Good Friday is such a special a day for Christians that not only Singapore, but many other countries in the world have also declared today a public holiday. I can see that many of us have already been spending our public holiday very well by staying back and visiting churches to spend more time in prayer last night after the Holy Thursday service. This morning others have been coming for the Good Friday morning prayers, the Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy prayers, and have been fasting during the day, and now coming for the main Good Friday services.
Yes, today should be spent in a spiritual way . . . it is a family day and Parish day of prayers and contemplation of the sufferings and death of Jesus. I hope none of us have gone shopping at Orchard Road, for this would be a great insult to our Lord; it is like giving Jesus who is hanging on the Cross vinegar when He said that He was thirsting. Good Friday is very special for us because we are also suffering like Christ in different ways. Take the case of Jane, a mother who spent her whole life working so hard, taking on several jobs, saving every cent she has just to have enough money to bring up her only son; eventually, being able to see her son through university. Her proudest and happiest day came on her son’s graduation day; more so when her son had won a top prize in the university. Jane’s hopes and happiness was rightly so, built around her son. However, after graduation day, on his way home, Jane’s son was killed in an accident by a drunk driver. The most painful of all human suffering is the suffering of innocent persons.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jane’s story of the suffering of an innocent person is but one of the hundreds of millions of people who are suffering innocently in the world. They are the “Janes” of today’s world who are the refugees, Internally Displaced Persons, migrant workers, the children in child labour camps, those who are forced into drug trafficking, prostitution and those who are killed through abortion, scientific testings, political violence, ethnic cleansing, corruption and the like; to name just a few.
While Jane can rightly question, “What wrong have I done to deserve such suffering?” We can also say, the hundreds of millions of people who are starving to death, persecuted even though they are innocent; those dying of cancer and all kinds of illnesses even though they are not at fault, those who are exploited, abused and persecuted even though they are perfectly innocent, are also asking the same question, “What wrong have I done to deserve such sufferings?”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus who is hanging on the Cross and crucified together with two criminals, as a criminal, in exchange for Barabbas the real criminal, just for speaking the Truth that He is the Son of God is also rightly asking, “What wrong have I done to deserve such sufferings?!” I have come into this world and spent all my life doing nothing, but serving all peoples, curing them of their illnesses, healing them of their pains, feeding them when they were hungry, even raising the dead, teaching them always to forgive and love one another, assuring everyone that My Father has sent me to forgive all your sins and throw open the gates of heaven for all those who believe in the Good News of Salvation.
The consolation that Jesus is experiencing at each brutal blow of the scourging, at each thorn piercing into His skull, at each nail driving into His arms and legs is that He is doing His Father’s Will of saving all of us. Jesus’ consolation is also drawn from the Truth that when He is finally able to die, He will rise to life again on the third day, and destroy all sin and death in our hearts and in this world. This is why Jesus in St John’s Gospel says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain, but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” (Jn 12:24).
By this Jesus is saying to us, that unless we too are willing to die to ourselves; to die to our pride, our sinful and self-centered ways, our arrogance and our deceptive ways, we will never be able to be the instruments that God wants you and I to be, to bring a rich harvest of drawing people to the Good News of salvation that Jesus hanging on the Cross is offering us.
Jesus is completely innocent; without sin and without guilt, yet He was willing to serve us slavishly to the point of death, death on the Cross. He is our real hope and only hope in our life and in the world that is so deeply meshed in sin and destruction.
The immense sufferings of the world and our personal pain and sufferings are inseparable from God’s sufferings, in Jesus. When our hearts and the world are in agony, God too is in agony. When we reject and destroy each other through our sinful ways, we are also rejecting and destroying the love that God has given us.
Later, as we wait in our queue to venerate the “Wood of the Cross” of our Lord, we should do so in a very solemn manner by reflecting on how our sufferings and sins are inseparably connected to Jesus’ pains and sufferings that we are about to venerate and kiss as sacred because Our Lord in dying on the Cross has forgiven us of all our sins.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, our pains and sufferings must never be separated from Our Lord’s sufferings for us. If we try to comprehend our pains and sufferings and those of the world, outside of God Our Lord’s sufferings, we will sooner or later give up on life because our pains and sufferings would become unbearable and without any hope. Why? This is because as human beings, we are too weak, and to face the truth, we are too sinful to help ourselves; our pride, our ego, gets in the way. Moreover, we are too immersed secular mileau of structural and global sin that draw us away from the Truth of God and what our real meaning of life is all about. We all need God to save us from our dire need and desperation.
But, if we are able to see how our human sufferings are connected and is part of Jesus’ sufferings then we will begin to see a new light in the midst of our darkness in the world, we will experience a radical transformation of hope in our hearts that assures us that Jesus who has come to save us through His Cross and Resurrection, as Son of God has truly conquered sin and destroyed all the evils in the world. And when we can allow the Cross of Christ’ suffering to heal us of our pains, forgive us of our sins, and strengthen us in all our needs, we would then concretely be experiencing the Paschal mystery of God’s salvation in our hearts, our homes and our world. This is the special grace that Jesus hanging on the Cross wants to give us in this very Good Friday celebration. We are all called to open our hearts to this gift of real hope that we have.
In conclusion, let me just say that as Jesus in St John’s Gospel 3:16 tells us, “For God so love the world, that He sent His only begotten Son to save us; whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but will have everlasting life,” Yes, our great spiritual consolation today is to know and believe that God who loves every single one of us and every human person that has been created, feels the agony of our human sufferings infinitely more than the good and loving mother who loves her child so much suffers great pain when she her child does wrong and sin.
We are never alone . . .God suffers with people like Jane, and all the hundreds of millions of people who suffer so innocently in the world. God too suffers with us in a personal way. He has forgiven all our sins through His Cross and Resurrection. He only wants us to love Him and one another, as He has shown us. He wants all of us to gain eternal happiness in heaven when we die. Are we not so blessed to have such a God who loves us so totally and so unconditionally?
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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