April 14, 2017
Dear fellow pilgrims,
I greet you from outside our family bedroom, with Aidan graciously putting a fussy Leo to sleep so I can write this reflection.
This year, as I began watching The Passion of the Christ (my Good Friday tradition) I felt almost guttural dread of what I was about to see. While this feeling primarily indicated how exceedingly gruesome the Crucifixion was, it also indicated I was ill-prepared to contemplate. Good Friday seemed to have arrived out of nowhere. Taking care of my infant son has been a 24/7 job that has caused me to feel like just doing my duties as a first-time parent well would be a “full enough” Lent, but I failed to offer these daily duties and struggles up more specifically in the spirit of Lent. (I can relate to the sentiments Lauren expressed in her Tuesday reflection.) I felt like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane in the opening scene, rising sharply awake after Jesus appears to exhort them.
The truth is, though, (and this is perhaps the biggest understatement of all the Frassati reflections ever)… Good Friday is not an easy day to engage with.
But why? Here are three more specific reasons why Good Friday is difficult to approach:
- It is very natural for humans to react in disgust and look away from any beaten and bloody person.
- When we consider the task of Jesus on Good Friday, it is too enormous to fathom, so we abandon the task of contemplating it before we start out of despair, fear, and/or apathy.
- If we were to commit to deeply contemplating and believing the veracity of Jesus’ task on Good Friday, it would completely transform our understanding of ourselves and the world.
First off, from what I know about human psychology and emotions, we experience a sort of cognitive dissonance when we see someone in pain because we are psychologically equipped to act out of both empathy (“feeling for” a person) AND self-preservation (acting for ourselves). I’m sure you can think of a time when you have simultaneously “felt for” a person in pain while also averting your eyes so that you did not feel (i.e. hurt) “too much” for them and get too uncomfortable. And, the closer a person is to us, the more empathy we feel for them when they are in pain and also the more we actively try to put their care before our own self-preservation and self-interest.
Secondly, we just don’t have the brain- or heart-power to ever intuit or fully grasp or feel or sense the enormity of the weight Jesus bore on Good Friday. I was perusing through the New York Times on Thursday and saw a few depressing headlines about an uncovered history of sexual abuse at a prestigious boarding school and an apparent suicide of a well-respected judge… I felt all these awful feelings, but then these feelings were felt in a different light once I thought of them in light of the Cross. It occurred to me that Jesus had already accepted and bore the punishment for those sexual abusers when He died on the Cross; He also felt the sadness of heart of that one person’s suicide in the loneliness of the Garden of Gethsemane. The list goes on and on… It is more than enough to think of the weight of JUST our own life’s worth of sin, but Jesus bore the weight of all sins ever committed… even ones yet to be committed. Jesus bore the punishment of every sin during every World War, every genocide, every rape, every abuse ever committed against anyone… but why?
The answer brings us to the last reason why Good Friday is difficult to approach: Jesus' task completed on Good Friday exists SO THAT it WOULD completely transform our understanding of ourselves and the world... SO THAT we could be forgiven of all our sins and might also forgive those who sin against us... SO THAT humans would have a way to enter back into the Father’s house, clean of all sin... SO THAT all humans would not size each other up, but always look to the Cross as an eternal reference point and point of ultimate equality in perfect love when thinking about themselves or others.
The Cross is God’s thesis statement and cry of love to humanity: I have done everything for you to return to Me; will you still turn away?
The Cross is the axis upon which human history turns.
And yet, the irony and tragedy of all this... is that it is still so easy and even “natural” to look away from what the Cross entails. It seems like we are back where we started from. But I invite us all to linger here, in our aversion to the Cross… for we too often like to jump to Easter Sunday too quickly. We like to hear about the goods (e.g. the sweet promises of our faith) without thinking about where they came from… We would rather consume the goods and go through the motions without questioning who paid for them and how much they cost… Dare I say it? We care about the Easter goods and not Good Friday.
So let us sit here at the foot of the Cross for a while, fully aware of our limitations in both atoning for our sins and also comprehending the atonement of our sins. May we allow our view of Jesus to expand from taking on our sins to taking on the sins of the world… and may we herald Him as the mighty champion of the world Who allowed Himself to die all of our deaths so that we may live in His Life.
And so we pray today to the Father, with eyes and hearts gazing upon the Son, crucified...
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion... have mercy on us and on the whole world.