Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

The congregation will gather at noon in the Welsh Baptist Church on Shawnee Ave here in Plymouth for the annual three-hour service of the Seven Last Words.   I am the third preacher.  This is the third time I am participating in this service.  Australia interfered last year.  It is a moving service.  Each preacher has 17 minutes that begins with a hymn, a reading of the Gospel, preaching and, after the closing prayer, meditative music.  I will stay until about 2:15 and then drive the several blocks back to St. Mary's to officiate at the Good Friday liturgy.   There are three photos appropriate to the day at the end of the homily. 

Good Friday (Welsh Baptist Church)
Hymn:  In the Hour of Trial
Jn 19:25-27

A reading from the Gospel of John

“. . . But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."  Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother."  And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home."

The Gospel of the Lord.

Stabat Mater dolorosa
Iuxta Crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat filius

At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother weeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

The 13th century  Stabat Mater Dolorosa is one of the greatest of all Latin hymns.  It has been set to music by composers from Palestrina in the 16th century through Rossini in the 19th to Poulenc and Szymanowski in the 20th.  The hymn meditates on the sorrows of Mary, Mother of Jesus.  It recalls the sorrows prophesied at Jesus' presentation in the Temple as hear recounted in Luke's Gospel:

"Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, 'Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.’"

Each verse recounts another aspect of the pathos as Mary stands at the foot of her Son's cross--that "sign that is spoken against"--the sign she heard of in Simeon's prophecy so long ago. 

Cuius animam gementem,
Contristatam et colentem,
Pertransivit gladius.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed.

Place yourself in the setting.  Go to Calvary in your minds' eye and enter the scene described by John.  Jesus, hanging on the cross as life ebbs from his body. Mary, His Holy Mother, watching.  The words of Simeon ringing in her ears.  The beloved disciple.  Helpless and hopeless at the loss of all he had found in Jesus. 

How does Jesus' voice sound?  Is it strong?  Or does he struggle to speak in a hoarse whisper?  Is Mary standing straight and stoic?  Or is she collapsing under the unique grief of a mother watching her child die?  What of John?  Does he remain standing in the same in place?  Or does he move closer to the woman who is now his mother?

Note that Jesus said, "Behold your mother."  He did not say "my mother" but "your mother."  In this charge and in his words to Mary, "Woman behold your son" Jesus confirmed Mary's role as the new Eve, mother to us all, a mother whose obedience reversed Eve's sin, a reversal that began when she replied to the angel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word."

Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Iesum in tormentis,
Et flagellis subditum.

For His people's sins rejected,
Saw her Jesus unprotected,
All with bloody scourges rent.

Remain there contemplating the scene.  Gaze up at Jesus suspended between heaven and earth.  He is close to death.  Exhausted by the struggle.  Haggard.  Dehydrated.  Pale from blood loss.

During his two long retreats praying the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Jesuit is instructed by Ignatius to place himself at the foot of the cross and then, imagine Christ our Lord on the cross.  Ask yourself how, from Creator, Jesus is come to make Himself man, and so to die for my sins.  Likewise, looking at yourself ask:

What have I done for Christ?
What am I doing for Christ?
What ought I to do for Christ?

However, on this Good Friday, as we commemorate Christ's passion and death, there are three more questions to ask:

What has Christ done for me?
What is Christ doing for me?
What will Christ do for me? 

The answers to these questions will be unique to each of us.  Perhaps they will never be raised to the level of answers we can articulate.  They may have to remain answers that we can only experience in silent prayer. 

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum,
In amando Christum Deum,
Ut sibi complaceam.

Unto Christ with pure emotion,
Raise my contrite heart's devotion,
To read love in every wound.

We are sinners.  But, we are sinners loved by God.  We are sinners who are loved passionately and completely by God.  We are loved by God who sent His only Son, born of Mary, who now stands at the foot of the cross.  We are loved by God who sent His only Son to die for our sins and the sins of all humankind.

A little over three months ago we gathered in churches throughout the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Most of us heard Luke's narrative of that event, the Christmas Story as it is commonly called.  But, it is a story that, standing alone, is incomplete.  Were we not gathered here today the Christmas story would make no sense.  It would be nothing more than a pretty story without any meaning.  We can only understand the Christmas story in today's context.

Many of the greatest theological statements in history have been made not by academics; those learned and professional theologians who write jargon, agonize over Greek consonants, or debate the idea of Jesus as a “metaphor” or a “symbol.”  Many of the greatest theological statements have been made by men and women who didn’t just talk the talk.  They walked the walk. They did the heavy lifting.  One of them was the late Dag Hammarskjold, third Secretary General of the U.N.  Hammarskjold died in a mysterious plane crash while negotiating peace in the Congo.  He captured the entire history of our salvation—the reason why we are here today—in a haiku; a short poem of 12 simple words, a mere 17 syllables:

On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
Was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare

The trumpet fanfare of Christmas is silent today. The hymn we sang a few minutes ago had nothing to do with O Come All Ye Faithful or O Little Town of Bethlehem or Silent Night.  The second verse said it all:

“With forbidden pleasures would this vain world charm
Or its sordid treasures spread to work me harm
Bring to my remembrance sad Gethsemane
Or, in darker semblance, cross-crowned Calvary”

We know what Christ has done for us.

Now we are called to figure out,

What have I done for Christ?
What am I doing for Christ?
What ought I to do for Christ?

This is the cross for the Good Friday liturgy at St. Aloysius Church in Sevenhill, South Australia where the tertians did the long retreat last year.  We had been told we could use the choir loft for prayer if we wanted to avoid the tourists who wandered into the church while touring the winery.  One day I took the key, unlocked the gate and went up the steps.  There was the crucifix, covered in a worn maroon cloth with the light coming through it in parts.  Over the next few days I took multiple photos.  It is an interesting photo in color but I prefer it in black and white. 
The seventh Station of the Cross, Jesus Falls the Second Time, in St. Joseph Church in Puli, Taiwan.  Note the Asian facial characteristics.
And the crucifix on the wall in St. Aloysius Church in Sevenhill.  It is distorted because it is not a direct photo of the crucifix but a reflection in the glass in one of the doors at the back of the church.  Each evening just before Mass the setting sun came pouring through the richly colored stained glass windows illuminating the cross and the altar. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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