Good Friday 2010
On this day, the only day of the year that the Church does not celebrate Mass, we gather to meditate on the passion and death of Our Lord. We gather in the afternoon, at the time when Jesus hung on the cross and suffered the most painful and humiliating form of punishment used by the Roman authorities at that time. In fact, the Romans used crucifixion only for the most serious of crimes.
Our Lord suffered the excruciating pain of having His hands and feet nailed to the cross. As we heard in the Gospel of the Passion, Jesus was stripped of His garments so He hung naked on the cross, a public humiliation. And the soldiers cast lots for His tunic.
We contemplate Jesus with His arms extended on the cross. He was immobilized. His body had no means of coping with the heat or cold. Insects swirled around him and landed on him. He was parched with thirst. As the three hours progressed, his agony grew. It became more and more difficult for him to breathe. Often those crucified would die of asphyxiation.
But despite this most painful and humiliating way to die, Jesus on the cross never lost His freedom or true dignity. He hung on the cross courageously, intent on fulfilling the mission His Father entrusted to Him, the mission of redemption. He freely embraced in His human will the Father’s will, His Father’s love for us. On the cross, He trusted in His Father. He endured the insults and calumnies of His persecutors. And, most remarkably, He forgave them. He never stopped exercising His ministry of mercy. In Saint Luke’s account of the Passion, which we heard on Palm Sunday, we read that in the midst of such unjust torture, Jesus hanging on the cross prayed: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” On the cross, Jesus is our teacher. He teaches us by his example what He had earlier taught in words to the disciples: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if we Christians really obeyed those words? Two of the spiritual works of mercy are precisely these: forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.
Today, Good Friday, we also contemplate the pain and suffering of Mary standing near the cross of her son. Perhaps mothers who have experienced the death of a son or daughter know this pain of our Blessed Mother more than anyone. Imagine Mary’s pain as she watched her son suffer this most horrible of deaths. She could only be there with Him – helpless, unable to help him or comfort him. She would only be able to receive his body in her loving arms after He died and was taken down from the cross. The prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple was fulfilled on Good Friday. Simeon had told Mary: “A sword will pierce through your own soul.”
On the cross, Jesus entrusted Saint John and all of us, indeed all Christians, to Mary and her maternal care when He said: “Woman, behold your son.” We can always turn to her, especially in times of pain and sorrow. Our Lady of Sorrows was there at the foot of the cross and she is with us in all the sorrows of our life. She is our spiritual mother, a beautiful gift to us from Jesus on the cross. John took Mary into his home. I hope we all do the same.
According to Saint John, Jesus’ last words before handing over his spirit were: “It is finished.” What was finished? His mission! He had accomplished the Father’s will. He accomplished our redemption. He loved us to the end. And that love revealed so dramatically in the crucifixion has brought the greatest blessing to humanity: reconciliation with God, salvation, redemption. The truth of this victory of love would become evident on the third day when Jesus rose from the dead.
In this Good Friday service, we will venerate the cross of our Lord. That veneration is not an empty gesture. It is a sign of our love for Jesus who suffered and died for us. Jesus said from the cross “I thirst.” He still thirsts. He thirsts for our love!