CELEBRATION OF OUR LORD’S PASSION
GOOD FRIDAY, 21 APRIL, 2000
ST PATRICK’S CHURCH, DUNDALK
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
A famous negro spiritual asks the question: “Were you there, were you there when they crucified My Lord? It goes on to say, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble”.
Can you imagine yourself being there on that first Good Friday? Imagine you hear the nails being hammered into the hands of Jesus. You see the blood gushing forth, you hear the words, “I thirst”. You see the vinegar being offered to him to quench his thirst, a thirst for the love of the world. And then the soldier comes along to pierce the side of the dying Saviour.
We cannot ever forget that terrible suffering or the fact that Christ endured it for love of us. Suffering comes to each one of us. It helps greatly if we can offer our sufferings to God in union with the sufferings of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Christ endured another kind of suffering. It took place inside, in his own inner self. On the Cross he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ, St Paul tells us, became a Curse for us. In the Bible ‘cursed’, meant cut off from God and from people. He became isolated, hounded, banished, abandoned. Cut off from God he really felt accursed. He could only cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”?
On the Cross Jesus experienced the loss of God. He suffered all of this to pay the penalty for the loss of God in the world and in each one of us. He, the sinless one, paid the price for our rebellion against God. He paid the price of our lack of interest, of our lack of faith, in God.
Sometimes we feel utterly lost and helpless in life. We are on the verge of despair and in complete shame and desolation. At moments like that it helps to remember that Jesus has been in that place. He has experienced that pain, that hurt, that shame, that devastation, that loss. Not only that, Jesus won for us the strength to cope. He gained for us the will to struggle on. He won for us the grace to handle all situations no matter how terrible.
Jesus committed no sin; yet he bore all our sins. He carried the shame and the guilt of all our sins. He took the rap for all of us. Yes, we are all made for innocence. Guilt upsets us tremendously – even more than suffering. No one wants to be guilty. We all know the bitter experience of being blamed for something. We see how hard it is to openly take the blame without trying to defend ourselves. Jesus went through all of that. He carried that tremendous sense of guilt. Like the good thief on the cross, we must all admit we are suffering justly, because in fact we all have sinned. But only about Jesus is it absolutely true to say, “This man has done no wrong”.
Jesus suffered and died for our sake. At the moment of his death the curtain of the temple was torn in two, the rock was smashed, the tombs opened. It will take the same sort of earthquake in the life of each one of us to make us realise what happened on Calvary.
Christ died for me and for my sins. My sins crushed him to death. That is what Peter told three thousand people in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost Sunday. He knew well that the three thousand listening to him weren’t really present in Calvary, hammering in the nails. Neither were they standing before Pilate demanding the death sentence for Jesus. But they saw that what Peter said was true of them also. They were cut to the heart and they asked, “What shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you so that your sins may be forgiven”. To us who are already baptised, today he says, “Repent and be reconciled so that your sins may be forgiven”.
Forgiveness is at the heart of this year of the Great Jubilee. Forgiveness, like charity, begins at home. Pope John Paul has asked forgiveness on behalf of the Church and has offered forgiveness. He has asked the Church in this year of mercy to kneel before God and beg for pardon for the past and present sins of its children. He invites Christians to take responsibility before God and before people offended by their behaviour for the offences committed. Today I acknowledge the harm done and the hurt caused by members of the Catholic Church. I ask forgiveness from those who have been hurt or scandalised by the failures of people in the service of the Catholic Church.
Of course, when we ourselves ask for forgiveness we must, in turn, be willing to forgive. The year of God’s Favour is a time of freedom from all that enslaves us. Bitterness and hardness of heart are enemies of Christian freedom. The freedom that Christ came to bring was inner freedom, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from bitterness and hatred.
The celebration of the death of Jesus reminds us of our own death. It was Woody Allen who once said, “I am not afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens”.
Death will happen to all of us and we will be there when it happens. The way to deal with death is to do what Jesus did. He faced the prospect of death bravely and wisely, confident that death would turn out to be for him, a source of life. Jesus freely chose to die in obedience to the will of the Father. Even though he dreaded death, Jesus had that marvellous freedom. It enabled him to obey even to the point of dying on the Cross, for love of us. The great challenge, for each one of us, is to discover that the way Jesus found life through death is our way also, then death becomes the gateway to life, life everlasting. Dying he destroyed our death.