The Bridge to Heaven.
Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday).
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Isaiah 52: 13—53: 12.
• Psalm 31: 2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25.
• Hebrews 4: 14-16; 5: 7-9.
• John 18: 1—19: 42.
The First Class Feria of Good Friday.
Lessons from the feria, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Osee (Hosea) 6: 1-6.
• [Tract] Habakkuk 3.
• Exodus 12: 1-11.
• [Tract] Psalm 139: 2-10, 14.
• John 18: 1-40; 19: 1-42.
2:24 PM 4/19/2019 — The event we remember this evening was not something that surprised our Lord, nor was it a disappointment to Him. Many of his own disciples, we know, did not understand how what was happening was actually intended by our Lord. Peter, himself, the head of the Apostles, tried to prevent it in the Garden on the Mount of Olives as we just heard, until our Lord corrected Him. Those of you who may have taken Latin in high school might remember this phrase:
Lustra sex qui iam peracta,
tempus implens corporis,
se volente, natus ad hoc.
It was a Latin poet, Venantius Fortunatus, in the Sixth Century, expressing the faith of the Church: “se volente, natus ad hoc”—“freely willed, born for this.” Jesus wants this. He wants this cross. He wants this passion. He wants this suffering. Not because He's a masochist, but because He's a Savior. This is the very reason He came to earth. And as our Lord gazed up along the way to the top of the mount of Golgotha, He saw it all, for He is God: He saw how the cross was to be loved and to be adored because He was going to die on it; he saw the witnessing of saints who, for love and in defense of the truth, were to suffer a similar death; "He saw the triumph and the victories Christians would achieve under the standard of the cross. He saw the great miracles which, with the sign of the cross, would be performed throughout the world. He saw so very many men and women who, with their lives, were going to be saints because they would know how to die like Him, overcoming sin."*
But, that's not all he saw. He saw a lot more. He saw the cross become an enigma once again. He saw future generations of men and women bearing his name—calling themselves "Christians"—paying lip service to the cross upon which He was about to die, trying to live their lives as if it never happened, latching on to this particular thing He said or that particular thing He did before his death, saying, "This is why He came. Live by these words, and you are a Christian." He saw that. He saw us thousands of years before we were born, trying so desperately to have Him without his cross, trying to scull some meaning out of the story of His life which pays no reference to the reason for it.
Every year, it seems, we are treated to a number of Holy Week shows on the Discovery Channel that purport to dismiss the deeply-held beliefs of Christians, as if the practice of the faith somehow threatens the symmetry and balance of our well-ordered secular society. I remember one some years ago that featured the theory that a freak cold front ripping through the Middle East froze the Sea of Galilee so that Our Lord only seemed to walk on the water; but this sort of thing should not surprise us. Was this not exactly how they treated our Lord? Make no mistake: the decision to get rid of Jesus was made long before they dragged Him before the Sanhedrin. He was in the way. The charge brought against Him was blasphemy; and when no one came forward to give evidence, they went out and got two people who didn’t even know Jesus and paid them to lie. Nicodemus was the only member of the Sanhedrin to stand up and say, “This is wrong.” And what did they tell him? They were afraid that, if Jesus continued to grow in popularity, the Romans would intervene and occupy the Temple and take away their power. As Caiaphas said when he addressed the Sanhedrin, “Do you not consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish?” having convinced themselves, as despots often do, that what’s best for the country is them; and whatever they have to do to keep themselves in power is a means justified by the ends.
It is, therefore, a blessing in disguise that our Church, and we as individuals, are given the opportunity to suffer as our Lord suffered: victims of those who fear the truth. And if we are able to take that aspect of our Lord’s passion and internalize it, then it can become the means by which we can bear all the crosses that we are forced to carry in our lives.
There’s a wonderful cartoon that one of my friends in Vietnam sent to me: it depicts a number of people walking together the journey of earthly life, all of them dragging enormous crosses behind them. One of them, to lighten the burden, finds a saw and cuts off the bottom third of his cross, which makes it much easier to carry. When they reach the end of their journey and are ready to pass over into eternal life, they find themselves separated from heaven by a gaping chasm, and each takes his cross and lays it across the chasm, allowing each one to cross over into heaven using the cross as a bridge … except for the one man who lightened his burden, because his cross is now too short.
This evening, as you approach to venerate the sacred Cross, embrace it with your heart. Don't just embrace the historical Cross upon which Our Blessed Lord died. But when you venerate the Holy Cross, venerate as well whatever crosses you are carrying, in whatever form of suffering or difficulty the Lord, in His permissive will, has allowed to come your way, for whatever reason He has kept to Himself. And whisper to Him a promise that you will not try to deny it or cast if off to lighten the burden during your comparatively brief time on this earth, because you understand that your cross, like His, is your bridge to heaven.
* L. de Palma, The Passion of the Lord.