14 April 2017

Homily - 14 April 2017 - Good Friday of the Lord's Passion

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Dear brothers and sisters, 

As we gather today to contemplate the mystery of the Lord’s Cross and the immensity of his love displayed upon it, several questions might rightly arise within our hearts, namely:

How do I wear the cross? As a souvenir? When I make the sign of the cross am I aware of what I’m doing? Or is the Cross only as a symbol of belonging to a religious group? An ornament, like a jewel with gold and many precious stones...? Have I learned to carry it on my shoulders, where it hurts?”[1]

Similar questions should have sounded within us as we learned of the deaths of the Coptic Christians in Egypt this past Palm Sunday.

The Islamic State targeted and killed these Christian men, women, and children – forty-four in total – because they were, as they called them, “followers of the Cross.” It was not the first time the Islamic State attacked Christians in Egypt and it will not likely be the last. The Christians in Egypt have always consciously lived beneath the shadow of the Cross because they have remained ever close to it. If our persecuted brethren saw us today, would they say that we, too, live beneath the shadow of the Cross, not because of a persecution, but because of an interior disposition of our hearts, because of an intimate friendship with Jesus?

These martyrs, who did not carry their palms to their earthly homes but carried them instead to the Father’s house, knew an attack might occur, yet still they went to honor their friend and King. They knew Jesus gave his life for them and so the risk of being required to give their lives for him was not too great for them. Is it too great for us? They were proud to be known as followers of the Cross; do we glory in this title?

Even as they lay dead and dying within their blown up churches, many in these United States of America, even here in Springfield, repeatedly checked their watches because the reading of the Passion of Our Lord was too long for them. Some did the same even today. Where is our priority? Is it in the feeding of our stomachs, or is it in loving the Lord Jesus and in being united with him in all things?
The Baqofah Cross
Photo: Father Benedict Kiely
The soldiers of the Islamic State hate the Cross because they see it as a sign of weakness, because they have closed themselves to the love of Christ Jesus. They destroy the Cross wherever they find it, but sometimes one escapes their hatred, such as the Baqofah Cross.[2] It was found intact in the rubble of the destruction of the Iraqi town of Baqofah, with neither the wood of the crossbeams nor the body of the image of Jesus broken. An intact cross or crucifix is a rare sight in the cities occupied by those who, in the hardness of their hearts, fail to see that love “is so powerful that it alone closes the gates of hell, it alone opens the heavens, it alone gives hope for salvation, it alone makes one a friend of God.”[3] 

The Baqofah Cross will long stand as a sign of hope to the Christians in Iraq because it arose for them in the midst of darkness, despair, and death, as the Cross of Christ always does. Lifted high, the Cross always shines as a beacon of hope and a reminder of the strength of God’s love. From the Baqofah Cross, our persecuted brothers and sisters will hear God call out to them, saying, “Turn, O soul, Christ on the Cross with head bowed waits to kiss you, his arms are extended to embrace you, his hands open with gifts for you, his body extended to cover you, his feet affixed to stay with you, his side open to let you enter.”[4] This is why they stay beneath the shadow of the Cross and are proud to be known as followers of the Cross.

What do we see when we look upon the Cross? Do we see something ugly and uncouth, an instrument of death in need of decoration and, if you will, prettying up as a fashion statement, or do we see the sign of our salvation, something beautiful in itself? Today, let us bend our knees before the Cross and kiss it with loving devotion. Let us lift our hearts in prayer and say to the Crucified Lord: “I seek you, in you I hope; I desire you, in you I rise up; I embrace you, I exult in you, and finally I cling to you.”[5] Let us stay beneath the shadow of the Cross and glory only in being called its followers. Amen.

[1] Pope Francis, Homily, 4 April 2017. In Domenico Agasso, Jr., “‘The Cross is not a badge; it must be carried on the shoulders, where it hurts,’Vatican Insider, 4 April 2017.

[2] Cf. Benedict Kiely, “The Cross ISIS couldn’t destroy,” Catholic Herald, 13 April 2017.

[3] Saint Bonaventure, On the Perfection of Life, 7.1. In F. Edward Coughlin, ed., Works of Saint Bonaventure, Volume X: Writings on the Spiritual Life (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2006), 186.

[4] Ibid., Soliloquium, I.39. In ibid., 261.

[5] Ibid., The Threefold Way: On Enkindling Love, 3.8. In Ibid., 126.

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