Not bad but good

A small boy once asked me what has been the most pertinent question I’ve ever been asked in my more than 50 years as a priest. The children were being prepared for Easter and reflecting on the events of Holy Week when the boy suddenly launched into a second question:

“Why do we call it Good Friday when it was such a bad Friday?”

Mind you, it was not the first time I’d been asked that question. But it was clear that his question had sparked the interest of the whole class and, to begin with, I could only congratulate him on asking it. I agreed with him that his assessment was correct: the day on which Jesus suffered his Passion and Death was a dreadful day and would have remained so but for Easter Sunday.

St Paul could not be more explicit when he tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins.” Everything depends on the resurrection: without the resurrection nothing makes sense but in the light of the resurrection all that Jesus teaches us becomes life-giving.

The Old Testament prophets, like Jeremiah, continually invited their people to reflect on the importance of putting their trust in the Lord. The perennial temptation down through the ages is that we are inclined to put our trust in ourselves and imagine that it is our world and that we can sort everything out.

Jesus goes a step further, suggesting that our human way of thinking and acting needs to be turned on its head. In their gospels, both Matthew and Luke give us the Beatitudes: this is Christ’s new charter for his followers and it takes us way beyond the Old Testament charter, the Ten Commandments. Now we are invited to think about what makes us ready for the kingdom of God. It is when we are poor, hungry and in distress that we are more prepared to recognise our need of God and experience the power of his presence.

Indeed, Paul grasps this when he reminds us that “if our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people.” Our hope is precisely that everything is being redeemed in Christ, but more than that, it is that already we are living the new life which Jesus won for us through his Passion Death and Resurrection.

The ultimate paradox of the Christian life is that Jesus entered into the world as it is and entered into the pain of suffering and death. Through his Passion and Death, he breaks through their hold on us and frees us for our own resurrection. The cross becomes a triumph (we even have a feast for this in September) and Bad Friday becomes Good Friday.

Tim Buckley CSsR

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