Blood From His Side

(Good Friday Homily)

"Freely accepted suffering is the greatest force in the world." --Gandhi

When Monsignor McGrath built Holy Family Church fifty years ago, one of his favorite images was the pelican. You see it represented in the stain glass window at the Southwest entrance as well as a wood carving in Ailbe House chapel. According to ancient belief, when the pelican lacked other food she tore her own breast so drops of blood would nourish her young. She is an image of Christ, especially on this day of his crucifixion.

But why do we need to receive the blood, to have it fall upon us? I'd like to offer a second image - the Tacoma Narrows. Several thousand years ago, a receding glacier carved a deep gap between what is now the city of Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. Rising above that strait of water, an elegant bridge spans the gulf. If it were not there, you could not walk or drive across. In a similar way there is an enormous chasm between man and God. We are creatures; he is our Maker. We are sinful; he is all holy. The cross of Christ is the bridge that enables us to come to the Father.

During this Easter Triduum Jesus wants to take us thru his cross to the Father. The events we celebrate - his death, burial and resurrection - happened at a specific time and place. They are historical occurrences. But they are unique because they not only took place in the past. They continue today. A plaintive spiritual asks:

"Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"

The answer is "yes." I have attended Mass. I have stood with Mary and John below the cross. I have asked that Jesus' blood fall upon me.

Hispanics have a lovely way of expressing the continued presence of the Pascal Mystery. On Holy Saturday, the day Jesus lay in the tomb, they come to the church to express condolences to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus' Passion - and his mother's compassion - continues to eternity.

This evening, as we venerate the cross, we stand with Mary and the beloved disciple. We ask to be renewed in the blood and water flowing from his side.

Since yesterday evening the central crucifix in our church has been veiled. We get so used to the sight that we fail to see the horror of the cross. Cicero who lived the century before Christ calls it a "heartless and harrowing" manner of execution. Fr. Thanh Nguyen from the diocese of Raleigh gives this description:

"According to Roman practice, there was a legal conviction. Except in times of war, the place of sentencing was different from the place of execution, that is to say, the condemned criminal ought to carry the horizontal crossbeam to the place of execution which was usually outside the city or far away from the residential areas. At the place of execution, the victim was stripped and scourged. This was an important part of crucifixion between sentencing and execution. The victim was then tied to the crossbeam that was hoisted onto the vertical pole which was not carried by the victim, but left at the place of execution. Either cords or nails were used to affix the victim to the cross. Due to the heavy weight of the criminal, the cross was probably not much higher than the height of a human person. Death came slowly and the criminal might suffer on the cross for a few days before dying, probably of suffocation or exhaustion. Thirst and heavy weight of the body were extremely painful. As a custom, death was prompted by the breaking of the victim's bones by the executioners." (Crucifixion As A Death Penalty: A Brief History)

Recently I read an account of how Julius Caesar crucified some pirates from whom he had escaped. He allowed them to remain on their crosses for several hours, but because he had gotten to know them during his captivity, he performed what was termed "an unusual act of mercy" - he slit their throats. For a moment I had a glimpse of the suffering of those poor men, and then I thought, "That is what Jesus suffered for me - and for you."

As we approach this evening to venerate the sacred cross, we remember what he, being God, has done for us. May we know the life-giving power of the blood from his side.

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Spanish Version

From Archives:

2011 Good Friday Homily: Suffering Is Everything
2010: Do Not Waste Your Suffering
2009: He Learned Obedience
2008: According to Your Word
2007: He Took Our Suffering to Himself
2006: The Hour of Divine Mercy
2005: The Conversion of Barabbas
2004: Why Did Jesus Have to Die?
2003: The Host
2002: Testimony of Bishop Dolli
2001: Blood From His Side
2000: Vicarious Suffering
1999: Old Testament Fulfilled
1998: He took our place

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Divine Mercy Novena (print ready in English & Spanish)

Bulletin (Holy Week Subtext: Jewish-Christian Relations)

Easter 2001

Announcements

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See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm

The Fiery Furnace

Jesus Teaching Concerning Heaven

Other Homilies

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Germaine Greer on Birth Control

Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)

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Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

My bulletin column

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Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith - Presentation for Monroe Christian Pastors. (For pdf format click here)

Background for presentation on "Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith": High School Course World Civilization - Section on origins of Christianity. (For pdf format click here)

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