Homilies

April 3, 2024

Good Friday Homily 2024

Good Friday
March 29, 2024

One of the striking realities of Jesus’ passion is his utter isolation and aloneness. The Scripture has told us today that even his looks seemed beyond the bounds of human appearance: so marred was his look beyond human semblance and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man. The only people who had the courage to approach him were the women of Jerusalem and, so we are told, Veronica, who did what she could to offer a sign of compassion. As we have seen repeated so often, no one dares to help the victim of a lynch mob. We turn away in shame at both the diabolical violence and our own cowardice. He was spurned and avoided by people…one of those from whom people hid their faces. His closest friends, whom he had chosen himself, who had accompanied him in his journeys, seen the signs he worked, listened and pondered his parables, betrayed him, abandoned him, denied him. He who was the fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets promised is disowned by the leaders of his people. The feckless Pilate, a post-modern man before his time, derides the idea that there is any truth in the face of the one who tells us, I am the way, the truth and the life. The short span between himself and his mother and the disciple whom he loved at the foot of the cross is an unbridgeable gulf. When he could bear no more, he begins the Psalm, asking his Father why he is abandoned and left alone. Finally, in that desolation, he hands himself over to the final enemy and is overwhelmed by death. 

Thus it had to be if he was to bear all the sufferings of time and, by absorbing them into himself, to shatter them, because in him dwelt the fullness of divinity. To destroy the power of sin, Jesus submitted to the evil of sin, to its utter emptiness, sterility and disappointment. Sin leaves us alone and isolated. We, who think we delight in the illusion of being in control, would perhaps be shocked to realize that the only thing over which we have total and complete control is our sin. Our virtue indeed requires our deliberate choice, but it also requires grace. Our sin is totally ours. We can be forced into evil actions by fear, passion, pain and a host of other things which impede our free choice. Great sin, however, requires our full, knowing and free consent. It is mine alone. Sin separates me from everyone. All others are eventually sucked into my insatiable and self-centered addiction to pleasure, power, adulation. Such is the teaching of the divinely inspired Scripture as to how sin entered into God’s good creation. The first human beings, who, we are told, used to enjoy familiar colloquy with God in the cool of the evening, are now afraid of God and hide from him. They are ashamed before one another, for they now know they are naked and their innocent familiarity becomes degenerate: Your longing shall be for your husband and he will lord it over you. They are estranged from the nature around them, given to them for their delight and care, and are driven from the garden: Cursed is the ground because of you…thorns and thistles it shall bear for you. In order to redeem us, then, Jesus had to face the total emptiness and aloneness of sin, which, in its ultimate deception, so distances us from God that we feel that even God has abandoned us. 

But there is another side to Jesus’ loneliness that is the opposite of the isolation of sin. For we have just heard how 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. In the Garden, Jesus asked that this cup pass him by, but that that not his will but his Father’s will be done. He was most certainly heard, and what he heard was that this cup could not pass him by. In the mysterious plan of God’s wisdom to redeem fallen man, it is the Son, eternally begotten from the Father who becomes incarnate by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. He, who is the image of the unseen God, the image according to which we are created in God’s image and likeness, humbles himself to assume the very humanity he had created. In the free will of the human nature assumed for our salvation, Jesus accepts the response to his prayer and obeys. Obedience, too, is something we must do alone. No one can be obedient for me in my place. I must make the choice alone. The fullness of Jesus’ obedience is alluded to by St. Benedict when he speaks of obedience: “This very obedience, however, will be acceptable to God and agreeable to men only if compliance with what is commanded is not cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from any murmuring or any reaction of unwillingness.” It was the personal and individual choice of Jesus to trust his Father’s love and obey his Father’s will. We have just heard the consequence of his choice: 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. The Apostle elsewhere instructs us regarding the results of Christ’s obedience: Because of this God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The obedience of the man, Jesus, the Son of God, erases in one act of perfect love the disobedience of all time. Because of this obedience Jesus rises triumphant over that last enemy death and so recreates our human nature, which he had formed in the beginning, so that it is no longer merely restored to the earthly paradise from which it was exiled but now becomes a partaker of the divine nature.

On the cross, Jesus drank the dregs of the loneliness of sin, which dregs are very familiar to us. He invites us, in the power of the Holy Spirit he has poured out on us, to join him now in the somewhat unfamiliar choice of his obedience, which I alone can make for myself. Through the gift of the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation we have been empowered to choose to follow Jesus in his complete trust in and obedience to the all-powerful love of God – a love which so often manifests its power in apparent weakness. It is in the light of Jesus’ revelation to us of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that led him to his Incarnation and to the cross, that we realize that, even in his abandonment, he was never really alone, for the Father was always with him. When we are tempted, when we are afraid that obedience to what I know God wants me to do will leave me alone, unfulfilled, when we are ridiculed and made to think that we are all by ourselves in witnessing to the truth, let us remember the awesome mystery we are celebrating today of inscrutable mystery of God’s saving love, for in the mystery of the cross we see the truth of the Apostles’ preaching: For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. We have witnessed the utter loneliness and desolation of sin in the awful agony of Jesus on the cross. We have ourselves tasted that loneliness and desolation when the cruel deception of sin left us alone and ashamed. We have also witnessed Jesus’ obedience which led him through the cross to the glorious life of resurrection.  Let us make this latter obedience our own very individual choice as we follow the life and call faith marks out for us, in the midst of our fears and hesitations trusting as Jesus did in his Father’s love, for eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and it has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.

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