Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
Christ Stands Before Pilate by Antonio Ciseri — Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)
Reading 1 IS 52:13—53:12
See, my servant shall prosper,
he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.
Even as many were amazed at him
so marred was his look beyond human semblance
and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man
so shall he startle many nations,
because of him kings shall stand speechless;
for those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it.
Who would believe what we have heard?
To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up like a sapling before him,
like a shoot from the parched earth;
there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him,
nor appearance that would attract us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by people,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
one of those from whom people hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.
Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
and opened not his mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
or a sheep before the shearers,
he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,
and who would have thought any more of his destiny?
When he was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for the sin of his people,
a grave was assigned him among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,
though he had done no wrong
nor spoken any falsehood.
But the LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.
If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.
Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
and he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.
Responsorial Psalm PS 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25
R. (Lk 23:46) Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
R. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
For all my foes I am an object of reproach,
a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends;
they who see me abroad flee from me.
I am forgotten like the unremembered dead;
I am like a dish that is broken.
R. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
But my trust is in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.
In your hands is my destiny; rescue me
from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.”
R. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
Take courage and be stouthearted,
all you who hope in the LORD.
R. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Reading 2 HEB 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Brothers and sisters:
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
In the days when Christ was in the flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
Verse Before The Gospel PHIL 2:8-9
Christ became obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name.
Gospel JN 18:1—19:42
Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley
to where there was a garden,
into which he and his disciples entered.
Judas his betrayer also knew the place,
because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards
from the chief priests and the Pharisees
and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.
Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him,
went out and said to them, “Whom are you looking for?”
They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.”
He said to them, “I AM.”
Judas his betrayer was also with them.
When he said to them, “I AM, ”
they turned away and fell to the ground.
So he again asked them,
“Whom are you looking for?”
They said, “Jesus the Nazorean.”
“I told you that I AM.
So if you are looking for me, let these men go.”
This was to fulfill what he had said,
“I have not lost any of those you gave me.”
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it,
struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.
The slave’s name was Malchus.
Jesus said to Peter,
“Put your sword into its scabbard.
Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”
So the band of soldiers, the tribune, and the Jewish guards seized Jesus,
bound him, and brought him to Annas first.
He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year.
It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews
that it was better that one man should die rather than the people.
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus.
Now the other disciple was known to the high priest,
and he entered the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus.
But Peter stood at the gate outside.
So the other disciple, the acquaintance of the high priest,
went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter in.
Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter,
“You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?”
He said, “I am not.”
Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire
that they had made, because it was cold,
and were warming themselves.
Peter was also standing there keeping warm.
The high priest questioned Jesus
about his disciples and about his doctrine.
Jesus answered him,
“I have spoken publicly to the world.
I have always taught in a synagogue
or in the temple area where all the Jews gather,
and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me?
Ask those who heard me what I said to them.
They know what I said.”
When he had said this,
one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said,
“Is this the way you answer the high priest?”
Jesus answered him,
“If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong;
but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm.
And they said to him,
“You are not one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it and said,
“I am not.”
One of the slaves of the high priest,
a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said,
“Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
Again Peter denied it.
And immediately the cock crowed.
Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium.
It was morning.
And they themselves did not enter the praetorium,
in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.
So Pilate came out to them and said,
“What charge do you bring against this man?”
They answered and said to him,
“If he were not a criminal,
we would not have handed him over to you.”
At this, Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.”
The Jews answered him,
“We do not have the right to execute anyone, ”
in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled
that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.
So Pilate went back into the praetorium
and summoned Jesus and said to him,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
“Do you say this on your own
or have others told you about me?”
“I am not a Jew, am I?
Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.
What have you done?”
“My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
So Pilate said to him,
“Then you are a king?”
“You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
When he had said this,
he again went out to the Jews and said to them,
“I find no guilt in him.
But you have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at Passover.
Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”
They cried out again,
“Not this one but Barabbas!”
Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.
And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head,
and clothed him in a purple cloak,
and they came to him and said,
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
And they struck him repeatedly.
Once more Pilate went out and said to them,
“Look, I am bringing him out to you,
so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”
So Jesus came out,
wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak.
And he said to them, “Behold, the man!”
When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out,
“Crucify him, crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves and crucify him.
I find no guilt in him.”
The Jews answered,
“We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die,
because he made himself the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this statement,
he became even more afraid,
and went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus,
“Where are you from?”
Jesus did not answer him.
So Pilate said to him,
“Do you not speak to me?
Do you not know that I have power to release you
and I have power to crucify you?”
Jesus answered him,
“You would have no power over me
if it had not been given to you from above.
