Homily; Good Friday, 2014
The Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne
We now stand at the foot of the cross. What have we seen? What have we heard? We have seen Jesus today stand before Caiaphas, the high priest, and before Pilate and those who falsely accuse him. We have seen Jesus before guards who abuse him and his own disciple, Peter, who denies and abandons him. And, we stand alongside the faithful ones, Mary and John.
Before Caiaphas and Pilate, Jesus is partially on trial for claiming to be King of the Jews. In reality, as Jesus’ own testimony reveals, this title falls far short, for he is King of a far larger Kingdom; the Kingdom of God. Listen again to the testimony of Jesus: “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.”
Again, when challenged by Pilate to recognize the authority he wields over him, Jesus responds with the deeper truth regarding ultimate authority: “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.” Thus we learn that all worldly power does not come from human sources, but from the One alone Who IS All Powerful.
We have seen Peter bravely proclaim his fidelity to Jesus, and his own willingness to die for Jesus. We know the rest of the story, and we know that this profession of faith and fidelity is ultimately achieved by Peter. But on this day, Peter falters and fails his test of discipleship.
Upon his arrest, Jesus is asked, if he is Jesus the Nazarene, he responds with the same words which God uses to reveal His identity to Moses: “I AM.” His response acknowledges his identity among men, but also reveals the far greater and Divine Nature of His Being. Jesus in this moment is clearly identifying himself as God, the one who comes as the Lamb of God to be led away for slaughter for the salvation of the world.
Peter on the other hand when asked: “You are surely one of Jesus’ followers!” responds also with an answer rich in meaning. “I am not.” Peter is well on his way to fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus that he would deny him three times. But on a deeper level, the response of Peter, particularly in contrast to Jesus’ response, reveals the truth of every human being. God is the One Who IS, and we are nothing. Indeed as Jesus teaches: “Without me you can do nothing.”
Finally, we arrive at the cross, where Jesus – beaten, stripped, weary and humiliated is nailed to the cross and lifted up for all to see. We cannot help but be moved to tears as we witness this terrible and painful torture. And yet we are moved even more deeply when we come to understand that the greater pain of our Lord is the cross he endured in his soul; the painful desire he carried from birth for the salvation of the world. As obvious is his weariness from the physical pain of this crucifixion, Jesus is far more afflicted by his deep desire to restore the honor of obedience to God and salvation to his neighbor. (Blessed Raymond of Capua, p. 186)
Before his death, we hear Jesus say: “I thirst.” Physically, these words make perfect sense. But again, on a far deeper level, they reveal an infinite desire in the heart of Jesus for our wellbeing. This desire is expressed by Jesus at the Last Supper when he declares to his disciples: “‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 22:15)
The urgency of this longing is contained in the words he speaks to Judas before Judas departs to betray him: “After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’” (John 13:27) Jesus now sees the hour of the completion of his deepest desire at hand. The painful cross of this desire has reached its culmination. He drinks the final drops from the chalice of his desire for the salvation of mankind to slake his ‘thirst’ and fulfills the Father’s will.*
At the hour Christ drinks the final drops from the chalice of his infinite desire for our salvation, a soldier pierces his side. We now gaze into this open side of Christ, into the sacred chamber of his chest which contains his Sacred Heart. From our vantage point as we stand with Mary and John at the foot of the cross, we see the infinite love of God revealed in the finite sufferings of Jesus. From this open and wounded side of Christ flows the Blood that fills the chalice which is given us for our salvation.
Standing with Mary and John, what have we learned? We learn that discipleship comes with a cost. Mary and John teach us that we are capable of enduring the pain and trials of this life. They teach us that love is the only response to the Love of the Savior as well as to the evils of this world.
Our life as disciples of Jesus will lead us to stand with Mary and John at the foot of the cross. Our discipleship of faith in Christ will offer us opportunities to share in His sufferings. This formation at the foot of the cross is to help us take God’s Word seriously, to love Christ devotedly, to follow Christ faithfully, to live without sin and to surrender to God’s Holy Will in all things.
Jesus’ desire was the desire of God for our own wellbeing. As disciples of Jesus, we bear the same desire for obedience to God and love of neighbor.
I wish to close this reflection with the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Jesus, may all that is you flow into me. May your body and blood be my food and my drink. May your passion and death be my strength and my life. With you by my side, enough has been given.
May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross. Lord, let me not run from the love which you offer, but hold me safe from the forces of evil. And on each of my dyings shed your light and your love. Keep calling me Lord, until the day that with your saints, I may praise you forever and ever.
*This reflection comes from St. Catherine of Siena as described by Blessed Raymond of Capua in his book: The Life of St. Catherine of Siena, pp.186-1880