10 April 2020

Homily - 10 April 2020 - Good Friday

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
Celebration of the Passion of the Lord

Dear brothers and sisters,

Back on Ash Wednesday, none of us could have foreseen our present circumstances which have kept us from gathering at the altar of the Lord and even from venerating his Cross together today. In some ways it seems as though the world has grown cold, and not simply because of the return of the less pleasant temperatures.

On this Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, it feels as though our hearts have grown perhaps a bit cooler than we should like to admit. As we contemplate the death of Christ Jesus for our salvation, how can we not see the many ways we fail to follow his example of love? Every time we withdraw from him, we step away from the fire of his love and our hearts grow colder (cf. Hebrews 12:29).

The ashes which were placed on our heads at the beginning of Lent came from the palms we carried the previous Palm Sunday. We carried those palms to commemorate the Lord’s entrance into his holy city of Jerusalem; we carried them to pledge our allegiance to him and to show our willingness to allow him to rule over every aspect of our lives. But because we are weak and sinful, we burned those palms, remembering both our failed promises and his mercy, and used their ashes as a sign of repentance to show our desire to draw closer to the Lord, to step away from our sinfulness into the warmth of his love.

One of the famed lines of poetry in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings comes from the Hobbit Bilbo, who composed these words: “From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring.”[1] Anyone who has stoked fading embers or raked coals knows what this means, that even from dying ashes a fire can indeed arise. However cold our hearts may have become, however distant from the Lord we may have moved, if we draw near to him he can cause the fire of his love to awaken within us again.

If we turn our attention for a moment to Saint Francis of Assisi, we find an example of what this means for us. In his youth, he was more concerned with worldly pleasures and the enjoyment of the company of his friends and the esteem of others, than he was with the things of God. But after his conversion, Saint Bonaventure tells that “Christ Jesus Crucified was laid, as a bundle of myrrh, in his heart’s bosom, and [Francis] yearned to be utterly transformed into [Christ] by the fire of his exceeding love.”[2]

On this Good Friday, Mother Church invites us to contemplate the image of Crucified Love and, like Saint Francis, to receive Christ into our hearts that we, too, might allow “the power of his love [to sear] through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.”[3] We are invited today to look upon the greatness of the Lord’s love for us and to consider in what ways our love fails to respond adequately to his.

This is something we do not like to do very often. We know that our love is not yet like the Lord’s. We know we fail to love God and neighbor in very many ways, both large and small. Yet the remembrance of our weak love is always also a reminder of the greatness his love. However cold our hearts may have grown, however far from the Lord we may have moved, he always desires to stir up the fading ashes of our dwindling love into a great and blazing fire able to transform the world.

For this reason, Saint Augustine said, “Our love, like a fire, must take hold of what is nearest and then spread to what is further off.”[4] What is nearest to us if not the love of God? Who is nearest to us if not Christ Jesus himself? Indeed, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves.[5] Let us, then, this day, draw near to his Cross. Let us take hold of it and carry it with us to every aspect of our lives so that the fire of the Lord’s love may warm every heart. Amen.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 167.
[2] Saint Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis, 9.2.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 47.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Ten Homilies on I John, 8.1. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. XI: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2000), 214).
[5] Cf. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 3.6.11.

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