Good Friday and the Mirror of the Cross

The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquity (Is. 53:11).⧾

The reading of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John on Good Friday is a climax of the liturgy of Lent. For all of us who believe in Christ as Son of God and Our Saviour, wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities it is a draining experience to listen attentively and with devotion to so brutal an ending of our Lord’s earthly life. ‘It is finished’ (Jn. 19:30). These words bring to an end the mission that was His from the very foundation of the world. At the Last Supper, in what is known as the farewell discourse, Our Lord said to His disciples: ‘the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father and have come into the world’ (Jn. 16:27). Devoutly recalling His Sacred Passion, we acknowledge that Our Lord is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9). We obey, that is, we listen to His every word and utterance so that we might enter more fully into this mystery in which is revealed the truth about God and man; of human nature wounded by sin, yet redeemed and healed by the Son of God.

The passion of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the hope of glory and a lesson in patience (St. Augustine). Everything that we need to know for life is revealed to us through the Passion of Our Lord. For this reason, the Church’s preaching has always been the Word of the Cross; and in every age this Word is met either with rejection, indifference or faith. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). In the Son of God whipped to blood, crowned with thorns, mocked, spat upon, ridiculed, nailed and pierced; in this consummate ugliness, this unspeakable outrage we behold a picture of divine beauty and glory; the power of God. Yes, in His Passion and on the Cross he had no form or majesty that we should look at him; nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from who men hide their faces he was despised (Is. 53:2-3) He is however the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature (Heb. 1:3). For, although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Heb. 5:8-9).

Those who gaze on the Crucified Lord in faith are able to perceive that His hour of highest spiritual beauty and glory is a moment of utmost degradation. In His humiliation, the Crucified Lord brings near and makes visible the divine glory for we see in Him the unspeakable love of God for sinners. Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life (Jn. 3:16). On this day, the liturgy instructs us to lie prostrate and to genuflect before the Crucifix; kneeling in adoration; humbling ourselves before Him who humbled Himself and became obedient for us to death, even death on a Cross(Phil. 2:8).

“In the Crucified Jesus we see revealed [also] another kind of grandeur: our own greatness, the grandeur which belongs to every man and woman by the simple fact that we have a human face and heart. In the words of Saint Anthony of Padua, Christ, who is your life, hangs before you, so that you can gaze upon the cross as if in a mirror… If you look upon him, you will be able to see the greatness of your dignity and worth… Nowhere else can we better recognize our own value, than by looking into the mirror of the cross (Sermones dominicales et festivi, III, pp. 213-214).

Jesus, the Son of God, died for you, for me, for each of us. In this way He gave us concrete proof of how great and precious we are in the eyes of God, the only eyes capable of seeing beyond all appearances and of peering into the depths of our being” (Cardinal, Ruini, Meditations for the Via Crucis, April 1, 2010). This is why the Passion of Our Lord reveals to us everything we need to know. The grandeur that is ours because of our humanity affirms the dignity of all human life and for this reason always and everywhere Christians must be defenders of life.

The Crucifix must be restored to our churches and Altars for in faith see ourselves in the mirror of the Cross and we make our own the words of the Apostle: But far be it from me to glory except in  the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:4). We glory in the Cross because the Word of the Cross, the Way of the Cross, and the Sacrament of the Cross, that is to say the Eucharist, are a complete program of life for us; and not us alone but indeed for the whole world.

Everything that we need to know for life is revealed to us through the Passion of Our Lord. Let us then learn from the Cross of Jesus our proper way of living. Should I say ‘living’ or, instead, ‘dying’? Rather, both living and dying. Dying to the world, living for God. Dying to vices and living by the virtues. Dying to the flesh, but living in the spirit. Thus in the Cross of Christ there is death and in the Cross of Christ there is life. The death of death is there, and the life of life. The death of sins is there and the life of the virtues. The death of the flesh is there, and the life of the spirit. But why did God choose this manner of death? He chose it as both a mystery and an example (Aelred of Rievaulx, In Hebd. Sancta, sermon 36.1-2.4 (CCM 2A:294-295).

Mystery and example; these two words are likewise descriptive of the Sacrament of the Cross, the Eucharist whose institution was commemorated in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and which we celebrate reverently and devoutly each Sunday as we celebrate the victory of the Cross in the Resurrection of Our Lord. The self-giving love of God that the Eucharist makes present for us not in symbol, but in reality and in mystery is the way of the Christian. We have to pattern our lives on this mystery for in the light of this mystery all things are judged and known by the measure of God’s redemptive love.

The universal scope of God’s redemptive love, God’s and our own Christian love in imitation, are both expressed in the ancient, solemn intercessions that are part of the Good Friday Liturgy. We curse no one in our prayer. The scope of our prayer, like the love of God, is universal. So we commit ourselves anew on this holy day to walk along the path of devout humility in the footsteps of the Saviour who came to reveal to us the merciful countenance of God the Father. At the beginning of the Last Supper, the Apostle Philip said to Jesus, ‘Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.’ Our Lord responded, ‘Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father’. This is true of Jesus not only in the miracles he worked and in the glorified state of the resurrection, but also and especially  as He hung upon the Cross.

Mystery and example: on the Cross we have the ultimate and only adequate answer to the problem of evil, the only solution to the mystery of sin. The world’s redemption could only be brought about in the mystery of a love that by suffering withstands all the insults inflicted upon it (Cardinal Hans Urs Von Balthasar). Our Christian faith and life are a journey into the depth of this mystery.

Through the ages Christians have borne witness to the Crucified Saviour by uniting themselves to this hour of Jesus most especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; thus in prayer and in the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy with Our Lord we continue the work of the redemption, effected first in us and please God, through us in others as the offer of salvation is ever made. Our charity extends through time the love and mercy of God so that the words of the Psalm may be fulfilled: O Praise the Lord all you nations, acclaim him all you people! Strong is his love for us; he is faithful for ever (Ps. 117). On this day, at the hour of Our Lord’s death we begin the novena to the Divine Mercy and pray that soon our churches may at least be opened once again for prayer, especially Eucharistic Adoration.

As the Church this year is especially united to Our Lord’s Passion in the desolation and solitude that faithful Catholics almost everywhere are enduring, let us be consoled by these words of the great mystic and stigmatic, St Catherine of Siena, who also lived in turbulent and confusing times: everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man. God does nothing without this goal in mind. We entrust ourselves, our Church and the world at large to the Love of God; the love that has vanquished sin, hatred and death.⧾