Good Friday is a day of prayerful contemplation of the mystery of the Cross. And the Church invites us to do this as a community in the Good Friday liturgy, which consists of three parts: the liturgy of the Word, including the Passion according to St. John; the Veneration of the Cross; and Holy Communion, or what was formerly called the Mass of the Pre-sanctified (which consists of the distribution of Holy Communion from hosts that have been consecrated or “pre-sanctified” at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper.)
In our contemplation of the Cross we discover the “sign of contradiction.” This is at the heart of the Paschal Mystery, the coming together of apparent opposites: suffering and healing, death and resurrection, defeat and victory, agony and glory.
And yet they are not really opposites. Self-giving is a necessary prerequisite for perfect freedom, and perfect freedom constitutes new life and glory.
I think one of the most powerful and mysterious lines in Mel Gibson’s popular movie, The Passion of the Christ, is when our Lord meets His dear Mother along the Way of the Cross, as she comes to His side when He falls, yet again, under the weight of the Cross. Looking into her compassionate and sorrowful eyes He tells her, “Don’t you see, Mother? I make all things new.” Now these words are not found in the Gospel, but are actually in the Book of the Apocalypse (21:5), and the filmmaker superimposes these words on the lips of Jesus for dramatic effect. Nonetheless, the scene conveys a powerful and mysterious truth.
Through humility and obedience to the will of God, we make all things new. The glory of Jesus, particularly in St. John’s Gospel, is the glory of obedience and self-giving. The glory of the Resurrection merely crowns the glory which Jesus had already obtained by His obedience to His Father’s will.
In the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI: “[Christ’s] crucifixion is His coronation; His coronation or kingship is His surrender of Himself to men.”
The holy martyrs of our faith knew this. Some of you know I recently returned from Guadalajara, Mexico, after spending six weeks in a Spanish-language course. During my time in Guadalajara, I learned that many of the Mexican martyrs of the early twentieth century Mexican Revolution came from this region of western Mexico, from the states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Zacatecas, and other western states, where the Cristero movement began. In fact, our seminarians from St. John Vianney Seminary here in Denver are staging their annual play on this remarkable story at the beginning of May – please come! (May 1 and May 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the refectory)
Most of these Mexican martyrs have been beatified or canonized by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. One of the most fascinating figures in this whole epic drama was the young married layman, Blessed Jose Anacleto Gonzalez Flores. Blessed Anacleto was a lawyer and scholar who founded the Catholic Action organization entitled “Unión Popular.” When the popular resistance to the persecution of the Church began to take up arms in opposition, Blessed Anacleto chose passively to resist the evil by leading his followers to sure martyrdom, knowing that this was the way to true freedom and ultimate victory. Blessed Anacleto was beatified on November 20, 2005, by Pope Benedict XVI, among the first of the new pontificate. But his cause was held up for a time because he was so close to the leaders who did take up arms, in violent resistance to the evil. It became clear, however, that Blessed Anacleto chose another way.
From Bailey’s famous history of the Cristero movement entitled, Viva Cristo Rey, we have these words of Blessed Anacleto Flores in a speech to his followers:
If one of you should ask me what sacrifice I am asking of you in order to seal the pact we are going to celebrate, I will tell you in two words: your blood. If you want to proceed, stop dreaming of places of honor, military triumphs, braid, luster, victories and authority over others. Mexico needs a tradition of blood in order to cement its free life tomorrow. For that, my life is available, and for that tradition I ask yours.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all called to have the same mind as Blessed Anacleto. Our glory does not come from trophies, honors, or worldly recognition. Our glory begins when we give ourselves as Jesus did. Our glory continues when we have faith enough to do the Father’s will, in spite of opposition and suffering.
No one can ever conquer the person who humbles himself to serve God with all his heart – even if he should suffer death in the process.
Our glory will be consummated when we follow Jesus and hand over our spirit to our heavenly Father in our death.
Then our glory will be completed when He raises us up together with His Son.
We adore thee, O Christ, and we praise thee … because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.
The Most Reverend James Conley was consecrated last year as Bishop of Cissa in partibus infidelium and the auxiliary to the Archbishop of Denver. A convert, he became a Catholic while a student at the University of Kansas through the teaching and example of a great teacher, John Senior, profiled yesterday for The Catholic Thing.