For this reason the one who handed me over to you
has the greater sin.”
Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out,
“If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar.
Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out
and seated him on the judge’s bench
in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon.
And he said to the Jews,
“Behold, your king!”
They cried out,
“Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Shall I crucify your king?”
The chief priests answered,
“We have no king but Caesar.”
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself,
he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull,
in Hebrew, Golgotha.
There they crucified him, and with him two others,
one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.
Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross.
“Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”
Now many of the Jews read this inscription,
because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city;
and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate,
“Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’
but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews’.”
“What I have written, I have written.”
Crucifixion, Veronese, 1580
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus,
they took his clothes and divided them into four shares,
a share for each soldier.
They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless,
woven in one piece from the top down.
So they said to one another,
“Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be, ”
in order that the passage of Scripture might be fulfilled that says:
They divided my garments among them,
and for my vesture they cast lots.
This is what the soldiers did.
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
After this, aware that everything was now finished,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
Jesus said, “I thirst.”
There was a vessel filled with common wine.
So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop
and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said,
“It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
Now since it was preparation day,
in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath,
for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one,
the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken
and that they be taken down.
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first
and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus.
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs,
but one soldier thrust his lance into his side,
and immediately blood and water flowed out.
An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true;
he knows that he is speaking the truth,
so that you also may come to believe.
For this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled:
Not a bone of it will be broken.
And again another passage says:
They will look upon him whom they have pierced.
[How did this work out for Judas?]
After this, Joseph of Arimathea,
secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews,
asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus.
And Pilate permitted it.
So he came and took his body.
Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night,
also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes
weighing about one hundred pounds.
They took the body of Jesus
and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices,
according to the Jewish burial custom.
Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden,
and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.
So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day;
for the tomb was close by.
My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
Jesus has died for us! The death of Jesus gives us life! The first reading today is from the Prophet Isaiah and tells of this Prophet’s understanding of the suffering of the Just Man. Isaiah speaks to us of a figure that has been called the “suffering servant.” We are all called to be “suffering servants.” We see what the Suffering Servant lives when we look at Jesus crucified for us.
The second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, tells us that “we have a high priest who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” When we are in trouble, we can turn to Jesus, our Lord, and ask Him to be with us. He embraced the suffering of his suffering and death so that we might live. We are too often fearful of embracing suffering and death because we still have fear of life after death.
The Gospel of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John gives us a description of the last days of Jesus. Today, perhaps, we can spend just a few moments thinking about this small passage from this Passion Narrative: Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm. And they said to him, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”
This response of Simon Peter is very often our own response when we think that our faith might put us into a difficult situation. We simply deny the Lord in order to try to avoid being put into a difficult situation. We can remember that our whole tradition tells us that it is we who put the Lord to death, not just those who were present at the time of Jesus. We also, throughout history, participate in the death of the Lord when we deny Him or deny our faith because it will put us into a situation of suffering.
We can remember also, however, the Simon Peter repents. This Good Friday is a time for each one of us to repent of the many times that we have denied God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit for whatever reason.
With repentance comes redemption because it restores us to the love that Jesus always has for us. Jesus does not stop loving us, but we resist His love by our denials. Today, as we participate in His suffering and death, let us also turn to Him in repentance. “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Your brother in the Lord,
Jesus with Crown of Thorns — Before Calvary — By Anatoly Shumkin
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 52:13-53:12; HEB 4:14-16; 5:7-9; JN 18:1-19:42]This is a very wounded world we live in. No one is exempted from the wounds of society. This is what original sin is all about; because of our wounded nature, we keep on hurting each other, consciously or unconsciously, even though we desire to love and care for each other.
Indeed, when we reflect on the gospel text today, we can identify with the different characters in the passion play. In fact, this is what the Church expects of us. This explains why on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday, the congregation is asked to participate at some parts of the passion. The part the congregation takes is that of those characters that denied Jesus and the crowd who called for the execution of Jesus. In so doing the Church reminds us that all of us have different roles to play in the suffering, not just of Christ but of the world. Let us not be too naïve to think that we are suffering because others have done us injustice. That would be too presumptuous. We have our part to play in every problem, misunderstanding, quarrel or conflict.
So today, if you feel that you are alone in your suffering, assuredly you are not. The world suffers with you too. Most of all, Jesus suffers with you as well in His humanity and in His love for us. If you feel betrayed in relationship, especially infidelity in marriage, in friendship, even with close friends, Jesus went through that as well. He was abandoned by His apostles; even the inner circle could not keep vigil with Him in His final moments. But what is most heartbreaking is that one of the Twelve betrayed Jesus and sold Him out for money! If you were Jesus, you would have been heartbroken too. No wounds pierce our hearts deeper than those inflicted by people we love.
