Fr John's Homily - Good Friday

19 April 2019 | General Interest


Jn 18.1-19.42 PASSION Is 52.13-53.12 Hb4.14-16, 5.7-9

To follow on from Holy Thursday, I start with Salvador Dali’s 1951 painting of “Christ of St

Dali\'s Christ of St John of the Cross

John of the Cross”, where Jesus is portrayed on the Cross in a darkened sky floating over a body of water complete with boat and fishermen… devoid of nails, blood and a crown of thorns, as Dali didn’t want to mar his depiction of Christ. He said: “I had a ‘cosmic dream’ in which I saw this image in colour and which in my dream represented ‘the nucleus of the atom. This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it ‘the very unity of the universe’, the Christ.”  Fascinating stuff, with deep meaning! It has been in Glasgow since June 1952, and in 2006 was Scotland’s favourite painting! So I’ll leave it as a backdrop for today’s reflection.

Today the question endures as to why this day is called ‘Good’, when the grim reality is a day of horror and injustice! The good man facing the kangaroo court, as a result of hostility, resentment and self-righteous envy. “Bad or Sad Friday” might be preferable, but “Good” seems to have stuck! It certainly puzzles children. French and Italian have Holy Friday (Le vendredi saint & venerdi santo). Interestingly and surprisingly, it’s not even a public holiday in those nominally Catholic countries!

For Jesus, it was all over within less than 24 hours, the angst and fear there long beforehand, but yet an unjustly inflicted, horrific and painful death. There are so many in our world who have suffered and are suffering for longer than that in many different ways. Nevertheless, Jesus sets the tone for forgiveness from the cross, a symbol of suffering and yet hope.

Nelson Mandela with 10,000 days incarceration, a considerable period in solitary confinement, came out without rancour or a desire for revenge, invites his jailers to his inauguration as President of South Africa, and with the country on the brink of violent revolution with the potential for even more suffering, injustice and conflict, he pulled them back with his powers of persuasion and peaceful negotiation.

25 years on, from 1994, Rwanda Burundi experienced appalling evil with the genocide of more than 800,000 people, mostly Catholic and with most of the perpetrators Catholic as well, including priests and nuns, all because of different ethnicities and perceived prior injustices. A difficult and complicated process of reconciliation is being pursued now, but after so much irretrievable loss of life and permanent trauma.

We may well ask in all of this evil, accompanied by so much suffering and injustice, where is the God of love, mercy and compassion proclaimed by a loving, peace making and forgiving Jesus? We could extend that to the 2000+ years of human history since the historical Jesus walked this earth, where there remains sin and darkness all around, yet amid the love, happiness, hope and light we share. The sun still comes up each day, as they say!

Yes, we live in a defectible world as flawed people, yet challenged to face up to the inevitable crosses which come our way, and to support others in the crosses they face. Simon of Cyrene, we can presume, was not too happy to be dragged into the picture with Jesus, but has entered history now as a legendary figure in helping in a critical time. So with the weeping women along the way. We are confronted with all sorts of negatives, without having to look for them! Terminal illness, sudden death, the ageing process, not being in our prime, the trauma of divorce, the devastation and unresolvable nature of suicide! It can all get on top of us at times. To me, Good Friday is a good time to reflect on this reality.

A few weeks ago, we had the sad funeral of Marco at 57, who used to come and pick up his Mamma every Sunday and bring her to 9.00am Mass. And again, just this week, I’ve been with one older Nonna who had lost a daughter in her 40’s some 10 years ago, and a few weeks ago, a granddaughter at a similar age. And Kathy, in the parish office, just lost her husband Godfrey, suddenly and unexpectedly, while driving him to see the doctor. We can’t explain the reasons why, except to say this is not God’s Will, but part of the fragility and preciousness of life, with circumstances over which we have little or no control. Life can be so unfair and these are among the crosses we have to bear and support each other in our grief and loss. (On a personal level, I remember a very sad and poignant Good Friday for me in 2003, my Mum having died at 81, on the previous Shrove Tuesday. A close priest friend offered comfort by suggesting she missed the penitential discipline of Lent to head straight for Easter fullness of life, but it didn’t help the feelings much at the time!)

And then there is our Catholic Church in particular, going through a dark night of the soul, it might be termed, but at the same time, self-inflicted, particularly by leaders and others, who have turned a blind eye, with a totally wrong and misguided approach to victims of abuse in particular. We are all paying the price in terms of public distrust and disapproval, and, the disillusionment of our own people within the Catholic community. Yet, we are here because we are the faithful People of God, whatever the things that have gone wrong, as the message of Jesus cannot be denied as setting a path of life to follow, with meaning and direction. Life is tough enough without these additional burdens weighing us down, but that is where we find ourselves right now and our responsibility is to face up to persevering in carrying our crosses, with hope and determination to reflect his self-giving love in our lives, and so find some peace of mind, and even self-satisfaction from doing the right thing and making choices for good.

I often say it is the wrong perspective to see life as a ‘veil of tears’ or needing to be ‘saved from the fires of hell’, as some of the old prayers suggest, as we have every right to seek happiness and fulfilment in our own way, yet realizing that this is not automatic nor to be presumed. We have to face our own mortality, our sorrows, disappointments, limitations and failures, and to accept what we cannot change, while there is so much we can do to make a positive difference to our lives and the lives of others who cross our paths.

This is the Christian perspective and the Way of the Cross, which we all must take in our own time, and make the most of each day and the opportunities we have to ease the crosses of others.

This is not a vindictive and judgmental, but forgiving and compassionate God, as revealed in Jesus, who offers us a way to deal with life’s crosses, as tough and unpredictable as they may be. And don’t sweat the small stuff, as they say, with the peace and joy of Easter to come!


john hannon    19th April 2019


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