As we gather in our homes to commemorate the passion of our lord Jesus Christ on this Good Friday 2020, we gather to hold holy the love that opposed violence and the love that endured violence, the love that made its’ way with the cross on its back.
We gather to profess our gratitude for that love, and to stand in solidarity with all those people whose courageous love makes them victims of violence. The cross of Jesus has not been dismantled, the suffering he experienced has not ceased. The cross stands in the midst of life. This is the first time in our lives where we do not meet each other in our churches, but we meet in our domestic churches, in the company of our families in our homes due to the coronavirus that has had an impact on the world at large.
I am daunted by what this virus is doing to lives all over the world…
- those who are suffering from it;
- those with compromised health and living in deadly fear of catching it;
- those who have lost their jobs and don’t know how they will get through this;
- the elderly in our community, and those isolated from human contact;
- those at the front line courageously risking their lives for others, our doctors and nurses and carers;
- millions of refugees living in unsafe situations with no place to go and now with less hope than before;
- those whose kids are lonely for companionship and play, and are frustrated and bored;
- millions of people around the globe trapped in their homes and cannot go out even for a walk;
- people without health care, people who cannot get the medicines they need and the general loneliness millions are experiencing in isolation.
It isn’t often that the whole world feels this vulnerable, that we lose the illusion that we are in control. It is a sobering time, a reflective time, a time to recognise that we are not in control, and a time to count our blessings.
During this unusual time that we are living in, where the death toll of those who have died through this deadly pandemic rises daily, we ask the question: Why is it so significant that we recall the death of a man who died 2000 years ago? The reason is that his death has changed forever the very face of death and given it a new meaning.
We can see this exemplified in the Vietnamese cardinal Francis Van Thuan who had been ordained a bishop of Nha Trang in Vietnam in 1967 and appointed coadjutor bishop of Saigon in 1975 just days before it fell to the North Vietnamese army, was arrested and spent next to 13 years in prison. While in solitary confinement in 9 of the 13 years, he describes the conditions in which he was held. He was in a cell without windows, and for several days and nights the light would never be switched off. And then for several days and nights he plunged into total darkness. He felt as though he was suffocating of heat and humidity to the point of insanity, and he was distressed because he could not fulfil his ministry as a priest.
Living in the present moment in silence and isolation does not make everything easy and Van Thuan explains, time passes slowly in prison, above all in isolation. Imagine a week, one month or more of silence. They are terribly long. We are not experiencing something so severe, but we may find the next few weeks and months very hard. Many times in his life he explains, when he suffered from being unable to pray, and he writes, he cried like Jesus on the cross: My God, why have you abandoned me. He adds at once: Yes I know that God did not abandon me. However difficult this time may be for us, and however hard it can be sometimes to believe it: our faith assures us that we will never be abandoned. As Christians we are committed to remember the passion of Jesus: “whenever you do this, do it in memory of me”. When a community chooses to remember suffering, their memory becomes a protest. That memory also serves to make us aware of the crosses that are in our midst. The memory of Jesus’ passion educates us to pay attention to the sufferings of others. The cross demands that attention should be paid. So today we pay attention to the suffering of Jesus, and the suffering of all those who are paralysed in the grip of fear, and all who are victims of hate and violence.
For us Christians, keeping the memory of Jesus’ death is a living reminder that we are never alone, as we stand near the cross in our lives. While our faith does not magically remove the pain, you and I are assured that Jesus, the crucified son of God, is in solidarity with us at that place. He is intimately close to us because he experienced that place in the most personal and intense way possible.
Our experience over the next few weeks and months will not, we trust, be as extreme as that of Cardinal Van Thuan. But it will offer us an opportunity. “When I lived in times of extreme physical and moral suffering”, Van Thuan writes, “I thought of Jesus crucified”. To the human eye, Jesus’ life was a defeat, a disappointment and a failure. However in the eyes of God, that was the most important moment of his life, because it was then that he poured out his blood for the salvation of humanity. Standing near the cross of Jesus is a painful and a powerful place to be. As we pray this Good Friday, we are invited to stand there with Jesus and his disciples. And we are called to trust that what is happening there is what happens wherever the God of Jesus Christ is present; God is faithfully present and at work to bring life out of death.
I invite you as a family, as you venerate the cross in your midst, to be reminded that the cross of Jesus stands at the centre of the Christian story, as the sign of the length love will go to in its passion for others. If we ever wonder if we are really loved, we should look at the figure on the cross. It is difficult to maintain, that we are unloved, when we know that someone thought that we were worth dying for. The cross was lifted up as a sign of our worth; someone thought that we were worth all that pain and suffering. And that somebody is Jesus, Son of God.
Fr Jude Pirotta mssp