Equally painful for Jesus was to know that His chief apostle, Peter, lacked the courage to acknowledge their friendship even to a maid and some servants. That is how we feel too. In times of trouble, our bosses do not stand up for us. In times of failure, even our parents and loved ones condemn us. In times of need, our friends play us out and abandon us. Few stand up to defend us publicly, although in private they say they support us. This is the truth. Many lack courage to risk their lives to stand up for others even though they are right. We all want to be accepted and to be popular. We see which direction the wind is blowing and accordingly, we choose what is in our best interest; not for what is right. This was the case for Pilate as well. He saw the devious intentions of the priests, but instead of taking a firm stand on Jesus’ innocence, he allowed the popular wish of the people to determine the fate of Jesus for fear of losing his office and position.
Then there are others who are enslaved by past hurts and resentments. We find it difficult to forgive those who have hurt us, much less to forget the psychological pain. Some of us carry our wounds for years. We cannot forgive our siblings or even our parents for failing us. Indeed, much of our pains today is due to the inability to let go of those hurts that wound us deeply. We bear so much resentment. But what we see at the cross is the silence of those who had been wounded. Jesus was silent and only uttered words of excuses and forgiveness for His enemies. Mary, the mother of Jesus, grieved silently with Him but uttered no words of anger or hatred. With Jesus, she would have said in her heart as well, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
Finally, some of us cannot accept our illnesses, our immobility or are still grieving over the death of a loved one. We are angry with God that we are not able to look after ourselves. We cannot accept that He took away our loved ones, especially if they had suffered a sudden death, such as in an accident, or even from a short illness. Departures are always painful, as they create a vacuum in our lives, knowing that we cannot see or touch or hear them anymore. Someone has to be blamed and we cannot understand why God is so cruel to take away someone whom we love and depend on so badly, leaving us alone.
What must we do? How can we heal our pains? The prophet Isaiah says, “through his wounds we are healed.” How do the wounds of Jesus heal us? Jesus’ wounds can heal us because He shared our sufferings. Not only did the Son of God share our sufferings, but He carried our sufferings on our behalf. This is because He was without sin and He suffered unjustly and innocently for our sake. “They gave him a grave with the wicked, a tomb with the rich, though he had done no wrong and there had been no perjury in his mouth.” Unlike us, He was not suffering for His sins. As Isaiah says, “And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried. But we, we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through him his wounds we are healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way, and the Lord burdened him with the sins of all of us.” Jesus suffered to awaken us to our sins and to God’s love and mercy.
What is salvific is that Jesus not only suffered but He showed us how to suffer positively. Again, Isaiah said, “Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth.” It is not enough to suffer in life like a stoic but to suffer in a redemptive manner, using our sufferings to transform ourselves and to inspire others. It is how we suffer that will inspire others and give hope to them. When we visit patients in hospitals, we see some who are full of bitterness, anger, moaning and groaning and complaining. We leave the hospital feeling sad and sorry for them. But if we meet patients who are suffering much, but suffer with love and faith in God, sharing with us their faith in God and that they do not fear death, we leave feeling hopeful, encouraged and strengthened in our faith. We do not leave the hospital bitter with God in spite of the fact that the patient might not live.
Jesus is our leader in suffering and in salvation. He perfected His love for God and for us through the sufferings He went through. His love of God was not sheer sentimental love and nice words but a giving of Himself and His life. Before His enemies, Jesus was faithful to His identity. Twice He said to those who arrested Him, “I am He!” He was hinting at His claim of divinity. Before Pilate who thought he had power over Him, He said, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greatest guilt.” In no uncertain terms, He made clear His mission and identity. “Yes, I am a King, I was born for this, I came into the world for this; to bear witness to my truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” This is in direct contrast to many of us who succumb to our enemies. Instead of being true to our faith, values and identity as a Christian, we give in to the pressures of society, especially the secularistic values of the world that are consumeristic and individualistic and at times even anti-life and anti-love.
We are called to contemplate on the Crucified Christ. In the first reading, the suffering servant will be “lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.” This is the foreshadowing of Jesus being lifted up on the cross. Indeed, when we contemplate on the sufferings of the Crucified God on the cross, it is something beyond any human imagination; that God would die in Christ on the cross. Truly, “His soul’s anguish over, he shall see the light and be content. By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself.” When we know that God who loves us suffered as much for our sins and identifies with us in our sufferings, we can accept the mystery of suffering even though we might not understand why, since God was not spared from suffering as well.
