Friday, 2 April 2010
Good Friday, Shaftesbury
We may well have some people here are unfamilar with the Good Friday liturgy, and if you're not a regular here you are very welcome. But you will see us do something today that might seem very odd: you will see us kneel down before an image of a dead man, and you will see us kiss the instrument of his death.
I say this for the benefit of our regular Catholics because it is important that we too remember how unusual what we are doing is. Similarly, someone might ask, why do you have an image of a dead man hanging in your church? Why do you have an image of that same dead man hanging on the walls of your homes?
We do not do this because we are morbid. We do not do this because we have some bizarre fascination with death. We do this as an act of love, devotion, and gratitude to the man who died, and also because He was not just any man, in fact, He was not just a man –He was and is God.
We in England are not accustomed to outward displays of affection, or outward displays of devotion. We often laugh about overly-demonstrative Italians, or Americans. But even Englishmen show SOME acts of affection, and that particular type of affection that is called “devotion” is what gathers us here today.
We gather here to honour Christ, Christ who died on the Cross for us.
But even today, when we focus on His death, it is important to remember that if He was STILL dead we would not be here at all today. It is because He ROSE from the dead, because He actually showed Himself to be what He claimed –namely God Himself, it is because He is all-powerful that His death is of such significance for us. It is because He is all-powerful that we look back to His death and see what a free act it was on His part, that we see that it was something that He chose to do for us, that we see that it was an act of love for us, that we see that it was the sacrifice that takes our sins away, that reconciles us back to God.
So, when we see that image of a dead man on the Cross, we are recalling that He was not just a man, He was and is God. And we are recalling that the Cross was not some random disaster but rather was the culmination of a long-foretold plan of the Almighty, a plan to save us from our sins.
And recalling that should awaken a response from us, should awaken affection.
The affection that the Cross should awaken in us should be the type of glad, joyful affection that arises from gratitude.
If we think of how often we feel gratitude to people for much smaller and mundane things, surely, the gratitude we should feel for someone dying for us should be much greater.
Of course, it’s possible to not feel gratitude at all. We all know the annoying feeling of someone ignoring the good we have done for them. And surely Our Lord feels the same: the many apparitions of the Sacred Heart have told the saints, and through them have told us, that He who once walked among us with a real human heart with real human emotions, He still has that human heart, even in His risen and glorified state, and He feels affections for us, and He feels our lack of affection for Him, our lack of gratitude. As He put it in His apparition to St Margaret Mary, “Behold this heart that has so loved men, and yet been repaid with such ingratitude and coldness”.
Gratitude, then we have gratitude, gratitude inspires love. And love inspires works of devotion, and devotion expresses itself in signs, signs of affection.
When we genuflect before the Cross, when we kiss the image of the crucifix, we are outwardly expressing our devotion.
And such acts of devotion do not just express the devotion we already have, they help foster and build it up.
So, as we do this today, let us ask the Lord to increase our love for Him, to increase our awareness of what He has done for us in dying for us, because, as St Paul put it so long ago, this is what proves that He loves us: that He died for us, while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).