(Good Friday 2013: This homily was given on March 29, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, RI, by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9. Also read the Passion Narrative of St. John.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Good Friday 2013]
Could God have done it some other way? Could the Lord have reconciled the world to himself and made salvation possible for the human race without the horrible death of his Son on the cross?
The answer, believe it or not, is “Yes, he could have!” As St. Augustine said, “Other possible means were not lacking on God’s part, because all things are equally subject to his power” (On the Trinity 8:10). And, as St. Thomas Aquinas put it, “It was possible for God to deliver mankind otherwise than by the passion of Christ, because nothing shall be impossible for God (cf. Luke 1:37).”
But, even though the Lord could have done it in some other fashion, historically he did in fact choose the cross. And because the Father chose the passion and death of his Son to be the means of our salvation, it was (as Jesus told the disciples on the road to Emmaus) “necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and so enter into his glory.”
To which doubters and unbelievers will immediately respond, “Well, then the god you Christians worship must be a sadist! In fact, he’s so sadistic that he not only gets his jollies by inflicting pain on others; he even gets some kind of perverse enjoyment by inflicting pain and suffering on himself!”
To which we Christians say, “No! Our God is not a sadist; he’s a loving Father! And it’s precisely in the passion and death of his Son that he reveals his Fatherly love to us most completely. Consequently, even though the Lord could have redeemed us in some other way, it was most fitting that he redeemed us through an event like the crucifixion—as horrible as it was.”
I say it was “most fitting” because God knows our hearts (since he created us!), and thus he understands the questions that trouble us the most in this fallen world. And two of the most troublesome, nagging questions that we face as human beings are these:
Does true justice exist?
And Does God really care?
The cross of Jesus Christ answers both of these questions in a very clear and powerful way—which is why the crucifixion was such a fitting way to bring about our salvation.
Take the first: Is there such a thing as true justice? Does it really exist? It can seem, at times, like it doesn’t. As we all know, we live in a world where so very often the innocent suffer and the wicked prosper. We live in a world where some bad things happen to some very good people, and some great things happen to some very bad people! We live in a society where evils like the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School occur all too frequently. And that can lead us to seriously question not only the justice of God; it can also lead us to doubt the very existence of justice itself!
Is it real—or is it just an illusion?
Well, the passion and death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, make it clear that Almighty God takes justice very seriously. St. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” That text reminds us that even though true justice is not always manifested in this world, it will be a reality in eternity! But the message of the cross is that Jesus has taken the punishment that we justly deserve for our sins and has, by his sacrifice, made it possible for us to escape eternal punishment. As Isaiah prophesied in tonight’s first reading: “It was our infirmities he bore, our sufferings that he endured . . . he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins . . . the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.” And because of all this, as our second reading from Hebrews reminds us, “[Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
So yes, justice does exist with God, but if we are united to Jesus (by baptism, faith and obedience), mercy can triumph over justice for us. That’s the good news! There’s a great line from the diary of St. Faustina that says it perfectly. In one of her private revelations, Jesus reportedly said to her, “[The person] who refuses to pass through the door of my mercy must pass through the door of my justice.”
Ultimately it’s either one or the other—for us and for every human person.
That should be all the motivation we need to stay in the state of grace and go to confession often!
Which brings us to the second troublesome issue that I mentioned earlier: Does God really care? Does he care about the world? Does he care about me?
St. Paul says in Romans 5: “It is rare that anyone should lay down his life for a just man, though it is barely possible that for a good man someone may have the courage to die. It is precisely in this that God proves his love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The Lord knows how easily we can doubt his love. It happens, normally, when we’re going through a very difficult suffering in our life. In those times of trial and distress it can seem like God is a million miles away. And so he chose the cross to redeem us (even though he didn’t have to!) so that in those moments of questioning and trial we would be able to say, “Yes, God does love me! Yes, he does care! Although I don’t always feel it in my emotions, I believe it in the very depths of my heart; for God so loved the world—he so loved me—that he gave his only Son. God took the worst that this world had to give—a bloody and horrible death—and he used that as the instrument to give me life.”
I have a little plaque in my sitting room that someone gave me several years ago, and on it are these words: “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ And Jesus said, ‘This much—‘ and he stretched out his arms and died.”
Tonight we thank the Lord for his glorious sacrifice, which gives hope to us and to every human person—especially those who suffer great trials and great injustices in this life.
Let me close my homily now with a little poem which was written by Heide Cozzolino, who’s the second grade teacher at St. Pius X School. It’s called, appropriately, “Good Friday”—and it’s a beautiful reminder of God’s mercy and love, both of which we celebrate tonight as we contemplate the cross:
It stirs me to my stomach pit, oh God,
And wrenches all emotions in my chest—
To see your wooden cross held high—
And all that once was beautiful
Upon the purple altar mourns within the darkness,
Stripped of all adornment, cast in ghastly shades . . .
What did you see upon your walk
Of agony, oh Lord?
A blur of faces, and the ground leaping up
Too often, to slam against your face,
And no escape at any turn, no way to find respite?
I move my hands upon your cross,
My lips against its wood—
I know but little of it, this passion you endured,
This giving up of self to deepest torment!
You stretched out your arms, oh God,
Receiving every nail
As communion with your human death—
You placed your feet in willingness
Beneath the hammer’s blow—
And all for what, oh God?
For them . . .
For me . . .