As we contemplate on the Crucified Christ, we find hope and courage. Regardless of our sins and weaknesses, we know that Christ will understand us for He has been through all trials, sufferings and temptations. “Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme High Priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin.” Jesus would have compassion for us more than anyone else. So none of us should ever feel unworthy or hopeless, for the Lord forgives us all our sins and He feels with us in all our temptations and weaknesses.
That is why we can “be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.” Like Jesus, we can be confident of God’s help. “During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.” With Jesus, in times of trials and even death, we too must say, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Let us not be afraid to accept His divine will and find peace for our souls. Through suffering, we will too learn true obedience and find peace for our souls as we learn to surrender everything into the hands of God. He will not abandon us. Mary and John and a few women stood by Jesus regardless. He was not all alone. And just as He sent Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus to give Him a proper burial, so too, God will send the most unlikely people to help us endure the storms of life.
2012-04-06 Vatican Radio
Below, please find the full text of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFMCap, Preacher of the Papal Household, delivered Good Friday, April 6th, 2012, in St. Peter’s Basilica, during the Passion liturgy.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap“I DIED, AND BEHOLD I AM ALIVE FOR EVERMORE”
(Revelation 1:18)Homily of Good Friday 2012 in Saint Peter’s Basilica
Some ancient Fathers of the Church enclosed in an image the whole mystery of the redemption. Imagine, they said, that an epic fight took place in the stadium. A courageous man confronted a cruel tyrant who had the city enslaved and, with enormous effort and suffering, defeated him. You were on the terraces; you did not fight, or make an effort or get wounded. However, if you admire the courageous man, if you rejoice with him over his victory, if you intertwine crowns, arouse and stir the assembly for him, if you kneel joyfully before the triumphant one, kiss his head and shake his right hand; in a word, if you rave so much as to consider his victory yours, I tell you that you will certainly have part of the victor’s prize. However, there is more: imagine that the victor had himself no need of the prize he had won, but wished more than anything to see his supporter honored and considers as the prize of his combat the crowning of his friend, in that case, perhaps, will that man not obtain the crown also though he has not toiled on been wounded? He certainly will obtain it!
It happens thus, say the Fathers, between Christ and us. On the cross, he defeated the ancient enemy. “Our swords – exclaims Saint John Chrysostom – were not bloodied, we were not in agony, we were not wounded, we did not even see the battle and yet we obtain the victory. His was the fight, ours the crown. And because we are also the conquerors, let us imitate what soldiers do in such cases: with joyful voices let us exalt the victory, let us intone hymns of praise to the Lord!” It is not possible to explain better the meaning of the liturgy we are celebrating. * * *
However, is what we are doing itself an image, a representation of a reality of the past, or is it the reality itself? It is both things! “We – said Saint Augustine to the people – know and believe with very certain faith that Christ died only once for us […]. You know perfectly that all that happened only once, and yet the solemnity renews it periodically […]. Historical truth and liturgical solemnity are not opposed to one another, as if the second is fallacious and the first alone corresponds to the truth. In fact, of what history says occurred only once in reality, the solemnity repeatedly renews the celebration in the hearts of the faithful.”The liturgy “renews” the event: how many discussions have taken place for the past five centuries on the meaning of this word, especially when it is applied to the sacrifice of the cross and to the Mass! Paul VI used a verb that could smooth the way to an ecumenical agreement on such an argument: the verb “to represent,” understood in the strong sense of re-presenting, namely to render what happened again present and operative.
There is an essential difference between the representation of Christ’s death and that, for example, of the death of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. No one celebrates as a living person the anniversary of his own death; Christ does because he is risen. Only he can say, as he does in Revelation: “I died, and behold I am alive ever more” (Revelation 1:18). We must be careful on this day, visiting the so-called sepulchers or taking part in processions of the dead Christ, not to merit the reproach that the Risen One addressed to the pious women on Easter morning: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). The affirmation of certain Orthodox authors is bold but true. The anamnesis, namely the liturgical memorial, “renders the event truer than when it happened historically the first time.” In other words, it is more true and real for us who relive it “according to the Spirit,” than it was for those who lived it “according to the flesh,” before the Holy Spirit revealed the full meaning to the Church.
We are not only celebrating an anniversary but a mystery.
If when going home this evening, someone asks us “Where are you coming from? Where have you been?” We must also answer, at least in our heart: “on Calvary!”* * *
However, all this does not happen automatically, just because we have taken part in this liturgy. It is a question of “accepting” the meaning of the mystery. This happens with faith. There is no music where there is no ear to hear it, no matter how loud the orchestra sounds; there is no grace where there is no faith to receive it. In an Easter homily of the 4th century, the bishop pronounced these extraordinarily modern, and one could say existentialist, words: “For every man, the beginning of life is when Christ was immolated for him. However, Christ is immolated for him at the moment he recognizes the grace and becomes conscious of the life procured for him by that immolation.”
