Bottom line: As you express gratitude to Jesus, join your sufferings to his. Do not waste your suffering.
Today, Good Friday, we commemorate Our Lord's Passion. The Prophet Isaiah gives us a key for unlocking the meaning of Jesus' suffering and death. He speaks about a mysterious servant who would be "crushed for our sins." Jesus died for you and for me. To help understand Jesus' sacrificial death, I would to tell you about something that happened almost seventy years ago - in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Auschwitz was the largest of the German concentrations camps during World War II. To control the prisoners, the Nazi guards employed extreme cruelty and terror. In the summer of 1941, a prisoner escaped. In reprisal, the guards lined up the inmates and selected ten to die. One of them cried out, "My wife! My children!"
Hearing that pitiful cry, another prisoner spoke, "Please," he said, "let me take that man's place. I am a Catholic priest. I have no family like this man."
The guards hesitated, then agreed. The priest, a Polish Franciscan, was led to the "starvation bunker" along with the nine others. The starvation bunker was dark cellar, with filth on the floor. Rats moved about freely. One by one, the men died a slow, humiliating death. After fourteen days, four still lived and only one was fully conscious - the Franciscan priest. The Nazis needed the starvation bunker for other prisoners so they brought syringes filled with carbolic acid. One by one they injected the four men. The priest died last.
Thirty years later, in 1971, Pope Paul VI beatified that man. You may have heard of him: Fr. Maximilian Kolbe.* At the beatification - on a chair visible to all - sat a bald, elderly man. The Holy Father made an announcement that sent a thrill through the congregation. The man on the platform was Franciszek Gajowniczek.** Blessed Maximilian Kolbe had taken his place and he survived the concentration camp. In gratitude, he devoted his life to telling others what Fr. Kolbe did for him.
If Franciszek Gajowniczek has that much gratitude to Fr. Kolbe, how much should we have this evening to Jesus? What St. Maximilian Kolbe did for that Jewish prisoner, Jesus has done for each of us. He died in our place. In gratitude we come to Jesus this evening to venerate his Holy Cross.
Jesus has done everything for us. We can only respond with wonder and gratitude. As we pray in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy: "Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world."
When all is said and done, what we have to offer God is the Body and Blood of Jesus - his sacrifice for us. Notwithstanding, there is something else: part of the wonder is that Jesus does not just ask a passive response. By a marvellous grace he allows us to participate in his saving Passion. St. Paul says that we make up in our bodies what is "lacking in the suffering of Christ." The Blessed Mother did that as she stood at the foot of the cross. Likewise, the "beloved disciple" who represents all of us.
Jesus allows us to participate in his suffering in two ways: First, by the sacrifices we make for others. A young man told me about his first child awakening him in the middle of the night. He did not want to get up, but he knew his wife was more exhausted than he. And he knew that, even though she would eventually have to get up to nurse the baby, she would appreciate him doing what he could. He got up. By that act of love, he shared in the Passion of Christ.
There is a second way: by accepting inevitable suffering and taking it to the cross. The best example I have is my brother-in-law, Alex. He died this Tuesday, after a painful illness. For over twenty years, he suffered from a rare form of cancer that caused him to itch all over his body, but especially on his feet. In recent years, heart and kidney problems multiplied his suffering..
Once my brother-in-law was telling me about all he was going through. Since Alex was Polish, I knew he had a special fondness for Pope John Paul II. I reminded him of what the pope once said to American priest, who had multiple affliction. The pope held him by the shoulders - and looking into his eyes - said, "Do not waste your sufferings." Alex nodded.
Do not waste your sufferings. Join them to those of Jesus on the cross. Mother Angelica said:
"Suffering in itself does not make us holy. It is only when we unite it, out of love, to the suffering of Christ that it has meaning. Suffering without love is wasted pain." And she added this reminder:
"All the misery of the world, past, present and future, could never compare with the sufferings of Jesus. Whatever you are going through, He's been there first, and He did it out of love."***
In just a few minutes (after the Good Friday General Intercessions), we have the opportunity to thank Jesus for his love, his suffering for us. I will lift high the cross and sing, "This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the world." (If I am off-key, well, you have one more suffering to offer...) Please respond, "Come, let us worship." I will then invite you to come forward to reverence the cross by kissing it. As you express gratitude to Jesus, join your sufferings to his. Do not waste your suffering.
*Now, of course, St. Maximilian Kolbe. Pope John Paul II canonized him on October 10, 1982. Franciszek Gajowniczek also attended the canonization. He died six and a half years later, March 13, 1995.
**FRaeNSIHSH-ehk Ga-y-ov-nichek (with apologies to Polish parishioners)
***Both quotes from Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality by Raymond Arroyo.
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Divine Mercy Novena (print ready in English & Spanish)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Before sounding off on Pope Benedict's handling of clergy abuse cases, I encourage anyone to read:
and Bill Donohue's succint summary
my bulletin column
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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