Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion: The Way of the Cross

Today’s readings

I saw a little comic on Facebook yesterday that had two panels. The top panel was entitled “your way” and showed a stick figure on a bicycle traveling a straight road to the finish line. Smooth sailing, or bicycling, whatever. The bottom panel wasn’t so simple. The same bicyclist had to travel a very treacherous road, filled with rocks, mountains to climb, ditches to avoid, an ocean to cross, and many other obstacles. That panel was entitled “God’s plan.” The only thing that panel was missing was the Cross, and well might it have been there.

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

You heard me quote that, the Entrance Antiphon for this Sacred Paschal Triduum, in my homily last night. Last night I reflected on the scandal of the Cross, and today I’d like to continue the discussion by reflecting briefly on the Way of the Cross. Lots of us are familiar with the Way of the Cross: we come to the Stations of the Cross on Fridays of Lent and reflect on them; perhaps we even reflect on them privately in our homes, or here at church, or outside of church on the back piazza. Whenever we’ve prayed the Stations of the Cross, maybe like me you’ve found it tiring to stand and kneel and genuflect in fourteen different stations. But I can assure you the first person to have traveled the Way of the Cross didn’t have it anywhere near as easy.

As we reflect on the Passion of our Lord, the Way of the Cross becomes quite clear to us. It involves betrayal, injustice, and abandonment. It required prayer, focus, and love.

The betrayal was easy to see. Judas is disgruntled, or disillusioned, or greedy, or some combination thereof, and so he looks for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to the authorities. They were delighted and most willing to pay Judas. And there begins the injustice: the tainted motives of the Sanhedrin, the cowardice of Herod and of Pilate. Our Lord is railroaded to his death. And then begins the abandonment: Peter denies him, the disciples fall asleep, they all flee when he’s arrested. Because our Lord has taken all of our sin on himself in this moment, he rightly feels abandoned, a living hell on earth: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Ps. 22:2)

But it’s important that we get this right today. John spells it out quite clearly throughout his Gospel narrative: Jesus did not get dragged kicking and screaming to the Cross – no, he willingly gave his life that we might live. And that required prayer: uniting himself totally with his Father, he took on his Father’s will. It required focus: Jesus never took his eyes off the Father, he was completely focused on what he came to do and why he came to do it. And it required love. And this is the part I can’t stress strongly enough, Brothers and Sisters: our God loved us so much, that even the betrayal, injustice and abandonment could not stop him from bringing us back to him. His great love and mercy required that his only Begotten Son would pay the price for your sins, and my sins. He willingly gave his life for us – because he loved us beyond anything we could imagine or dare hope for.

That was Jesus’ Way of the Cross. But it’s important to know that we have our own crosses too, and while they might not be what God would like to give us in his love, he allows them in his mercy. The Way of the Cross is the way disciples live. And so we too will suffer from betrayal: when friends let us down, or coworkers take advantage of our compassion, or when our bodies stop doing what we need. We too will suffer from injustice: when someone pre-judges us, or when we give so much to a relationship without anything seeming to come in return, or when our jobs are eliminated. And we will also endure abandonment: when nobody comes to our defense, or when our illness causes them to pull away. Some days it may even seem like God has abandoned us.

But our prayer will tell us otherwise. Prayer is the fuel disciples use to navigate the Way of the Cross. Prayer helps us to focus, and when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can see where the road is leading us. And that focus helps us to embrace the cross in love, joining our sufferings to those of Christ, who deeply longs to lead us to eternity.

Because the Way of the Cross might require death, but it doesn’t end there. Good Friday is good for a reason. And in our deepest sufferings, we can always take comfort that our Savior has gone there before us, and has blazoned the trail that leads to life.

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday: The Road Less Traveled

Today’s readings

When I hear today’s readings, I very often think of the poem, “The Road Less Traveled,” by Robert Frost. It goes, of course, like this:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.

I think of that poem because today’s readings speak, more or less, to the same sentiment, but with a more radical and crucial twist. Frost’s opinion is that both roads are equally valid, he simply chooses to take the one most people don’t. But the Gospel tells us that there really is only the one valid path, and that certainly is the road less traveled. We commonly call it the Way of the Cross.

Moses makes it clear: he sets before the people life and death, and then begs them to choose life. Choosing life, for the Christian, means going down that less traveled Way of the Cross, a road that is hard and filled with pitfalls. And maybe the real problem is that there is a choice. Wouldn’t it be great if we only had the one way set before us and no matter how hard it would be, that was all we could choose? But God has given us freedom and wants us to follow that Way of the Cross in freedom, because that’s the only way that leads to life; the only way that leads to him.

Our Psalmist says it well today:

Blessed the one who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s readings

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.

This poem, as you may recognize, is “The Road Less Traveled,” by Robert Frost, and it was always one of my favorites.  Today’s readings speak, more or less, to the same sentiment, but with a more radical and crucial twist.  Frost’s opinion is that both roads are equally valid, he simply chooses to take the one most people don’t.  But the Gospel tells us that there really is only the one valid path, and that certainly is the road less traveled.  We commonly call it the Way of the Cross.

