Good Friday – April 2, 2021
This evening in Rome, the Holy Father will lead the Via Crucis – the Stations of the Cross of Jesus. While traditionally prayed with thousands of faithful at the Colosseum, Pope Francis will lead the meditations from an empty Saint Peter’s Square because of a resurgence of the pandemic in Italy. But this year’s Via Crucis will be unique for another reason. Children from a Roman parish, a group of Scouts, and young people from two family shelters penned the mediations.
The list of crosses, pain and suffering that the children will invite us to reflect upon offers many things that we adults wouldn’t likely include in our prayers, from being afraid of the dark to stuttering to listening to parents argue. Yet, the young authors of these meditations share a wisdom and depth of faith and understanding that we would all do well to consider, particularly during this painful year that has rocked the depths of our understanding of ourselves, our faith and God.
I found one meditation to be particularly poignant in the face of our continuing battle against the coronavirus. Its author recounts what happened the last time he saw his grandfather: “Some men who looked like astronauts got out of the ambulance, dressed in gowns, gloves, masks and a visor. They took my grandfather who had breathing difficulties for a few days. That was the last time I saw my grandfather. He died a few days later from the virus, in the hospital, suffering too because of loneliness.”
A painful image, isn’t it? Listen to a similar reflection from the 9th Station when Jesus falls the third time. It puts so much of the struggles that we endure as adult Christians into perspective. “The sadness of loneliness sometimes becomes unbearable. We feel abandoned by everyone, unable to smile again. Like Jesus, we find ourselves fallen to the ground.” … “Like Jesus, we find ourselves fallen to the ground.” … “Like Jesus.”
So often, in the face of human suffering and pain – something that today is far more familiar to most of us than it may have been a year ago – we lose touch with why Jesus embraced our world, our lives and his cross.
Jesus took up the cross only because he was first able to set aside his own desire to be in control and then handed himself over to the will of his Father in heaven. In his surrender to his Father’s will, Jesus shows us what it means to trust in a power bigger than ourselves. For as much as we’d all like to believe that we are capable of anything, this year of suffering reminds us that we are not. Jesus came to that realization when he spoke these words, “Not what I will, Father, but what you will.” … So must we.
In Jesus’ expression of trust, God’s plan for our salvation was given room to unfold and the depth of God’s love for his creation – through the mystery of Jesus suffering, death and resurrection – is made known.
Yet, in Jesus’ embrace of his cross, we discover something else about about God’s plan – something that the young authors of today’s Stations of the Cross seem to understand quite well. Father Ron Rolheiser, in his book, The Passion and the Cross, reflected on the cross and resurrection of Jesus and its meaning for us, particularly amid the painful crosses that we are, at times, forced to confront in our lives.
“The early Christians struggled with the fact that someone can have a deep, genuine faith, be deeply loved by God, and still have to suffer humiliation, pain, and death like everyone else. God didn’t spare Jesus from suffering and death, and Jesus doesn’t spare us from them. … Rather, he promised that, in the end, there will be redemption, vindication, immunity from suffering and eternal life.”
God could have chosen to save us in any way that he wanted. Yet he chose have Jesus carry a cross so that we, in our suffering might discover a God who understands us because he walked with us in all of life, including its most painful experiences. One of the great “revelations of the cross is precisely this: that in the crucified one, God is present.”
In the gift of God’s saving grace extended to us from the cross, we’re given the assurance that we do not suffer alone. Out of great love and compassion, God suffers with us and is woven into every aspect of our lives as we make our own painful journeys to Calvary.
Brothers and sisters, the great promise that is ours through God’s plan for our salvation is that as Jesus embraced the brokenness of our world and died like us, we, in turn, are given the opportunity to rise like him to life and peace through the power of God’s grace.
Therein is our hope as we stand before the cross of Christ this day.