Friday, April 6, 2012

Holy Week Reflection: Good Friday of the Passion and Death of the Lord

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord
(Is 52:13-53:12; Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Jn 18:1-19:42)

“Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.”

These are the words that the priest proclaims as he begins to unveil the cross during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion and Death which the Catholic Church celebrates on Friday of Holy Week, or Good Friday. The congregation, then, responds, “Come, let us adore” and venerates the cross singing: “We adore your Cross, O Lord, we praise and glorify your holy Resurrection, for behold, because of the wood of a tree joy has come to the whole world.”

At first, the adoration of the Cross could seem strange. After all, in Jesus’ time, the cross was a form of torturing punishment and extreme humiliation. In fact, prominent atheists use the veneration of the cross to attack the principles of Christianity. For example, Any Rand states, “I do not believe in the sacrifice of one man to another. […] I am not merely anti-Christian. I am anti-mystical. The cross is a symbol of torture, of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. I prefer the dollar sign – the symbol of free trade, therefore of the free mind.” [1] This is not a new or modern development. During the 13th century, some heretical groups thought that the cross should be cursed and not blessed because it “was the instrument for the suffering and death of the one who had come to show us the way of salvation.” [2]

However, one of the mysterious ways that God works in the world is to take something that is lacking, or even evil, and raise it up to achieve good, and thereby, sanctify it and make it holy. This is not to say the God desires evil things. However, God tolerates evil and, because of God’s divine Power, God can make good out of evil. The cross is a perfect example. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, the cross was a symbol of torture and death. However, through Jesus’ selfless embracing of the cross, he transformed it into a holy instrument. The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Thus, the Church acknowledges the holiness of Christ’s Cross and, in fact, established a feast, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), to honor the holy Cross of Christ. A portion of the preface prayer on this feast day states, “For you placed the salvation of the human race on the wood of the Cross, so that, where death arose, life might again spring forth and the evil one, who conquered on a tree, might likewise on a tree be conquered, through Christ our Lord.” Since the original sin of humanity began with a tree, the eating of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God decided to use a tree as an instrument for humanity’s salvation through Jesus Christ.

So, as we reflect on the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are conscious of our sinfulness and we thank Jesus for his saving love. We ask that Jesus take us, who are lacking and sinful, and purify us; make us new, so that we may be instruments of his peace throughout the world. And so, we echo the favorite prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

“We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, in all your churches throughout the whole world, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

– Bro. Jeffrey Wilson, T.O.R.

[1] The Saturday Evening Post (Nov. 11, 1961) quotes Ayn Rand in an interview with Mike Wallace.

[2] Raoul Manselli, St. Francis of Assisi. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1988) p. 68.