March 25, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Good Friday is the pathway to Easter joy

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

The publication date for this column is March 25, 2016, Good Friday.

Why do we call this day “good”?

For Christians, it is the worst day in human history, a day of unspeakable evil, when God’s love incarnate was utterly rejected and made to suffer insults, torture and one of the cruelest forms of capital punishment, death on a cross. Why do we call this day “good” when so much that is not good is associated with it?

There are conflicting theories about the origin of the name Good Friday. Some say it was originally called God’s Friday. Others argue that the proper name should be Holy Friday (just like Holy Thursday, which comes before it and Holy Saturday which comes after it). Most Christians in the English-speaking world stay with “good” for the simple reason that we believe something incredibly good came as a result of the unspeakable evil that occurred on this day more than 2,000 years ago.

What is the good result that we celebrate today during this Holy Year of Mercy 2016? The good that resulted from Jesus’ death on the cross was, of course, his resurrection. We believe that his death was an expiation (atonement) for human sinfulness, a true redemption that flowed from the infinite love and mercy of God.

The crucifixion was not a good thing in and of itself. No murderous act can ever be considered good. But the Lord himself tells us that no greater act of love can be given than to lay down our life for another (Jn 15:13). Self-sacrificing love, especially the witness of martyrdom, is profoundly good because it is the greatest form of love.

This is why we call this day good. Something profoundly good happened on this day. God’s mercy was expressed in the ultimate way. Jesus died for us. He forgave our sins and washed away centuries of guilt and evil—throughout the whole of human history—and made it possible for us to forgive the sins committed against us by others just as God our Heavenly Father has forgiven us.

Good Friday is the day that unspeakable evil was overcome, once and for all, by the unconditional love of God. It is a day of mercy unparalleled in the 365 days of the calendar year!

For the past six weeks, we have been reflecting on the concept of “mercy,” which Pope Francis says is the bridge between sinful humanity and our loving God. Central to our reflections is the parable of the Prodigal Son that the Holy Father holds up as a supreme illustration of the unconditional love and mercy of God (cf. Lk 15:11-32). In the parable, the Father rejoices because the son who has rejected him and, by his own admission, “sinned against heaven and against you” (Lk 15:21) has returned.

In a recent article in America magazine, Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi writes:

“The depth of the father’s feelings are found in his words: ‘This son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found’ (Lk 15:24). Even though the son has squandered his inheritance, his humanity has been saved by his father’s love. The father is the human face of what we call mercy.

“In reference to this parable, St. John Paul II wrote in his second encyclical letter, ‘Dives in Misericordia’ (“Rich in Mercy”):

‘This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and ‘restored to value’ (# 6).

“Mercy is a restorative power. The prodigal son is restored to new life by the loving embrace and celebratory joy of his father.”

The passion and death of Jesus, which we celebrate in a special way on Good Friday, demonstrates the restorative power of God’s mercy in the most profound way imaginable. The result is the celebratory joy of Easter, the day when Love’s victory over death was revealed once and for all.

We Christians are joyful people because we have experienced the mercy of God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His self-sacrificing love has saved us. It has restored us to our full dignity as children of God and brothers and sisters of all humanity—deceased, living and yet-to-be born.

Good Friday is the pathway to Easter joy. Let’s sing “alleluia!” with joyful hearts. God’s mercy has restored us and set us free! Let’s forgive others as we have been forgiven. Let’s share the joy of Easter! †

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