A Catholic perspective on a very Good Friday

Clarion Herald Guest Column

Imagine a fictitious employer, Sgt. Sourpants, who opposes giving his employees a holiday every year on Memorial Day! After all, his company loses opportunities, and potential profits are squandered!  He sees no reason to honor the dead if they’re already dead – much less to take the living away from their job-focused lives.

For him, Memorial Day makes no sense. In support of his argument, he comments how no one actually seems to focus on what is even being “memorialized” on Memorial Day – they’re too busy having parties and watching sports.  Few people salute the flag any differently, and still fewer visit a cemetery or pray for those whose lives were lost in war.  In his self-righteous opinion, it’s a holiday with no soul and no purpose; simply a waste of business opportunity.

Focusing our holidays on the external celebrations while neglecting their underlying spirit and purpose seems to be an ever-present pitfall in our first-world American culture.

Permit me to draw our attention to Holy Week – in particular, to Good Friday.  Thankfully, most schools and even some businesses grant us a holiday to “commemorate” Good Friday (and for our Jewish older brothers in the faith, the Passover feast). I used the word “commemorate” intentionally, not “celebrate.” It is most truly a memorial day off; but it’s not meant to be a festive one, per se. It is a time for Christians to reflect on the one who laid down his life so that we could enjoy our freedom – not simply as Americans, but as daughters and sons of God now ransomed from our sins at the price of his divine blood.

Good Friday is a day of thanksgiving, but also of deepening reflection upon the cost of my sins.

Ending the Lenten season, it rightly highlights Christian “guilt” insofar as Jesus takes our guilt upon himself. “They were our sins he bore, our iniquities he carried. He bore the punishment that makes us whole.  By his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

It is a day of atonement – in the spirit of the Jewish Day of Atonement when, literally, the sacrificial scapegoat was sent into exile carrying the guilt of God’s people. In his priesthood, Christ offers himself as the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”; and we strive, especially on that day, to more personally engage in that priestly offering. The Church considers this a day of fasting for that purpose.  Uniting our sacrifices to the one, eternal sacrifice, we strive to atone for the damage our sins have caused.

“I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

As members of his Body we offer our whole selves – even our stomachs – to be crucified with Christ, giving up extra comforts, unnecessary meals, and even our social life, so as to more tangibly accompany him who laid down his very life itself for our sake.

Unlike Memorial Day, we are not commemorating one who is now absent from our company.  Through the sacred liturgies, Christ truly and sacramentally walks alongside us, commemorating those very moments of his passion and death. He is risen now, albeit unrecognized and unimposing at our side; and as he did on the road to Emmaus, he opens our hearts again to the scriptures, to the weight of our sins and to the sacred value and dignity of our souls.

We pray the Stations of the Cross; we attend the 3 p.m. service to hear his passion proclaimed and to adore the wood of his cross; we keep vigil contemplating his body hanging lifeless upon the cross. As a Christian family of faith, we offer ourselves back to him with profound gratitude and renewed resolve never to betray him again. I would encourage us further to take time away from the usual holiday R&R. As the Jews still ask in initiating their Passover, let us spend this holy feast asking ourselves “why is this night different from every other night?” May it not be like any other Spring Break holiday, with its beach balls and crawfish boils. Save that for Easter Sunday, only two days later!

Father Stephen Dardis is parochial vicar of Our Lady of Lourdes in Slidell.

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