‘To whom shall we go?’

Bishop marks Good Friday of Holy Week 2024

On March 29, Bishop Raica marked Good Friday at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

In one sense, the Passion of the Lord is beyond our understanding. It’s too big for our human brains to grasp in its totality. We were not there. For us, everything is cleaned up, sanitized. We hear the words. Oftentimes they are a blur passing in one ear and out the other. We are separated by many centuries from the brutal reality that was experienced by our Lord and those who were present, including Mary, Peter, and John. The anguish, the abandonment, the helplessness: Not even His own mother could save Him from His certain fate as He prepared to die on the cross. Movies try to capture some of the terrifying horror. The silver screen images, however, pale in comparison to the real thing.

In another sense, the Passion of the Lord is not about the horrific brutal reality that many of us would prefer to avoid at all cost. Rather, it is about humility, obedience, and love. Jesus, in the mystery of the Trinity, came into our world, so we could see the face of God as one like us. Yes, we attest: He was true God and true man. He allowed Himself to become one of us to experience the chaos and challenges that we have been trying to understand. The freedom we have allows us to become truly human and truly alive in a way heretofore unknown or it can be squandered to let everything collapse into senseless nothingness or nihilism around us. It seems we always wanted to choose different paths because they were more popular, more expedient, more novel, more accepted by our culture or society, and we still feel empty, bereft, lacking a north star. In the end, Jesus humbled Himself to take on our human flesh not only to show us how all this is done, but to tell His disciples and us that there’s another way! If you want to understand the fullness of life, I am the way. There is no other solution that will work. No other religious leader could make this claim in sincerity and truth. Many others pointed out various pathways, but Jesus alone said, “I am the way.”  Many others gave indications where we could find the truth – that so befuddled Pilate. But Jesus said, “I am the truth.” If you want to know what truth is, then look at Jesus and keep your eyes fixed on His merciful gaze. Many others have claimed that they will give us life, but they cannot give me eternal life and the embrace of the infinite. Jesus said, “I am the life. I will give you eternal life if you but ask.” 

In addition to His humility, Jesus was also obedient. He was obedient to His Father and desperately wanted to do the Father’s will, even when it was untimely or uncomfortable, begging His Father to take away the cup of suffering. He concluded: “Not My will, but Yours be done.” Frequently, He was in prayer communicating with the Father in a way that only He knew how to do. He’s given us an example that our Christian faith, our obedience as a Christian disciple, is not a blind obedience. It must be continually informed and formed, one that raises us up, one that ultimately frees us from the chaos, sin, and slavery that we find ourselves embroiled in day after day.  In other words, follow that which will give life, will give hope, will give you yourself. He did not create us to be automatons, to be coerced by the forces of nature, to be like pawns on a chess board, or to be at the end of strings as though we were puppets on a theater stage. He wanted the joy of seeing us freely respond to His invitation to love Him because it is our deepest desire to become truly ourselves once again as part of God’s dream. Obedience means that we are in relationship and that we are hearing the One Who is the most important person in our life – who can see beyond the obstacles which we find along the way. He will lead us to becoming ourselves, ultimately commending us back to His Father because we are in His hands!

It is also about love. Not a maudlin, sentimental love so characterized by our romance novels and soap operas today. It is a love so deep, so needed, so full of life, that it continues to point out our ultimate destiny and fulfillment. We have this great need to be loved and to love, to satisfy what is lacking inside of us. We want someone to point out the way, so we can avoid the errors and mistakes of the past. We get mesmerized by those who seem to “have it all together.” We want to skip over the fact that none of us is perfect.

What Jesus does for us on the cross is evident by the two criminals strung up on either side of Him. One cursed and blamed Jesus for everything. The other had only one prayer related to his destiny: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom!” A prayer to which our Lord responded: “This day you will be with Me in paradise.”

God’s ways are not our ways. Our ways are not God’s ways. To hear the words: “This day you will be with Me in paradise?” We would be taken aback, for the one who was the repentant thief, sometimes called the “good thief” because he “stole Heaven” at the end it must have been the most unexpected, unimaginable experience of mercy and grace. Imagine his relief to hear these words. It’s like going to confession, but to our Lord. “You will be with Me in paradise.” How consoling! These are the words I want to hear, too. 

On this Good Friday, may we reflect on the gift of salvation Christ won for us through His Passion and death on the cross. It is Christ’s humility, His obedience, His love that has given us a great example. It’s such a great gift to all of us that it takes us years sometimes to catch just a glimpse of God’s true intention. The Scriptures are perhaps the greatest love story told, reminding us that Jesus loves us so much. He wants to invite us to experience life – like the woman at the well or the thief alongside Him. Yet, because of our freedom, we can still choose to turn away from this love. To whom shall we go? Every day is a new day to begin again. Good Friday is no exception. May we appreciate God’s love even more so today. Afterall, “By Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.” May God bless you one and all!