Good Friday 2019.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today we are called to consider an absolutely essential aspect of our Catholic -- which means universal -- Christian faith. We should not, and indeed cannot, identify Christian values with those currently prevalent in our Western part of the world, because our present, secularized, Western culture is most seriously wrong, for example, in the exaggerated emphasis and value it puts on living long to experience and enjoy all that life has to offer. Because of this fixation on satisfying our human capacity for pleasure and fulfilment Western society has come to regard death as the end of everything that is desirable, and consequently views death, with all its concomitant forms of suffering, as something to be avoided above all else. It is time, therefore, for modern, secular, self-satisfied and non-believing, Westerners to learn from the attitude of other great cultures, in this case of Japan and Islam – yes, even from some former world-war and some present world-turmoil opponents – who believed and believe that death can be regarded as a possible gateway to future glory, and who can, therefore, gladly embrace death for what they consider to be a worthwhile cause.
Now, although we Catholics and Christians could never accept the idea of political convictions being a worthy cause for deliberate self destruction, and while the manner in which certain former adversaries deliberately chose to kill themselves and die along with their opponents alarmed and amazed us; and although the notion of heavenly glory so frequently imagined by simple ISIS enthusiasts and proclaimed by manipulative leaders, is both degrading and earthly, nevertheless, the willingness of members of those two great cultures – Japan and Islam -- to sacrifice themselves for what they – rightly or wrongly -- saw or see as an ideal or belief, is something both truly human and worthy of admiration.
We Catholics can never resort to self-inflicted death, to self-destruction, as a direct means to express our hatred or promote our cause, because death cannot be of our free and deliberate choosing; nevertheless, as Christians, we are called to become so freed from the fear of death, to be inspired with such love for what is divinely beautiful and true, that we can wholeheartedly embrace death when it is encountered for witnessing to Christ and expressing love for God or neighbour. Today, however, our secularized Western societies are smothering Christians aspirations and dragging down believers into fearing death above all, something to be feared and avoided or at least delayed, at whatever cost; while saving life – except of course the lives of aborted infants – justifies almost anything.
Today, we Catholics and Christians need very much to remember that we celebrate GOOD FRIDAY, the day when Jesus, our Redeemer, Lord and Saviour, embraced death for love of His Father and sinful mankind.
Yes, People of God, today we Catholics celebrate Jesus’ death; and we must never allow ourselves to be led astray into mourning Jesus’ death. We embrace, rejoice in, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ way of dying, Jesus’ use of death, for us; we lament, we mourn, we weep, for mankind’s (including individuals like you and me) killing of, hatred for, self-centred disregard of, Jesus, His truth and His love. Jesus’ death we love and celebrate; it is our -- and mankind’s -- killing of Him and His that we both loath and mourn.
Our modern society in this much-changed country once known as Great Britain has come to admire mourning: many people today seem to think it good to say they cannot forget; forget what? Of course, they cannot forget nor could anyone ever ask them to forget their loved ones whose memory deserves to be cherished. However, what they should learn to forget, to put behind them, is their loss, which too many mourn, year after year after year! In that mourning there can indeed be sincere heart-break; but also, there is far too much self-love; and such mourning is not for our Christian remembrance and celebration of Good Friday, for it does not proclaim any good.
Today, I say, we Catholics and Christians are called to celebrate Jesus’ dying, Jesus’ embrace of death, for us. As for mourning, we mourn most certainly our own sinfulness, so like, indeed so one-with, that of those who actually killed Jesus two-thousand years ago; BUT our mourning compels us to tackle our sinfulness; we can hope and must aspire to overcome our sinfulness and thereby transfigure our mourning, by God’s grace.
Looking now, on this Good Friday, at the crucified Jesus, we recognize that, for Him, death was not the end but rather the climax of His life; it was not the loss of all that He had loved, but rather the sublime moment when He was at last able to give supreme expression to the love which had filled His life. Jesus said, “It is finished”: that is, first of all, He was aware and content that He had completed the task His Father had given Him when sending Him into this world. What was it that was finished? Not simply the work of our redemption, because the full fruit of that has still to be gathered in over the ages by His disciples working in the power of His Spirit in the Church and in the world. What then was already fully and finally finished as Jesus breathed His last?
It was Jesus’ constant and ever-more-consuming desire to give Himself entirely to the Father in His earthly life; to give true and full expression -- as much as the limits of His human body would allow Him -- to the consuming love He had for His Father (Luke 12:50):
I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!
Our Good Friday Jesus was finally able to say, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit” with ineffable peace and joy, before He then deliberately breathing His last. Life did not just slip listlessly out of His grasp: He wholeheartedly gave over His life in total trust to His Father. This final and total gift of Himself to the Father was, in that way, the fullest expression He had ever been able to give of the love that filled Him.
For us Catholics and Christians therefore, death may even be supremely desirable, and can and should, most certainly, be hopefully reverenced and humbly embraced, because it offers us also a supreme opportunity to express our love for the Father, our trust in Jesus, our hope in the Spirit.