of our Lord, then we will know – beyond all doubt – that we are indeed loved with a love beyond imagining. Amen.

[1] Attributed to either Saint Bernard of Clairvaux or to Philip the Chancellor. See footnote 206 in Saint Bonaventure, On the Perfection of Love, VI.11. In Works of St. Bonaventure, Vol. X, F. Edward Coughlin, ed. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 184.
[2] Saint Bonaventure, ibid., 184-185.

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