Good Friday: The Passion and Death of the Lord - Cycle C
"Sorrow," an author has penned, "can lead us into one of four lands. The barren land in which we try to escape from it. The broken land in which we sink under it. The bitter land in which we resent it. Or the better land in which we bear it and become a blessing to others."
John Francis Devaney, a very good friend and a talented writer, died a foul death. The culprit was that ugly fellow, Cancer. He was a relatively young man. He had done much as a can-do advocate for thousands of the tenement poor of New York City over many years. His death to the human eye was undeserved. He had much yet to write. There were places he had not yet seen. There were poor people he had yet to help. His widow, Barbara, and his sons, John Matthew and Luke, were decimated.
I wrote to my bishop. John Cardinal O'Connor. I asked him to send a message to Mrs Devaney. With his wonderful pastoral sense, he complied immediately. Happily he sent me a copy. I saved the eloquent letter with this Good Friday homily in mind.
He wrote to Barbara: "These difficult days for you and your family may become a time of great graces if you unite your suffering to those of Christ crucified.
All too often we forget that it was not when Our Lord was preaching and teaching that He saved the world. It was, rather, when He was seemingly helpless and abandoned on the Cross. There, in the midst of unspeakable anguish and pain, Christ wrought redemption for us. By joining your anxiety and pain to His, you will help countless others open their hearts to His grace and love."
I do suspect the Cardinal's moving message did surely as much for Mrs Devaney and her sons as it did for me. This able wordsmith had distilled into a few words the whole point of this solemn feast that Christendom mournfully and yet joyfully celebrates throughout the world today.
The early, painful death of John Devaney was not pointless. Like his Christ, his sharp anguish and pain were not without redemptive value for his family, friends, and my own self. John had been a devout Catholic from his earliest days. In his last days, he had received the Eucharist almost daily. John I suspect not only prayed for Brother Cancer, but also he asked the Father to forgive it.
Sorrow for him had become a better land and he became a blessing to others.
Cardinal O'Connor's words to Barbara Devaney had rung true: "His example of faith will be a source of strength..." That example touched not only Barbara and her sons but also all of us who crowded into St Joseph's Church in Manhattan's Greenwich Village for the Liturgy.
John's wonderfully rich death, in the Cardinal's words, helped "countless others open their hearts to His grace and love." John Devaney, ironically enough, may have helped more people by his death than through his estimable life. Several years after the fact, I for one am still living off that death and taking courage from it. John is more real to me now in many ways, as I write these words, than he was in life. I am certain that this may likewise become true for those of you who read and hear these words on this Good
John's death can help one better understand the otherwise baffling lines of the wonderful person who was Simone Weil: "The Cross by itself suffices me." She had come to realize the wisdom of the ancients that Calvary was a place where sin at its worst met love at its best.
T.S. Eliot in "The Four Quartets" wrote, "We had the experience but missed the meaning." May that never be said of any of us as we contemplate the death of John Devaney but of course more significantly the entirely redemptive death of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ.
The Cross is not a sign of shame or scandal. Rather, it is, in one preacher's incisive words, "a gigantic plus sign built into the very essence of time."
Why else would Pope John Paul II in his remarkable book Crossing the Threshold of Hope write, "There is no Christian holiness without devotion to the Passion."?
Good Friday Liturgy of the Veneration of the Cross: Come to the Cross
We wear it around our necks. We place it in our rooms. We put it on the top of our buildings and people say, "That must be a Church. That person must be a Christian." It is the best known symbol of Christianity. It is the cross.
Why? Do we use the cross simply to remember the events of some 2,000 years ago? Yes, we remember that the Love of God for us was so intense that He allowed death to conquer His Son so His Son could restore us to the life lost by our sinfulness. But the cross is more than a memory, it is the living call from our Savior to love as He loved, to love with a sacrificial love. The cross, an instrument of torture, has been transformed by the Lord into an instrument of love.
We come to the cross this afternoon. We come and venerate the replica of the cross on which Jesus died. We come and ask Jesus to help us love as He loved, to love in a way that puts others before ourselves.
We come to the cross this afternoon and we give Jesus our sins, our pains and our sorrows. "Our people have such great problems, Joe," the great Fr. John LaTondress, my mentor, once said to me. "We, priests don’t have problems. We only think we have problems. Our people have the real problems."
He was so right. Many here have lost loved ones. Many have loved ones with serious physical and psychological ailments. Many here are themselves sick. "How am I going to make it through these difficulties?" many of you ask every day. Come to the cross. Give your problems and challenges to the Lord and know that no matter what happens, as Julien of Norwich wrote, "All will be well." For when everything is placed in the hands of the one who died for us, every challenge, every difficulty that life throws at us becomes a prayer united to the prayers of our Crucified Savior.
Come to the cross! Unite the challenges of your lives to the cross. And know that the One who loved you, who loved us, to the death, will also love us to life.
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Return to Sanity
(April 19, 2019)
Bottom line: To return to sanity we look to the cross, we turn to God.
