A Good Friday homily
In meditating upon Our Lord on the Cross, we also meditate on the inevitable end of ourselves. The way in which life slowing but relentlessly inflicts suffering upon us and the way that disease, old age, and death close in upon us as our horizons seemingly narrow. It isn’t a happy thought, and I know that in my own life, I put myself at great risk of mid-life crisis when I look back at photos of years gone by and realize that they are gone forever. I am left with memories and pictures of family when we were younger, of friends from my college days who are now scattered around the country with families and careers of their own. When I decided to become Catholic and move back to St. Louis from Cape Cod, I remember the melancholy and difficulty of packing up my things, of seeing an empty house that only a few days before been the center of my whole world, saying goodbye to my friends and parishioners, and as I drove over the canal bridge that separates the Cape from the mainland for the last time I cried, because change hurts. Each moment that slips past is an encounter with the Cross, and the heartbreak of knowing that on this earth we cannot be truly at home in all the places and to all the people for whom want to be at home, it pierces the heart.
Life is change, and every change, as the monks at Silverstream Priory say, “even the smallest…are, in some way, a preparation for death. Every change, every detachment, every relocation, is a portent of death…In the Christian perspective, change is the price of life.” As far as I know, in this universe, whatever does not change is not alive, and even if change is uncomfortable it has a purpose. It is the engine of growth and progress, it is our process of becoming. This is why we shouldn’t fear it, and why it is a life-giving habit, as St. Benedict says, to “keep death daily before our eyes.” Our willingness to contemplate our own end is the measure of our willingness to meet that death head on, unafraid, and prepare to meet it. In other words, it is the measure of our willingness to advance and embrace the Cross.
Life isn’t all change and loss and then death, though, because once we abandon ourselves at the Cross, a miracle is achieved, because we have placed ourselves at the place of Passover through which the very destiny of the human soul is transformed and our souls, which are eternal, find a true resting place from the whirlwind of life. The Cross is the place of ultimate change but also the place of true rest – the one, quiet, still place around which all else circles. It our home.
Brace yourself for the struggle and don’t fall into complacency. You are made for eternity, this we know, but the question is, how will you meet it? It is all too easy to distract ourselves with the pleasures of this world, to allow the white noise to keep us from contemplating the quietness and solitude of our death. We must fix our eyes upon it and ready ourselves for it.
The monks at Silverstream teach, “Death is not improvised. One dies as one has lived. To die loving, I must love always. To die praying, I must pray always. To die forgiving, I must forgive always…to die gratefully, I must live in gratitude. To die peacefully, I must live in peace. To die humbly, I must life humbly.”
Our task is made especially clear on a day such as Good Friday. If we desire to adore Our Lord in heaven, we begin now, by gazing upon his death and seeing the pattern by which we may peacefully accept our own death as well. His death is the moment of victory, and as he is raised high it is a coming into the complete vision of our beloved Savior, and it is transformative.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. Live your life the way that you want to die. This is the only path that we can take to redeem the relentless changes in our lives, to redeem them, turn them into acts of love, and so find ourselves gifted with the supernatural rest of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our true home, and the one whose appearance in our hearts changes us forever.
O Lord, be our example and our strength as we die daily to ourselves.