However, let us stay on the safe side; let us listen to a doctor of the Church. “What I cannot obtain by myself – writes Saint Bernard –, I appropriate (literally, I usurp!) with confidence from the pierced side of the Lord., because he is full of mercy. Hence my merit is the mercy of God. I am certainly not poor in merits, as long as he is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are many (Psalm 119:156), I will also abound in merits. And what about my own righteousness? O Lord, I will remember only your righteousness. In fact, it is also mine, because you are righteousness for me on behalf of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30).Did this way of conceiving holiness make Saint Bernard, perhaps, less zealous in good works, less committed to the acquisition of virtues? Did perhaps the apostle Paul neglect to mortify his body and reduce it to slavery (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27), he who, before all and more than all, had made of this appropriation of Christ’s righteousness the purpose of his life and of his preaching (cf. Philippians 3:7-9)?
In Rome, as unfortunately in all big cities, there are so many homeless people, human persons who only have a few rags upon their body and some poor belongings that they carry along in a plastic bag. Let us imagine that one day this voice spreads: on Via Condotti (everyone knows what Via Condotti represents in Rome!) there is the owner of a fashion boutique who, for some unknown reason, whether out of interest or generosity, invites all the homeless of Termini rail way station to come to her shop; she invites them to take off their soiled rags, to have a good shower and then choose the garment they want among those displayed and take it away free of charge.All say in their heart: “This is a fairy-tale, it never happens!” Very true, but what never happens among men is what can happen every day between men and God, because, before Him, we are those homeless people! This is what happens in a good confession: you take off your dirty rags, your sins, receive the bath of mercy and rise “clothed in the garments of salvation, covered with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).
The tax collector of the parable went up into the temple to pray; he said simply but from the depth of his heart: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”, and “he went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14), reconciled, made new, innocent. The same could be said of us, if we have his same faith and repentance, when we go home after this liturgy. * * *
Among the personages of the Passion with whom we can identify, I realize that I have neglected to name one that more than all awaits those who will follow his example: the good thief. The good thief made a complete confession of sin; he says to his companion who insults Jesus: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40f.). Here the good thief shows himself an excellent theologian. Only God in fact, if he suffers, suffers absolutely as innocent; every other being who suffers should say: “I suffer justly,” because even if he is not responsible for the action imputed to him, he is never altogether without fault. Only the pain of innocent children is similar to God’s and because of this it is so mysterious and so sacred.
How many atrocious crimes in recent times remained anonymous, how many unresolved cases exist! The good thief launches an appeal to those responsible: do like me, come out into the open, confess your fault; you also will experience the joy I had when I heard Jesus’ word: “”today you will be with me in Paradise!” (Luke 23:43). How many confessed offenders can confirm that it was also like this for them: that they passed from hell to heaven the day that they had the courage to repent and confess their fault. I have known some myself. The paradise promised is peace of conscience, the possibility of looking at oneself in the mirror or of looking at one’s children without having to have contempt for oneself. Do not take your secret to your grave; it would procure for you a far more fearful condemnation than the human. Our people are not merciless with one who has made a mistake but recognizes the evil done, sincerely, not just for some calculation. On the contrary! They are ready to be merciful and to accompany the repentant one on his journey of redemption (which in every case becomes shorter).
Let us take up now and do what we heard at the beginning, it is our task this day: with joyful voices let us exalt the victory of the cross, intone hymns of praise to the Lord. “O Redemptor, sume carmen temet concinentium”: And you, O our Redeemer, receive the song we raise to you.
1. Nicholas Cabasilas, Vita in Christo, I. 9 (PG 150, 517)2. Saint John Chrysostom, De coemeterio et de cruce (PG, 49, 596).
3. Saint Augustine, Sermon 220 (PL 38, 1089).4. Cf. Paul VI, Mysterium fidei (AAS 57, 1965, p. 753 ff).
5. Augustine, Epistle 55, 1, 2 (CSEL 34, 1, p. 170). 6. Paschal Homily of the year 387 (SCh 36, p. 59 f.).
7. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the Canticle, 61, 4-5 (PL 183, 1072). 8. Hymn of Palm Sunday and of the Chrism Mass of Maundy Thursday.
Teresa of Avila and her simple prayer:
Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Attainteth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting
Alone God sufficeth.
Another quick prayer we use as a daily rededication to Faithfully Doing God’s Will
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
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