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Who needs to be reminded of that?

A few years ago I went to visit a friend. My friend looked at my crucifix with a certain distaste saying “You Catholics are always promoting that horrific and dark symbol of suffering, who needs to be reminded of that?”

It is true that Catholics venerate and exalt the Crucifix to remind themselves of Jesus’s death and suffering, however, it is far more than a dark and horrific symbol. It is a reminder of the Divine self-gift of love which is 
the gesture by God that invites us to believe and trust in His mercy and love, opening ourselves to his salvation. This Sunday’s Gospel for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross speaks of this Truth: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Hence, when we see the Crucifix we ought to believe in the Father’s loving gift, of that which is most precious to him, his only beloved son.

This belief in the Divine 
Love of God made manifest on the Cross is indispensable for our salvation. The Crucifixion is something we all need reminding of because of original sin, which has left us wounded with a distorted vision. Remember how Adam’s sin made him see God in a distorted way as if he was vindictive and harsh? How Adam hid with Eve behind the bush in shame and how we do the same after our personal sins? As a result of this lack of trust on our part in God, God wanted to prove his love and mercy for us by sending his Son. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas says, of Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross, that Man now “knows how much God loves him and is thereby stirred to love Him in return, and herein lies the perfection of human salvation.” Similarly another theologian, the Cistercian Roch Kereszty, says that owing to our wounded state from original sin “man needed more than just a moral exhortation and a divine offer of grace to convert him” he needed “tangible evidence for the reality of His infinite compassion and of His holiness.”

Therefore, it is the witness of Divine 
Love that summons us out of our imprisoned guilt and despair towards salvation. Catholics lift up the Cross of Christ  in order to exalt God’s love and mercy which we need to grasp in order to have the confidence to open ourselves to God’s life saving mystery. Who needs to be reminded of that? We all do.

Gospel Reflection for the 24th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (John 3: 13-17)

He was crushed for our iniquities

crossA Reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; One from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Yet ours were the grief He bore, our sorrows He carried; He was crushed for our iniquities; All of us like sheep have gone astray; But The Righteous One My Servant will justify the many and bear their iniquities.

 

Some of the most dramatic images we have of Mother Teresa reveal a saint who reached out to those truly on society’s fringes in Calcutta – the suffering and destitute. Here was a woman who brought Christ’s love and mercy into the lives of those the world seemed to abandon, transforming lives marred by fear and anguish through disease and extreme poverty.

In seeking to understand the awesome and life-giving reality that is Good Friday – this group of people I have been describing are a very good place to start. For no distant God of ideas or mere rules could speak meaningfully of life, hope and love to those who suffer. Only a God who himself tasted the bitter word and stigma of public shame and rejection could hope to touch the minds and hearts of those who have themsevles suffered so. This is where we begin to glimpse the essence of what Good Friday is – A day when Christ himself entered into the extremes of suffering and death. A day, when God assured us that His love and mercy knows no limits, no boundaries, but rather, seeks to reach out and save a suffering humanity even amidst the very depths of pain or sin.

The great Swiss theologian Von Balthasar wonderfully saw in the Cross, an act of love so great, it is beyond anything humanity could ever have imagined. This was the work of a God who – out of love – had already sent his only Son, at the Incarnation, all the way into the depths of our humanity. Jesus’s own earthly life speaks to us of a divine love which sought always to reach out into the depths of human existence, most especially towards those on the fringes. For Jesus searched out the God-forsaken.

A Friend of Tax-collectors and sinners, Jesus’ response to the pride and righteousness of the Pharisees in Luke’s Gospel, gives us a vivid insight into His mission of love and redemption – for he tells us that he comes “for those in need of a physician – sinners in need of repentance.” The lost, the sick, the suffering – it is such people that Jesus found, healed and restored.

So why did Jesus, God-made-man, seek out the fringes, and those in the extremes of sin and suffering? Our lives show us that both sin and suffering are inevitable human realities – for the atheist as much as for the saint. We can surely recognise the meaningfulness of a suffering God for those who themselves physically suffer. In reality, however, it is sin which makes us suffer most – it is sin alone which possesses the power to push any of us to the true fringes of existence.

For in wilfully turning away from our true good – that is, following Christ and His example, we ourselves bear a stigma that burdens the heart and mind. It is sin which darkens our own horizons, diminishing us far more than any poverty or physical disease ever could. Our goal, our earthly journey towards Truth, Goodness, Beauty and love itself, is blocked and ends in death, only through sin. The great mystery of God’s redemption, however, is that, it is the utter tragedy of such sin, man’s felix culpa, which drew down, our divine physician.

This is what brings us back to that First Good-Friday. For on that day, we saw most clearly, upon the Cross, and in that passion evoked so eloquently by the Prophet Isaiah, the unimaginable depths that God’s love will descend to in order to reach the sinner. In the extremities of evil, sin and death which Christ embraced and conquered on that day, we truly witness the value even the lowliest sinner possesses in God’s eyes. For it is the immensity of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness for each and every one of us, that drew Christ to the Cross that fateful day.

The most awesome reality this Good Friday, and indeed every day, is that such love and forgiveness -the full power of Christ Himself is still flowing, through that Church He instigated. The forgiveness and promise of paradise, offered to the repentant thief, in those final moments upon the Cross, is ours now- active with no less force- in the boundless mercy of Confession.

That divine Body – love, truth and goodness itself – given freely upon the Cross, is still offered each day for us- upon the Eucharistic altar. So we see that passion, that divine love displayed so vividly on that First Good Friday endures for each of us to this day. That is why Good Friday remains forever so, very, very Good.