A Cycle - John 18:1-19,42
A Russian peasant woman in 1950 was kissing the feet of Christ. A Communist soldier asked her, "Grandmother, will you kiss the feet of our great leader, Comrade Stalin?" "Yes," she replied, "if he gets crucified for me."
Years ago, when I was newly ordained, a mother berated me after a Good Friday homily on the crucifixion. The mother had two children. "I don't want my son and daughter" she shouted, "exposed to blood and gore as I was at their age." She was terribly angry. My response would not have made my seminary scripture professor proud had he been listening. In effect, this mother wanted to keep Jesus and the cross apart.
Would that the mother had confronted William Robinson of
Plainview, USA on this same point! I ran across his Letter to the Editor in a Catholic newspaper. Mr Robinson was responding to a pronunciamento from a onetime Catholic. It was her position that the Church for its own good must get Jesus off the cross.
Robinson countered that St Paul did precisely that when he
visited Athens. The scene is generously described in Acts 17:16-34. There the man from Tarsus ignored the cross of the Savior.
His sole emphasis was on the Resurrection.
And the result? Paul struck out that day against the Athenian intellectuals. "Some of them burst out laughing." (17:32) This was hardly the reaction the embarrassed apostle to the Gentiles was used to. He folded his tent and sneaked from the city under the cover of darkness. He crossed Athens off his "must return" list. Records reveal he did not change his mind. He never began a church there. Nor, unhappily for them and for us, did he ever send one of his celebrated letters to Athens.
After Athens, he headed for Corinth. It was an arduous trip by
foot. Paul had much time to both dress his wounds and wonder why he had lost his magic touch. It is not difficult to picture the humiliated missionary praying to Christ. He would ask Him to help him understand what went wrong with his strategy on the Hill of the Areopagus. Nor did the Nazarene fail him.
The Holy Spirit inspired the missionary to burn his Athens
homilies. His approach in Corinth would be entirely fresh. Before he reached the city, he put his talented pen to parchment. His plan B would be later explained in his letters to the church he founded in Corinth. "Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified...the power of God and wisdom of God...I am resolved among you to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified."
Paul's preaching in Corinth was successful. The city was every
bit as immoral as Athens. Yet, he was a sensation. His many converts would not let him quit their city for eighteen months. When the wanderlust Paul got away from them, he would carry warm memories of the Corinthians. Evidence of this affection is found in the two letters to them that are extant. When the apostle to the Gentiles turned his back on the crucified Christ, his preaching produced nothing. When he carried the crucifix with him into the pulpit, he moved thousands to embrace Jesus.
Mel Gibson on Ash Wednesday of 2004 proved once again people's fascination with the cross through his film, "The Passion of the Christ." People, who had forgotten where cinemas were located in their communities, clutched reserved seat tickets looking for the theaters. To satisfy the overflow crowds, delighted cinemas began running the film early morning. One hundred twenty-five million dollars in tickets were sold in five days. All this for a film spoken in Latin and Aramaic dialogue.
Children understand the power of the cross. A child told
me, "I asked God how much He loved me.
He stretched both arms
fully sideways and said, `This much.' Then He died." Another told me, "Jesus built a bridge with two boards and three nails."
It would be folly to remove Jesus from the cross. The body of Christ without bloody wounds is not the full story. But neither must we leave Him there by Himself. We must get hold of a ladder and embrace Him. Why? Paul gives the answer to young Timothy in his second letter (2:11): "If we have died with Him, then we shall live with Him."
What would Paul have accomplished among the intellectuals had he returned to Athens but this time emphasizing the cross? Unhappily we shall never know.
Nobel Prize laureate Czeslaw Milosz writes that political prisoners in their USSR gulags fashioned a cross from twigs and prayed to it at night in their cells. They had not forgotten Paul's lesson. Nor should we.
Good Friday Veneration of the Cross:
Arms Outstretched Embracing Us
A number of years ago I purchased a bronze sculpture from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a copy of a late sixteenth early seventeenth century Flemish corpus of Jesus Christ that was meant for a procession cross. I like to keep it on the wall of my bedroom. To me it shows Jesus hanging between heaven and earth, uniting both. His outstretched arms are fastened to a cross. And yet He embraces us.
