As odd as it might sound, Good Friday has long been my favorite day in the liturgical calendar. Don’t get me wrong, I love the enchantment and beauty of Christmas, the quiet anticipation that bursts forth into uncontainable joy at the Easter Vigil; I treasure the familiar visits of my heavenly friends as the cycle of saints works through the year, and, in recent years, I’ve felt the excitement and anticipation of seeing my older brothers in Holy Cross profess their final vows and receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Yet, despite all these great celebrations, it is still Good Friday that captures my heart and my imagination; as a religious of the Congregation of Holy Cross, who audaciously proclaims “Hail the Cross, our only hope” my love of this day, and the hope it brings has only deepened.
When I think of the hope of the Paschal Triduum, it’s very easy for me to rush to the accounts of the empty tomb, and the resurrected Jesus being seen by his disciples. It’s only natural to want to avoid the horror of this day, and not to look at weeping Mary, cowardly Peter, or the naked broken man hanging upon the Cross who promised that he was doing something completely new. We are tempted to ask, as many have done before us “What is so ‘good’ about this Friday? Where is the hope on Calvary? If anything looks hopeless, it is this.” As much as I might want to run away, as a Holy Cross religious, I am called to model Mary, who continues to stand at Calvary, bearing much that she did not understand, yet who trusts in God and who hopes. And in standing with her, I have come to see the Cross in a much more brilliant light.
If we stand where Mary does, with her trust and faith, and look up at the man on the Cross, we can see so much more than brokenness, failure, and death. In becoming human, God embraced every part of our reality, including our death; the Cross then is not another failure in God’s plan to call us back to himself, but is God “going for broke.” He is embracing every part of our humanity: every joy, every sorrow, every life, and every death. When Christ looks down on his creation as he dies on the Cross, he looks with a gaze of infinite love; a love that is being given, completely, wholly, in this greatest act of self-gift. Having given us everything, he gives us his very self: all of it. He chooses to suffer for us, and his wounds heal us; the blood and water that flow from his side will give us life through Baptism and the Eucharist. It isn’t just the wounds that heal us, rather it is the love that Christ constantly gives away, first to his Father and the Spirit, and then to us, that makes us whole and gives us Christ’s very life. But I can only see this if I choose to stand with Mary at the Cross, and look, not into the empty tomb, but into the face of Love himself.
Father Moreau often reminded his religious sons and daughters that, as Christians and especially as religious, encountering the Cross is not just likely, but inevitable. Sometimes the crosses we receive are big and obvious, but far more often they are small. We fall short of being the men and women we want to be; we feel lost, lonely, and abandoned; we grieve a relationship lost, a friendship changed, or a dream of the life that might have been. These moments are real and they are difficult; yet, for Father Moreau, they are moments when we are invited to embrace the Cross, not out of resignation, or even weakness, but out of the same self-giving love with which Christ embraced the wood of the Cross for us. It is by embracing the Cross that we can move “without awkwardness among those who suffer” (Constitution 8) and communicate the reality that God, in Christ, stands and suffers with them. The communication and mediation of this love is what stands at the heart of our vocation as religious of Holy Cross. It is this love that transforms the Cross to a sign of hope, and that can transform us into men and women who can cry with confidence “Hail the Cross, our only hope!”
Hugh Dowell, CSC completed his novitiate year, and professed his First Vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross last August. He is currently resides at Moreau Seminary where he is continuing in his formation, and studying for a Master of Divinity Degree at the University of Notre Dame. Hugh is originally from Windsor, Ontario in Canada.