THE PASSION OF OUR LORD
GOOD FRIDAY, 2 APRIL 1999
ADDRESS BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
We know that the Passion of Our Lord asks a lot of questions. Jesus asked a lot of questions of the various people he met in Jerusalem on that weekend. There were the cohort and the police, sent by the Chief priests and the Pharisees, just doing their day’s work, earning their pay. At the end they took his clothing and divided it among them and Jesus asked them: ‘Who are you looking for?’ Yes, they had a name, Jesus the Nazarene. That is the man they were sent out to arrest. Perhaps the name did not mean much to them. Did they care? Were they interested?
Then when Peter drew his sword and wanted to use violence, Jesus asked him: ‘Am I not to drink the cup (of suffering) that the Father has given me?’ In other words, am I not to do the will of my Father.
Then there were Annas and Caiphas and the Chief Priests. They were questioning Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught. Annas wanted a quick answer, a short-cut. He couldn’t be bothered going to much trouble to find out about Jesus.
Then there is Pilate who wants to know “Are you the King of the Jews”? But then Pilate doesn’t know what truth is. All he wants to know is; is this man a king? If he is, therefore he might be a threat to Pilate, who is the Governor. So Pilate is interested in himself really, nothing more. ‘Yes I am a King. I came into the world to bear witness to the truth.’ The truth to which Jesus bore witness is that he came to save the world – a world that was otherwise destined to be lost. ‘All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice’. The answer of Jesus is plain. We must be either on the side of truth or on the side of falsehood. All who are on the side of truth listen to his voice.
Then there were others. There was Simon of Cyrene, for example, the man who just happened to be there, in from the country to do a bit of shopping perhaps, seized and compelled to carry the cross. Not liking it one bit. The experience asked him a few questions and probably changed his life, as there is a tradition that his two sons became Christians and followers of Peter. The Cross of Christ once it touches our lives, even if we resent it at first, in the form of some tragedy or disaster, changes life, if we gradually accept it, the cross has the power to change our hearts. It asks questions also. There were the women of Jerusalem who wept for Jesus. Jesus asked them no questions, he just simply said, “Weep not for me but for yourselves and for your children”. There was Veronica who couldn’t carry the cross but she did carry it in her own way by wiping the bloodstained face of Jesus.
There were the bystanders, the onlookers, who laughed and sneered and ridiculed. There were the two thieves, one good, who asked to be remembered by Jesus and got a wonderful answer to his prayers. There were also the women, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala; and there was John the beloved disciple. Jesus has no questions for them. They have proved their worth, to the end.
What about you and me? If we had been in Jerusalem that weekend, where would we have found ourselves? Who speaks for you and me among all those various groups? Would we be among the officials and soldiers and everybody else who is just doing a job, dividing the spoils? Throwing a dice for the seamless garment. Looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, yes, but in a very superficial way. Not really interested to know him but to know what I can get from him – a day’s pay perhaps, a share of the clothes and if I am lucky, a seamless robe.
Or would I be like Peter blowing hot and cold. One moment drawing the sword to defend Jesus, big stuff, and next minute denying that he had ever known him. One minute saying, he will not allow Jesus to wash his feet and the next minute saying, not only my feet but also my hands and my head.
Or am I to be found among the Chief Priests with Pilate; pretending to be interested in what Jesus teaches and stands for but only really going through the motions? Never interested enough to ask and listen to those who know what Jesus said. Washing my hands at every possible opportunity of any responsibility for the truth. Wondering perhaps, like Pilate, is there any such thing as truth. Jesus for those people is a bit of a bothersome nuisance really. Is Jesus in danger of becoming that for any of us. Ah yes, it is Good Friday. Better drop into Church at some stage and kiss the cross just in case of the worst. But I can’t stay too long or get too involved. You’d never know what I might be asked to do? Or are we like Simon of Cyrene, caught and pushed under the cross against our will at first, resenting and resisting like hell, but gradually coming to realise that the cross is the greatest proof of God’s love for each one of us.
Or are we to be found fortunately with that great crowd of courageous women and with John, the beloved disciple? I suppose we would all like to be but who knows?
Or are we like Veronica or the women of Jerusalem or the three Marys? “Weep for yourselves and for your children”, Jesus told them. It is a call to repentance. Weep for yourselves and for your sins, weep for your children and their sins. We cannot just scrape at the surface of evil. We have to get down to its roots and its causes. We have to face the truth of our conscience and do something about it.
There are two more I didn’t mention yet, Joseph of Aramathaea and Nicodemus – both were disciples of Jesus but secret ones. Not very courageous people but faithful, faithful in their own way. They arrived late and by that stage Jesus was no longer asking questions. He had met these men during his life and influenced them and convinced them that what he was saying was true. Now his dead body, hanging on the cross, once again asked them a question, What am I going to do about it?
Jesus forgives sins by the power of his cross and resurrection. The first time he saw his disciples after his death and resurrection he didn’t scold them for denying him and running away and abandoning him. Some show for a set of newly-ordained priests, or were they newly-ordained bishops as well? He simply says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. To any whose sins you forgive those sins will be forgiven”.
Jesus does not start accusing them. He is the shepherd who gave his life, out of love, for his people. He always welcomes those who accept the truth about themselves as sinners and who come looking for pardon. When someone kneels down in the confessional because he has sinned, that person, at that moment, adds to his/her own dignity. It does not matter how long or how heavy the sins are, or how long one has been away. It doesn’t matter how seriously our sins may have damaged our own dignity. The very act of a truthful confession, the very act of turning again to God is a sign of that person’s special dignity.
“Father I have sinned against God and against you”, says the prodigal son. That is a moment of deep truth. We are all sinners and we put ourselves in touch with God in a special way when we do that. This is the grace given by the sacrament of confession, the sacrament of Penance, the sacrament of Reconciliation. It has at least three names, because it has at least three parts. Sometimes we want to get cut-price grace by wanting the reconciliation part without the confession and without the penance. But sin is a very personal sort of offence, offered to God. It requires a personal sort of meeting, face to face, to sort it out with God the Father, who listens to us in secret. There is a certain nobility about someone who accepts the truth about his or her sinfulness and repents. That grace of repentance, which is given in the sacrament of Penance, flows from the Crucified Christ. Today we thank God for that grace and make a resolution to seek it often. Yes Jesus asks a lot of questions. What are we going to do about it?