A while ago, Fr. Kevin and I were reflecting on how mission preachers used to point to the cross and shout out, "Your sins did this." They were wrong.
Our sins did not crucify Jesus. He willingly took our sins upon Himself and then offered Himself as the Paschal sacrifice. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
He is suspended between heaven and earth and at the same time He unites heaven and earth. He is nailed to a cross, and at the same time He embraces us. And He tells us, "Give me you sins, give me your temptations, give me your trials. Give them to me. Give it all to me. Give me your concerns. Give me your fears. Give me your sickness. Give me your challenges. Give me your lives.
Let me hug them out of you. Let me conquer all evil for you."
And so we approach the cross today, the instrument of torture that was transformed by infinite love into the instrument of peace. We venerate the cross today. I would like to encourage us all to do something a bit different this year . Instead of seeing ourselves here in Tarpon Springs in 2017, let’s let our imaginations transport us to Jerusalem, to that horrible hill of two thousand years ago, to that hill outside of the city where Jesus died.
And let’s venerate that cross. For the instrument of torture has been transformed by God Himself into an instrument of Love. And the death which the world still thinks is a defeat, has become the Victory of Life.
Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness.
Opened my eyes, let me see.
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You
I'll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross
So, here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that You're my God
You're altogether lovely, altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me
© Hillsong United CCLI License #2368115
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Three Responses to Innocent Suffering
(April 14, 2017)
Message: The suffering of innocents continues today. We want to respond not by withdrawal or false guilt, but by obedience.
Good Friday brings us face to face with the question that has haunted human beings: What purpose does suffering have?
For sure pain alerts us to something wrong. When St. Damien of Molokai was suffering from leprosy he lost feeling in his extremities. One day he unknowingly placed his foot in scalding water. Because he felt no pain he did not react quickly and his foot was severely damaged. So pain
So pain has a purpose, but most of the time it seems out of proportion, even senseless. The question becomes more acute when an innocent person - for example a small child - suffers terrible things. This dilemma engages some of the greatest works of literature: The Book of Job in the Bible, Shakespeare's King Lear and Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov.
As Christians we do not have a solution to the question of innocent suffering. We do however have God's response: the cross, the suffering and death of Jesus - a man totally innocent who suffered unimaginable paint.
We've grown so used to the cross that we hardly see the suffering involved.
Blessed John Henry Newman suggested that a Christian could recover some of its shocking reality by imagining instead of Jesus an innocent child affixed to that instrument of torture. Dostoevsky imagined something similar in Brothers Karamazov. Each time I read his description of that cruelty it wrenches me.
We don't need to look to literature. Consider what's happening in our world: children and families caught in terror in Syria, Egypt and other parts of the world. And if we care about innocent suffering we can find plenty of example closer to home - or even in our families.
To this suffering there are three responses: One, to turn it off, to shut it out and say there is nothing I can do. A second response is guilt: What do I have it so good (relatively) while others suffer so much. False guilt drives some people to destructive behavior: drugs, rage, cutting.
Beyond withdrawal and guilt we have a third response. We see it this evening in the Letter to the Hebrews: obedience. Obedience, as will bring out in my Easter homily, is not blind servility, but rather listening - listening attentively to God and hearing his call.
Last night I gave the example of our bishop-elect Daniel Mueggenborg. As a young college student he attended a Mass celebrated by U.S proto-martyr Stanley Rother. The peace and joy Fr Rother radiated caused Mueggenborg to reconsider his life. After graduating from college, he entered the seminary and followed a path of pastoral care - a path that now leads him to service her in the Archdiocese of Seattle.
This evening as we focus on the cross - the extreme suffering of an innocent man. The suffering of innocents continues today. We want to respond not by withdrawal or false guilt, but by obedience. Jesus embodies obedience. The Letter to Hebrews speaks about Jesus' loud cries and tears. "Son though he was he learned obedience."
Obedience - listening to God - results in positive action. It's no coincidence that on Good Friday we have amplified prayers of intercession that encompass the range of humanity. Obedience means to listen to God and serve others. Jesus' example inspires us: "Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered." Amen.
Saint Vincent Archabbey
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