Saturday, 23 April 2011

Good Friday Year A

A favourite of Catholics is this hymn: Jesus keeps me near the Cross. The wordings were composed by a blind Methodist poet who when after she had found Christ turned her poetic skills to lyrical use. Amongst the Protestants, there is a certain steadfastness associated with the Methodist which might explain why, initially, the “Cross” featured prominently in their theological playground. What can their steadfastness teach us about the Cross?

The Cross should never be far from a Catholic’s field of vision. We should to take to the Cross like ducks take to water. Why is the Cross so important? After all, it is an instrument of torture and would not our attachment to it border on idolatry?

The answer is to be found in our experience. Today is not a day of obligation. Yet, instinctively, one of the largest congregation is the 3-pm Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. Part of the reason is scriptural. According to Luke’s Gospel, the ninth hour was when Christ breathed His last. Therefore, Catholic imagination makes a powerful link between the 3-pm death of Christ and our salvation. Just as an aside, do you know that it almost always rains here at about that time every Good Friday?

What is unfortunate is that the connexion the Cross and salvation often does not go further. Many of us naturally shy away from the Cross. We are plain happy to accept that Christ’s death saved mankind. But, listen to what "more" the Catholic Catechism has to say:

The Cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the “one mediator between God and men”. But because in His incarnate divine person He has in some way united Himself to every man, “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” is offered to all men. He calls His disciples to “take up their cross and follow Him”, for Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example so that we should follow in His footsteps”. In fact, Jesus desires to associate with His redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of His mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of His redemptive suffering. [CCC618].

The Catechism tells us in no uncertain terms that through the Cross, we participate in His sacrifice. This is why Paul says in Colossians 1: 24ff, “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”.

At baptism, the outline of the Cross is traced onto our souls which means the shadow of the Cross is never far. It cannot be that a person can live his or her life without ever the shadow of the Cross cutting across his or her path. The Cross is real for every baptised person to the point that if there were no cross in your life, you should worry.

The statues have been covered since the 5th Sunday of Lent and will be unveiled later and this unveiling is significant for it allows us to look at the one Crucified so that we might see Him with fresh eyes and look into our suffering not to lament “why” but rather to ask “how” our suffering is important to Him in His redemptive sacrifice to save the world. How can our suffering help His mission?

Our solipsistic world is pathetically lonely. We would like to think that our social networking—facebook or twitter—has torn down the walls of loneliness, but the truth of the matter remains that so many are trapped in loneliness. And it is this lonely world that has actually forgotten the real meaning of the Communion of Saints. We belong together in this Communion which we sometimes call the “Church”, the “Body of Christ” or the “Bride of Christ”.

A major characteristic of this communion is that it is organic and this organic whole is made up of inter-related parts in a communion of sharing. And it is this communion that gives some semblance of dignity to our suffering—whether our suffering be physical, psychological or spiritual. Bishop Fulton Sheen used to lament what he called “wasted suffering”. When you are sick your body certainly gets wasted but that is not the meaning here. Wasted suffering means that there are many who have not come to realise the meaning and spiritual value of their suffering in the context of the communion. No suffering within this communion is ever wasted if we offer it to Christ—the bridegroom and the head. He knows what He can do with our votive offering.

So, where Christ our Lord is concerned, no one is ever a bystander, no one here is a “belieber”, as the fans of Justin Bieber call themselves. Instead, in Christ, fans become followers. We follow Him and so the Cross, in whatever shape and size, will never be far.

The Church is rightfully a gathering of “sinners” for suffering is somehow linked to sin. Sometimes we suffer on account of other peoples’ sins. But, in Christ, all sufferings are redeemed and so sinners come so that Christ may redeem them and sinners also come because they would like to offer, no matter how insignificant or how poorly, their sufferings to Christ so that He may apply that self-sacrifice along with His in order to save the world. Earlier I said that that if there is no cross in your life, you ought to worry. Satan will never place obstacles for those who are going to hell. But if there is, never be surprised for as the hymn suggests…. “Jesus keeps me near the Cross, there’s a precious fountain”.