Moses makes it clear: he sets before the people life and death, and then begs them to choose life.  Choosing life, for the Christian, means going down that less traveled Way of the Cross, a road that is hard and filled with pitfalls.  And maybe the real problem is that there is a choice.  Wouldn’t it be great if we only had the one way set before us and no matter how hard it would be, that was all we could choose? But God has given us freedom and wants us to follow that Way of the Cross in freedom, because that’s the only way that leads to life; the only way that leads to him.

Our Psalmist says it well today:

Blessed the one who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

School Graduation

Readings: Deuteronomy 31:1-8Psalm 145 – 1 Timothy 4:12-16Matthew 5:13-16

My dear graduates, you are gathered here for the last time as a class.  This has been the home away from home, for many of you, for the last nine or ten years; you have known each other and grown together; you have formed relationships that have seen you through good times and bad.  And so, as we come together for graduation this evening, I know that this is a bittersweet occasion for you, as it is for your teachers and all who have been privileged to be part of your life these past years.  You are certainly excited to graduate and move on with the rest of your life, but you are certainly also sad to leave behind so many close friends as you go to different schools in the year ahead.

But however we all feel about you moving on, move on you must.  That is what life is all about: growing and learning and becoming and going forward.  We all want that for you, and hopefully that is what you want for yourselves. And so, on this occasion, I have been trying to figure out what words I would want you to hear on this day.  As I have prayed about this homily, the Spirit seems to be wanting me to talk to you about success.  Success is that pot of gold that we all want for ourselves, and many people have written about it.

Dale Carnegie wrote, “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”  Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”  Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.”  I could go on and on quoting all sorts of famous people who have given their opinion on how to be successful, but I thought I might stop there and instead focus on some common advice about success that you usually hear at graduations.

One thing you often hear is “Anything’s possible.”  I think that’s more or less true, but that also doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good news.  God only knows what’s ahead for each of you: some of it will be incredibly excellent – the stuff far beyond your wildest dreams.  Those moments are God’s gift to you.  Some of it may also be disappointing, frustrating or even sad.  But whether the future brings joy or sadness, what is truly important is what you do with it.  If God gives you joy, your task is to share it – because no gift is ever given just for ourselves.  And if life brings you pain on occasion, the task is to get through it as best you can, knowing that you are never alone: God is with you all the way.

Another piece of advice you might hear at graduation is “Believe in yourself.”  That’s nice advice as far as it goes.  Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t go very far.  If all you believe in is yourself, what do you do when you don’t know what to do?  Who do you turn to?  What happens when you mess up?  I think far better advice is what you’ve been taught for all these years here at Notre Dame School: believe in Jesus.  Jesus loves you, Jesus knows what it’s like to live our human life – he knew joy and he knew sorrow and he got through it all.  If you believe in Jesus, you’ll always have a deep well of grace to draw from when you are tested, you’ll always be able to discern the right path, and you’ll be known as a person who is steadfast and courageous, not blown around by whatever fad comes along next.  Jesus is your Lord and Jesus is your friend.  He has known you and loved you before you were you, and he will keep on loving you no matter where life takes you.

Sometimes at graduations, you’ll hear “There’s nothing you can’t achieve.”  I don’t personally think that’s true.  There are lots of things we aren’t made to do, and I think we instead have to figure out what it was we were made to do.  God has an important task for each of us to accomplish, and it’s up to achieve that.  That is our vocation.  That means we have to pray about what that is, to look for God’s will in our lives.  I can tell you from personal experience, that if you do what God wants you to do in your life, you’ll be successful, and more than that, you’ll be happy every day of your life.  It took me a while to figure that out, but it was worth it.

All in all, I think the best advice there is comes from a very reliable source.  That source is Jesus in this evening’s Gospel reading.  Jesus says that successful disciples have to be salt and light.  We are called to season the world with the love and grace that Jesus has taught us.  We are called to shine the light of God’s presence on a world that can sometimes be a dark place.  Disciples make the world a better place, and through these years of Catholic education, you have learned how to do that.  Now as you go forth into the rest of your life, you are called to put what you have learned into practice.

Sometimes putting what we have learned into practice can be difficult.  Jesus certainly lived what he taught us, and it was difficult for him too.  For him, being salt and light led him to the cross, where he paid the price for our sins.  He did that because he loves us unconditionally and sacrificially.  That kind of love gives us the possibility of eternal life one day in God’s heavenly kingdom.  God loved us so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of living forever without us, so he sent his Son to become one of us and pay the price for our many sins, and to destroy the power that sin and death had over us.

That’s what success looks like for us believers in Christ.  It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams.  It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return.  That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too.  We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.  That is how we can be salt and light in this world.

For all these years of Catholic school, you’ve been hearing that message.  If you remember it, I think you will be successful in this life and in the life to come.  The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, everyone has done their best to give you what you need to get there.  And, as the writer of our first reading from Deuteronomy promises, you need not be afraid of what it takes to be successful because “It is the LORD who marches before you; he will be with you and will never fail or forsake you.  So do not fear or be dismayed.”