GOOD FRIDAY, AT OUR LADY QUEEN OF NIGERIA PRO-CATHEDRAL, 10th April, 2020.
GOOD FRIDAY, AT OUR LADY QUEEN OF NIGERIA PRO-CATHEDRAL, 10th April, 2020. Homily by Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama
The cross is at the heart of our faith and life as Christians and it is what dominates our reflection, prayers and celebration on this Good Friday.
We Catholics begin our prayers with the sign of the Cross to recall the mystery of the Trinity that in one God there are three Persons and to also remind us that the cross is a sign of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. For the Romans and the Jews, crucifixion on the cross was reserved for criminals. It was a sign of defeat but for us in Christ, it is the spring and source of our freedom, joy and reconciliation with God.
We also have the tradition of doing the Stations of the Cross so as not to forget in a hurry what Jesus went through for our salvation. This Friday we call “good” is the day Jesus paid the supreme sacrifice for our sins and for our salvation. Isaiah 53:5 says “But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” The resurrection of Jesus was preceded by the dehumanizing suffering meted to him. This fact must not be forgotten easily in favour of a Christianity without the cross.
In our reflections always, whether at Mass, novenas, benediction, we don’t forget how Jesus who did good all the time he was on earth was betrayed by one of his close associates and a member of his inner caucus, Judas. Pilate condemned him unjustly. The soldiers crudely and cruelly maltreated him, Peter denied him three times; he was robbed of his human dignity with his dress stripped and shared among the soldiers and even when he was dead and buried, they posted soldiers to ensure that his body was not stolen from the grave and when he rose, the authorities bribed the soldiers with a huge sum of money (cf. Mt. 28:12-13) to give false evidence that his disciples stole his body while the soldiers were sleeping!
As the day follows the night, after suffering, comes victory if one has faith that is solid, unmovable and unshakable. As people of faith, we are optimistic that with the frantic efforts by the Nigerian government and other governments at the international level, coronavirus threatening to cripple the world will by the special grace of God be halted and so it will give way to “happiness virus”.
We know how an expectant mother soon to deliver feels the pains and agony of childbirth. During the agonizing moment she thinks of the worse that could happen, then the child is born and she and her family are enveloped in unspeakable joy and happiness. So shall we by such concerted and frantic effort celebrate the end of COVID-19 pandemic, by the grace of God.
Dear brothers and sisters, yesterday at the Mass of the Last Supper, Jesus gave us a new commandment- “to love, as he has loved us.” This He demonstrated by giving us Himself under the symbols of bread and wine and by washing our feet. Today, we see the high point of this demonstration of love on the cross. Jesus said, “a man can have no greater love for his neighbour than to lay down his life for his neighbour” (Jn 15:13). This, he did for us!
At the beginning of this Good Friday service, the only day we don’t celebrate Holy Mass in the Catholic Church world-wide, you noticed that the priests and I prostrated in front of the altar for a period of time before we continued with the service. That gesture is to call to mind the solemn and prayerful moment when our Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed till His sweat became blood. That moment of silence and prostration is to move us to reflect on this awesome reality of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery; that is, His suffering, His death and His resurrection. It is also a moment of decision making for each one of us, whether we would go with the Lord all the way during His passion like Mary His Mother, Mary Magdalene and the other women who remained steadfast to the end and were still standing at the foot of the cross when Jesus breathed His last breath, or we would decide to waver like some of the disciples did when out of fear they were absent at the Calvary event culminating in the death of Jesus.
The cross was the instrument of torture that the Roman Empire used in ancient times to frighten its enemies. It was the device of execution. Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. It was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution on which slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, convicted criminals and enemies of Rome were hung and killed.
Jesus transformed the cross, a symbol of shame, to become the altar to establish the Kingdom of God. The cross, the most horrifying instrument of torture became for us the perfect instrument and fountain from which the riches of God’s mercy flow. It reveals and testifies to the love beyond all measure that God has for every human being.
