Friday, March 29, 2013

The wood of the cross, the throne of grace...

Here is my homily for the Good Friday commemoration of the Lord's Passion that we celebrated today.  Now, I need to get to work on my Easter homily!

A blessed Triduum to all!


Homily: Good Friday – Cycle C

For those of you who have seen it, you know that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is a powerful film.  It’s a work of art, really, in that it truly draws out the reality of Christ’s Passion and presents it in a way that provides an authentic experience of the events it depicts for its viewers.  If any of you are like me, you remember a lot about your first experience of viewing this film.

What drove me to see the film was, I must admit, a sense of Catholic duty.  Here was a big-budget movie produced by a Catholic artist attempting to evangelize through this medium.  Thus, I felt like it was my duty to support it by purchasing a ticket.  I was unprepared, however, for what the experience of the film would be like and, simply stated, I was blown away by it.

While I could pick out something from just about every scene that had an impact on me, I would say that the scene of the scourging at the pillar sticks out as one of the most memorable.  Probably because, quite frankly, it is the most brutal.  Probably also because the Scriptures don’t give us much description of what a scourging entailed.  In the Gospel of John it says simply that “Pilate had him scourged.”  People of the first century probably didn’t need much more description of that: they probably had first-hand knowledge of what a scourging entailed.  We are left to imagine it, however.  That is, until this film.

The scene begins with Jesus receiving the standard Jewish punishment: 40 lashes minus one (“minus one” because to receive 41 lashes would go beyond the Law of Moses and so to prevent that they always stopped at 39).  We know that this is what he received first because you could hear the Roman soldier counting them off, one by one, as the soldiers inflicted them upon Jesus.  Then the Romans have their way with him.  Jesus’ punishers begin by looking over a table of whips and clubs and one of them selects a whip with multiple “tails”, each having a sharp metal hook on the end.  The soldier previews the device’s pain-inflicting capacity by whipping it down on the table in front of the supervising officer: the metal hooks digging into the wood and ripping off chunks when the soldier pulls it off.

I won’t describe what this device did to Jesus’ body.  But I will say that there was no pre-ordained limit to the Romans’ cruelty.  The scene is gruesome, and then it gets worse.  After the soldiers have had their way with the back side of Jesus’ body, the supervising officer stops them, puts his hand out palm facing down, and then turns it up: indicating that he wanted them to do the same to the front side of his body.  I will never forget that scene: its images are emblazoned permanently in my memory.

And yet, the film continues.  The final condemnation from Pilate, the Way of the Cross winding through the streets of Jerusalem, the Crucifixion, all the way to the penultimate scene—which depicts the Pieta with Mary holding the lifeless body of Jesus in her arms and staring directly out of the screen towards the viewers.  This film so vividly portrays the drama of Christ’s Passion that it is nearly impossible not to be affected in some deep way after watching it.

When the film ended and the lights in the theater went up no one in the theater said a word.  After a few moments there were a few people who began making comments, but overall people walked out of the theater speechless.  I saw it with my friend Ann and neither of us spoke as we exited the theater.  We made it all of the way back to the car without exchanging a word.  Finally, after I started the car, I looked at her and all I could say was: “We should go and pray.”

We made our way over to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel adoration chapel—still mostly speechless—and, after we entered, I knelt down and buried my face in my hands.  I was so ashamed of myself.  In part because I knew that it was my sins that added to the suffering Christ endured.   More so, however, I was ashamed because of my “lukewarmness” to all that Christ suffered on account of my sins: that instead of feeling a deep compunction for my sins, I confessed them more out of duty: not acknowledging that each sin, no matter how small, added another blow to his body from that horrific device.  I’m not sure how much time we spent there, but before we left I begged Christ for forgiveness and for the grace to live more consciously aware of all that he had endured for me.

My brothers and sisters, every year we come together on Good Friday to commemorate the Lord’s Passion and yes, in a very real way, it is meant to stir up within us some shame for our sins.  More than that, however, it is meant to stir up a flame within us that shakes us from our lukewarmness and reminds us of our need to run to the Throne of Grace—this altar… the wood of the cross that we will venerate…—and to beg to be forgiven that we have for so long been apathetic to what Christ suffered for us, so as to receive anew the cleansing power of the blood and water that flowed out from his side.

The Good News, my brothers and sisters, is that today isn’t the end: just as the Pieta scene wasn’t the end of the film.  The film, rather, ended depicting Christ’s Resurrection—that is, his ultimate victory over death.  For us the same exists.  In fact, the reason why we commemorate Christ’s Passion on Good Friday is precisely because we look towards the same ending: our joyful celebration of his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

What a truly merciful God we have who would look on our sin and count it as the merit for sending us his Only Begotten Son to suffer and die for us so that we could be redeemed.  We truly do adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your Holy Cross we have been redeemed.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – March 29th, 2013
Good Friday of the Holy Triduum

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