Wow! Talk about the Feast Day of the suffering, self-sacrificing, Theology of the Body! Today we celebrate, and yes I mean celebrate, albeit with mourning and sadness the Crucifixion and Death of Our Love – Jesus. It is always difficult to watch one we love suffer, especially someone so good and innocent. Liturgically it is called “Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion.” Passion is from the Latin word passio, which suggests suffering and death, but it is not solely confined to suffering alone, it entails a suffering that leads to glory. It is a necessary passage to new life, not just for Christ, but for us as well.
The Liturgy of Good Friday, which is not a Holy Mass, since the Holy Eucharist cannot be confected today or tomorrow, is broken into three crucial parts: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Wood of the Cross and distribution of Holy Communion. In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah known as the Fourth Suffering Servant Oracle, I would like to focus on three verses only. “So marred was his look beyond human semblance and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man.” This not only applies to Christ the Suffering Servant, but to all of us after the fall of original man from grace. We are created in His image and likeness but that “likeness” of humanity to God has been marred and wounded by original sin. The beauty of original innocence, unity, holiness, solitude and nakedness without shame has been marred by the distortions caused by sin. Pope St. John Paul II beautifully reflects on this understanding in his work: “Theology of the Body,” when Christ “appeals to the beginning” in our original beauty. Jesus became “marred” to the point that His Divinity and true Godly splendor and glory were unrecognizable. He “became sin” to pay our penalty to the Father. Without Him humbling and humiliating Himself and allowing Himself to be stripped of His Heavenly Glory, He could not have become a “conduit of grace for us,” says Bishop Robert Barron. “Through His suffering, my servant shall justify many and their guilt He shall bear,” is the Theology of the Suffering Body. Pope St John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter called in Latin Salvifici Doloris,” On the Christian Meaning of Suffering.” If we bear our crosses, as Christ asked us to do, we take part in His salvific act of the redemption and continuing salvation of the world. This means our suffering has great meaning and gain merit for people when united with His redemptive act on the Holy Cross. This too is the Theology of the Body.
How often we judge people by appearances created by earthly standards and judge them not worthy of my attention, treating them with indifference due to the fact they are not attractive to us. Oh how blind and foolish we truly have become in modern times. “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by people…” Have we participated in the current culture of feeling good about myself and measuring everything according to MY standards and guidelines? Have I created a “ME-gistirium” rather than following the magisterium of the Church? Holiness is always going to come in a disguise we do not recognize nor want to follow, because it takes renunciation of self to do so. It entails a complete gift of self, which is true love, a Theology of the Loving Body. Jesus can indeed sympathize with our suffering as St. Paul tells us because “he was tested in every way, yet without sin.” We too must follow this path, because it is the only path to holiness and perfection. This is how we truly live the second part of the Liturgy today -the Veneration of the Cross.
Anyone can walk up in procession and kiss the wood of the Cross that is held up to them, but if the Cross is held low enough we have to bow in humility to do so. Jesus invited Simon of Cyrene to carry His Cross to reveal to us the deepest meaning of human suffering. Through suffering we can go beyond ourselves IF we allow God to take us there. We must be willing to go beyond the tyranny of the self, self-reliance and self-worship – the new golden calf for western society. We need to go beyond our self-absorption to come in contact with the transcendence – the Divine, by bowing low as He did for us. It remains an invitation for us to manifest our true God-given greatness, which St. John Paul II calls “redeemed man.” Suffering can reveal a previously concealed special power, a grace, which draws a person interiorly closer to Jesus Christ. Through suffering we can come to know, with God’s powerful transforming grace, our true gift of self and hence our true human dignity and potential for holiness. But, we must daily venerate the Cross of Christ by venerating our own crosses daily and those of others. We need not spurn or avoid others or ourselves and while nothing may attract us to their suffering – remember it is Christ who suffers in them and we all await the redemption of our bodies in the eschaton.
To live this we need the third part of today’s Liturgy – the reception of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. We all need to more deeply cherish this sacramental moment of mysticism, if so, the more we become Christ-like, the self-sacrificing servant of the Father. We will find ourselves ready and more graced to serve others in love to the point of offering our very lives for others. This is true love and true holiness. This is the Word, the Cross, and the Holy Eucharist. This is Jesus Christ. This is true Christianity. This is the meaning of Good Friday. Amen.
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.