This Holy Week I am using Pope Benedict's reflections on the crisis brought about by "the shocking revelations of clerical abuse perpetuated against minors". Benedict writes as man bearing great sorrow but also hope and trust that come from faith in God.
As we saw last night Benedict XVI does not blame the sixties but rather Catholic leaders for our muddled response. To our shame instead of resisting destructive behaviors we went along. Only now do we see the full extent of the damage: broken families, isolation, pornography, depression, drugs, suicide. Ugliest of all: the sexual exploitation of minors by men consecrated to God.
These crimes and cover-ups have brought shame to all of us. Parishioners have told me they face scorn and ridicule in their workplace and families. New revelations keep coming out - usually events that happened 40 or 50 years ago. Each one brings new mockery. It's natural to feel anger. It's understandable that many have left the church. But are those people missing something?
Pope Benedict addresses that question. I'll say more on Easter.
On Good Friday we want to face the reality of sin. Sin has fixed Jesus on cross. Last Friday our youth watched The Passion of The Christ. The movie shows Jesus' terrible suffering for us. Our sins may be large or they may be small. Still, each sin, each infidelity brings Jesus suffering.
During the last two weeks we have covered the images in our church. Tonight we will unveil and venerate the cross. The cross reveals the reality of sin. Even the tiniest sin is like a splinter in Jesus' wounded flesh.
The cross exposes sin. It also reveals love. As Benedict says, "God became man for us...He speaks with us, He lives with us, He suffers with us and he took death upon himself for us."
How do we respond to such love? As we saw last night, we do it by gratitude and reverence, especially for Jesus' presence in the Eucharist. It's a dynamic presence. The Letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus as our high priest. He takes us to the God the Father. In all our brokenness he lifts us to the Father.
Interesting that today, although we receive Communion, we do not celebrate the Eucharist. Good Friday is part of a three-day celebration that begins Holy Thursday and culminates with the Easter Vigil. Tonight it's enough to view and venerate the cross.
Pope Benedict writes about how when God is the center of our thoughts, words and actions everything becomes different. That's what we want. You might remember that we began Lent with The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Yes, how different our lives are when we place God at the center.
The power of sin dominates our world. Without God it dominates our lives, makes us blind and deranged. To return to sanity we look to the cross; we turn to God. After the Solemn Intercession we will unveil and venerate the cross. Think about what that cross means for Jesus - and for you and me. I will sing, "Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world." and you will respond, "Come, let us adore." Amen.
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Today we come to the most sombre moment in the celebration of the Pascal Mystery because today is the day when we mark the death of Jesus on the hill of Calvary. As on every Good Friday we have just heard read to us the eloquent account from the Gospel of John of the events leading up to and surrounding the death of Jesus.
It is a most compelling story. Although we have heard it so frequently it is still able to put a chill up our spines as John in his measured way recounts the events of Jesus’ arrest, judgement, scourging and his ascent of Calvary carrying the heavy Cross. And then after being nailed to the Cross we hear his moving words as he places his mother into the care of the Apostle John and then, everything having been accomplished how he gave up his spirit.
What we are being invited to do on this most solemn day is to walk with Jesus as he took his last steps. This is what many of us have been doing during Lent as we went around the Church making the Stations of the Cross. In our devotions we have followed Christ every step of the way from the Seat of Judgement up to the Hill of Calvary.
What we are doing is best summed up in the word accompaniment.
We have accompanied Jesus as he walked these last steps, we have stood alongside him as he was scourged, we have been by his side as he took the weight of the Cross on his shoulders, we have been with him as he fell three times only to get up again to continue his laborious journey. We were there as his hands and feet were cruelly nailed to the Cross and we stood gazing as he suffered his last agony and eventually gave up his spirit.
For us who believe it is more especially appalling since we know that, while it would have been a despicable action to put an ordinary man to death in such a brutal way, here it is the Son of God that is being so cruelly treated. Here it is happening to the kindest and most insightful man that ever lived. Here it is our Divine Saviour who is being subject to such viciousness.
This takes our breath away. We find it hard to believe that mankind could stoop so low. We are grieved that our brothers and sisters could do such a dreadful thing and yet we know in our hearts that we ourselves are in some way also culpable.
We know that our own sins have in some way contributed to this terrible event. We experience a whole range of emotions from grief on the one hand right through to culpability on the other.
And yet despite our sorrow, despite our sadness, despite even our own guilt, we know deep in our hearts that something more is occurring here. For despite the pain and suffering, despite the brutality and cruelty, despite the wounds and all the harshness, here we see something truly glorious.
For on this infamous hill Christ turns the tables on the whole of mankind and in the most extraordinary act of love he wipes our sins away and opens up for us the road to eternal life. He returns kindness for cruelty, forgiveness for brutality, life for death.
Sad as we are, in our hearts we rejoice. We exalt because on that dreadful hill we were granted the greatest gift of all, full pardon, remission and absolution of all our sins.
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