Many Christians including preachers are slow to preach the cross or are ashamed of the cross of Jesus. We Catholics however wear the cross, install it in our Churches and begin our prayers with it so as not to easily forget that through the cross Christ has redeemed the world. In some quarters, the message of the cross has no popular appeal. People want to hear that they are not going to suffer, that they are not going to be poor, that they are not even going to fall sick or die. And this is why some few Catholics find it extremely difficult to remain stable in the Catholic Church and make progress in their spiritual journey or knowledge of God. They become “nomadic” Catholics, looking for a cheap Christianity, a Christianity without the cross and so prefer to go where there is undue emphasis on miracles, prophecy and prosperity. I urge those Catholics to be careful of those who are not too keen on acknowledging the cross of Jesus Christ. Any Gospel that emphasizes personal gain and closes its eye to the truth of the cross is questionable.
According to St. Paul, the message about Christ’s death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for those who are being saved it is God’s power” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul addressed this message to the Jews who see the cross as a burden for criminals and suffering as punishment for sinners (Deuteronomy 21:20-23).
The second chapter of the book of Sirach admonishes those who wish to serve the Lord to be prepared for temptations (2:1). Trials are inevitable paths towards the attainment of salvation and victory. Jesus emphasised this fact clearly to the hearing of his followers when he said, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny self, carry his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
The good news is that when Jesus ascended the cross on Golgotha, He changed the meaning of the cross. The cross became a life-giving tree; a symbol of victory; a symbol of joy and above all, a symbol of salvation for all who believe. And that is why we are not afraid or ashamed to identify with the cross of Jesus.
It is this awareness of what the cross has become for us that has brought us here this evening to adore and to venerate the same wood of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. To those watching from home, please join us on this day to feel a deep sorrow for your sins and that of the whole world. Don’t forget, today is also a day of abstinence from meat. Do the Stations of the Cross with a little procession within your compound or your sitting room. The father or mother may hold the crucifix and invite all the members of the family to kiss and venerate it.
Another fact to consider is that Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for permission to bury Jesus’ remains and Nicodemus offered myrrh to anoint Jesus’ remains. Here, we are also invited to emulate these virtuous men in identifying with those who suffer, as on the streets, we encounter victims of accidents or armed robbery, kidnapping, etc and we sometimes walk away without any sign of sympathy or assistance. Around us, we find the sick, the aged, the lonely, the rejected and dejected. There must be a conscious effort on our part to identify with them.
Joseph of Arimathea was not shy to identify with Christ even after his execution as a criminal. Sometimes, we deny people our sympathy and help because of the social stigma they bear.
Identifying with those who sometimes suffer rejection and stigma may be in form of encouragement, comfort or alleviating their suffering. Nicodemus sacrificed a mixture of myrrh. How much have we sacrificed for the good of those suffering around us?
For those suffering, whether justly or unjustly, whether people identify with you or not, I say, do not despair. Courage! God still loves you. On this Good Friday please offer your suffering as a share in the sufferings of Christ. Jesus knows what you are passing through. That is why the second reading assures us that Christ our high priest has been similarly tested in every way we are though he did not sin. So let us confidently approach his throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace when we are in need.
When the Israelites sinned against God and were attacked by serpents, they cried out in repentance and Yahweh instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. As many as looked at the bronze serpent lived. Today, Christ hangs on the cross, we look to Jesus that we may have life and have it to the full (cf. Jn 10:10). I ask you to look up to Jesus in these difficult moments for healing and mercy upon our sick world, upon our sick brothers and sisters and He will hear us. Look to Jesus and live; cast your burdens unto the Lord and He will take care of you (cf. Ps 55:22).
Therefore, beloved brothers and sisters, as we celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s passion and death, may God forgive our sins, assist us in our sufferings and give us the grace to identify with those who suffer.
Our thoughts and prayers are with those who suffer the agonizing pains of this pandemic, directly or indirectly. We ask the Lord of all consolation to comfort them and grant them healing. And the thousands that we have lost in these trying moments, we pray that the promise of Christ to the dying thief will also be unto them, ‘today, you will be with me in Paradise’ (Lk 23:43). The health workers sacrificing their time, energy and even risking their lives, we ask that they be protected by the blood of Jesus.
Jesus, for the sake of your sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.