Saturday, 22 March 2008

Good Friday Year A

The theme today is summed very nicely by this hymn which we seldom sing: Jesus, keep me near the Cross. On the one hand, we exalt the Cross today and yet on the other hand, it is a horrible. How could it not be when Jesus has to carry a Cross and is taunted by onlookers and jeered at? He is charged with treason and executed by the Roman authorities in a brutal manner normally reserved for slaves and other non-Romans who have committed the most iniquitous of offences. Worst is to die hanging on a Cross and in between two thieves.

For those who had hope in him, his was a life of failure. But, our eyes of faith can perceive beyond the veil to see that the Cross is full of meaning. The Cross is about life. Jesus says: “And when I am lifted up, I shall draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). In a conversation with Nicodemus, he says, “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him”. There is so much life in the Cross that St Paul dares to proclaim Christ crucified.

In fact, we glory in the Cross. There is a Cross in every church—in every Catholic church, there is a crucifix... not just an empty Cross.. As we enter the church, we bless ourselves with the sign of the Cross. We trace the Cross over the food we bless. The Cross is used for exorcism. And we wear the Cross as a symbol of personal devotion.

The Cross is thus a great symbol of love for it is love which transmutes or translates sheer suffering into sacrifice. Without love, Calvary would be cavalier, a sheer waste of life. And Jesus would have been a failure.

Thus, the Cross is the supreme symbol of sacrificial love since He himself had said that “no greater love a person has than to lay down his life for his friends”. That being so, our proper response to love is joy: “We adore you O Christ because by your Love you have redeemed the world”.

But we face a challenge here. I have waxed much too lyrical about the beauty of the Cross whilst we face the test of translating the Crosses in our lives—of matching Christ’s Cross with ours. Suffering and pain pose a predicament because of an expectation that has arisen from being schooled in a particular idea of God. In this idea of God, we find it hard to reconcile a good God with suffering especially innocent suffering.

People who are bowed down by suffering sometimes ask this universal question: Why? God’s answer to our searching “why, Lord?” is Christ in His suffering. The Father too gave up His Son and did not shield Him from the reality imposed by the limitation of creature-hood and creation. The Father too knows what it is like to suffer and He too has the right to ask the very question we ask.

Christ on the Cross shows that suffering is not alien to the idea of a good God. According to Cardinal Ratzinger, he laments that,
“Today what people have in view is eliminating suffering from the world. For the individual, that means avoiding pain and suffering in whatever way. Yet we must also see that it is in this very way that the world becomes very hard and very cold. Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain. When we know that the way of love–this exodus, this going out of oneself–is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.
The incarnation, the event that God became Man, may be seen in this light as God becoming more human when He took on suffering. In love there is always suffering. So much so that St Paul gave this response to suffering. “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1:24). It doesn’t mean that Christ hadn’t suffered enough. Paul is just expressing what it really means to be a member of Christ’s body. In the face of suffering, perhaps, we need to find our peace with answers that can only be fully understood when we stand face to face with God. But, for now, it suffices to know that if Christ can share the riches of his divinity with us, perhaps, we too can share the poverty of his humanity—the poverty of his suffering. That is the meaning of the communion of saints.