The last time I was the homilist on Good Friday I shared with you that when I was a kid, yes there was a time when I was young, I hated Good Friday more than any other day of the year.
Think about it. You get the day off school but back in the 1960’s everything you might want to do you could not because all the stores were closed and more importantly my mother told us we could not have fun because this was the day Jesus died.
Therefore, we sat around the house and waited to go to church. We had to go early and then this strange service started and went on for what seemed like half a day.
The only “saving grace” was what I called the big loophole the Catholic Church had yet to close on all Fridays, including Good Friday.
Good Friday was a strict day of fasting especially when it came to the cardinal rule of no meat! The one thing that the adults had seemed to miss is that in place of home made meat loaf we got to have store bought Fish and Chips on Good Friday. This made all the suffering of the day worth it in my young mind.
I am not sure if you young folks here today feel the same way but I wanted to share with you how lucky you are that someone cares enough about you to bring you here so you can learn first hand this big story about the Passion of our Lord.
What if we were to divide this congregation into two? Those of you on my left let’s assume, regardless of your current age, that you are in what many spiritual writers call the first half of life. Those of you on my right you are in the second half.
The concept of the two halves of your spiritual life has nothing to do with taking the average life span of say 90 years and dividing by two.
We all spend time in the first half of life. For the first 10-15 years of life, we are learning about how the basics of life work. If we are lucky, we have caring adults, parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, around us to guide us through our formative years.
Around 13 years of age everything starts to change and all of the people in our lives who knew so much don’t seem so smart. The teenage years can be difficult as we start to figure out who we are and what we want to do with our lives.
Most people at some point emerge from this phase and begin to focus on how we give our life away to others.
Many of us will get married, some will pursue a vocation, for some children will enter the picture and then you are the person someone else is looking at for the answers about the basics of life.
Many people never leave this half of life.
So what do the Spiritual writers mean when they talk about the second half of life?
This is a long and involved discussion. I would like to focus on one aspect of this as it relates to the story of Jesus and especially as we reflect on his suffering, death and resurrection.
I had the opportunity recently to work on the National Catholic Mission, which was on TV this week and is currently available on the internet at www.dailytvmass.com.
The Mission themes are “Our final and greatest Gift and the Promise of Life Everlasting”. The idea came from the writings and teachings of Fr. Henri Nouwen.
What does the title Our Final and Greatest Gift mean?
The answer focuses on this idea of how we move from the first half of life to the second half.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser was one of the Mission leaders and he had a profound observation about this transition when he said “at some point in our lives we need to stop working on our resume and we need to start developing our obituary”.
The second half of life starts when we decide to move from the first half where we focused our energy on giving our life away to a new phase where we choose to make our deaths our final and greatest gift to those we love.
Fr. Rolheiser observed that we often say that Jesus gave his life and his death for us as if they are the same thing, but they are completely different.
What do we know about the life of Jesus? He was born into a simple family with no wealth or power. The only time we meet the young Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. He manages to forget to rejoin his parents. Mary and Joseph in a panic go searching for him.
Mary must have been very upset with Jesus because she grounds him for about 18 years and we do not hear from him again until he is about 30!
Christ’s public ministry is about Jesus giving his life away to those he encounters and to all of us who are his followers.
The last supper is the end of the first half of his life in many ways although he has only hours to live. The washing of the feet is his great lesson to us that we are all called to serve and not be served.
The gift of the Eucharist is how he keeps his promise to us “that he is with us always”.
When they leave the Upper Room, the walk across the Kindron Valley is a sign that Jesus has completed his time of giving his life away for us and he will now give his death to us as his final and greatest gift.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord’s Passion begins. Fr. Rolheiser in the Mission clarifies that the word Passion is often misunderstood. It comes from the Latin word “Passio” which means passive. Our English word patient comes from this Latin phrase. It means passivity. In the Garden, it is as if Jesus enters palliative care.
The Chief Priest has Jesus arrested and he loses his freedom. Most of his friends abandon him in his hour of need. He is humiliated and tortured. The pain he experienced when the Roman soldiers slammed the cross into the ground must have been unimaginable.
Yet through all of this what does Jesus say from the Cross-“Father Forgive them for they know not what they do”.
Jesus is not bitter and resentful even though he has every right to be that way.
In Luke Jesus dies with the words “into your hands Lord I commend my spirit”.
The reason we can choose to give our deaths away as a gift is that our own death is not the end of the story.
On Easter Sunday, we will realize that God has the power to deliver on his promise of life everlasting.
When we choose to give our death away to those we love, when we choose the path of gratitude over resentment and forgiveness over bitterness we follow the example of Jesus.
I usually end my homilies by relating how the message of the gospel, if we live it, will allow us too truly “Go in peace and we are called to glorify the Lord by how we choose to live our lives”.
The lesson of the Easter Triduum is that we will also be able to “Go in peace and we will know this peace when we choose to glorify the Lord by how we give our deaths away”.