The goodness of Good Friday is not supremely evident until Easter Sunday. By that, I mean there is no way we can call a crucifixion good unless and until it is surpassed. And surpassed it is!
The Resurrection does not remove Calvary from history. No, what it does is show that evil and sin would not have the final say in our lives. For Christ, the personification of goodness, deals a lethal blow to evil and sin by dying for us on the Cross. But the victory of God is not in death; it is in life! Besides, it is not at the sight of the Crucified One that we cry out Alleluia. It’s only at the marvelous sight of the Risen One that we exclaim Alleluia.
To start our Alleluia now would be a foolish thing. It would be to account for grace cheaply. And why would we want to do that when we have been purchased at such a great price (1 Cor. 6:20)?
The price of course is the Lord’s suffering. He suffered for us sinners. Thus, what we mark today is an atoning death, and this mystery makes it possible for us to see the goodness of Good Friday before we even get to Easter.
The goodness of Good Friday is in the honesty to which we are called. Saint Paul gives indication of this in his Letter to the Romans where he writes “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10). There is only one thing that could have made us enemies and that is our sin—all of it—the minor offenses and the deadly transgressions.
It’s not as if we outgrow sin as we do articles of clothing. That is, we just toss the apparel away when they no longer fit. Rather, we just get better at hiding our vulnerabilities, keeping them well out of view of those who could embarrass us. In the end though, it’s not a matter of self-respect. It’s a matter of being honest with ourselves.
Honest is what the prodigal son has to become. After leaving his father’s estate and squandering his inheritance on dissolute living, the prodigal son thinks first he can get along by hiring himself out to the local citizens (Lk 15:15). It isn’t until he comes to his senses (Lk 15:17) and admits his sin to his father that there can be any genuine re-integration into the life of his father’s house.
And so it is for us too. Honesty is the indispensable preamble to the mercy of God. Without it, we may only feel good without actually becoming good. Becoming good is a thoroughgoing imitation of Christ. But we never arrive at this goal as long as we cling to self-deceit. When we are honest with ourselves, our likeness to Christ deepens exponentially.
The goodness of Good Friday is the relevance of truth in all circumstances. In the Passion of Saint John’s Gospel, when the matter of kingship is raised in Pilate’s interrogation, Jesus declares that his mission is to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice (Jn 18:37). Pilate then betrays his ignorance by asking, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38)
The reference to truth by Jesus is hardly new. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus states that the truth will set us free (Jn 8:32). And at the Last Supper, Jesus prays that the apostles be consecrated in the truth (Jn 17:19). What sets the reference to truth apart in the exchange between Jesus and Pilate is the context. Jesus is undergoing suffering.
That suffering includes a scourging, a crowning with thorns and, of course, a crucifixion. But that’s only the physical part of Jesus’s suffering. There is also the agony in the garden. Both Saint Mark and Saint Matthew report that Jesus’s soul at the time was sorrowful (Mk 14:34; Matt 26:38). Pain does not just show up in one place then; it is felt all over.
Truth causes us pain because we have to confront the tragedy of our own false choices. In well-formed consciences, we acknowledge that we have decided wrongly in blind pursuit of merely apparent goods. It is only in the pain of truth that we find real communion, says then-Cardinal Ratzinger. In A New Song for the Lord, he observes that only in truth’s humble patience do we mature from the inside and become free from ourselves and for God.
At the same time that truth inwardly causes us pain, it is our living truthfully that brings a different kind of suffering. It’s a suffering that comes when we dare to live up to the responsibilities that are ours as signs of contradiction (Lk 2:34). Among these responsibilities is a defense of the unborn, a defense of traditional marriage and a defense of religious liberty in the public square. The problem is that fewer and fewer Catholics want to engage in this kind of witness today. We do not want to suffer a loss of reputation and be branded as intolerant. This being so, we must learn to rise above our inhibitions and be willing to suffer for the truth. If we fail at this, nothing else matters. For we will have gained the whole world but lost our soul (Mk 8:36; Matt 16:26).
The Psalmist implores us to taste and see the goodness of the Lord (Ps 34:8). Easter, we are glad, is not the only mystery overflowing with the Lord’s goodness. There is goodness overflowing in Good Friday also—if only we search for it and find it in honesty and truth.
Praised be the Crucified Christ!
Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “Crucifixion” painted by Salvador Dali in 1953-4.