Good Friday

Yesterday morning, I was at the Cathedral Basilica for the annual Chrism mass.  Two things happen at this mass, (actually three things) first and foremost is the mass itself.  Second, the Archbishop blesses all the holy oils that will be used in the archdiocese for the coming year.  Third, all of the priests renew their commitments to priestly service.  As you might imagine, there are a lot of priests and deacons in attendance.

Seating at the Cathedral is priests in front, deacons in the back, which is as it should be.  The only problem with the setup is that during the Consecration of the Eucharist, the priests stand while the deacons kneel.  I was in the first row of deacons just behind the last row of priests.  That meant that all I could see in front of me were a lot of chasubles and a lot of bald heads.  Above the bald heads, I did have a very good view of the Crucifix hanging above the altar.

As I usually do at events like this I looked at Christ hanging from the cross and asked Him how I ended up there, kneeling before the altar, surrounded by holy men.  How could a sinner like me be dressed in an alb and dalmatic, sitting among bishops, priests, and deacons, pretending to be one of them.  There was an Archbishop, two auxiliary bishops, and dozens of priests, some of whom I know, many that I don’t.  There were former pastors of mine.  There were men who taught me when I was in formation.  There were men who have retired after decades of service to the Church.  There were Monsignors, and deans, and deacons who I know live saintly lives. There was a big contingent of seminarians and men of religious orders.   Then there was me.  What could God have been thinking?

Then a funny thing happened.  He answered me!  Not in a booming voice, but more like a whisper from within.  First, He said to me, “Do you really know what’s in other men’s hearts?  How do you know that these men sitting in front of you, and behind you, and on either side of you aren’t even bigger sinners than you are?

“Could it be that they have the same doubts and fears that you do?  You’re an eejit for thinking that you can judge anyone, good or bad.  (Eejit is Irish for idiot.  I’ve always suspected that Jesus was really Irish.)”

He went on, “Besides, haven’t you read the Bible?  Don’t you realize what failures the first Apostles were?  Judas sold me out for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter denied he knew me three times.  The other ten ran off and left me when I needed them the most.  The only ones who stood by me were the women.  You don’t have to be perfect to serve Me.

“You’re a deacon.  Your job is to serve the Archbishop and his flock whatever way he asks you to.  You wear a Roman collar.  You stand next to the priest on the altar.  Part of your job is to remind the faithful that we all serve one another.  If I only called perfect men to be clergy, think how frustrating that would be for everyone else.  They’d think they didn’t have a prayer (prayer, get it?  Jesus does have a sense of humor.)

“I want you and all my clergy to let people see that you’re a sinner, just like them.  Judas didn’t have to turn Me over to the Jews, but somebody had to to fulfill words of the prophets.  I knew He’d do it, even before I chose him to be an apostle.

“Peter didn’t have to deny me three times, but He did, just as I knew he would.  I knew the others would run away.  But I chose them anyway, just like I chose you, sinner that you are.”

So, today we mark the day when He died a painful death on the cross for you and for me.  If we were sinless He wouldn’t have had to do that.  But we aren’t and He did.  In effect He told us that He’d like us to live a sinless life, but He knew that we couldn’t.  So, He let Himself be crucified so that we might be forgiven.  As painful as that was for Him, He knew it would be even more painful to sit back and watch us destroy ourselves.

Without Good Friday, that’s exactly what we’d do.

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