Good Friday – April 2006

We adore thee, O Christ; and we praise thee, because by thy holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Today’s liturgy is a sober one: we celebrate not the Mass, but a simple liturgy of the Word, followed by a solemn veneration of the cross.  Communion is then distributed with hosts consecrated at last evening’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

A lover seeks to embrace his beloved.  Today, we contemplate the figure of Jesus crucified.  His arms are opened wide – as if to embrace the whole human race.  Such was his love for us.  This love is what we mean when we sing that song:  Amazing Grace: How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. The good thief stole heaven when he asked our Lord to remember him in his kingdom.  This proves that there is no saint without a past – a past that is forgiven thanks to that Amazing Grace; and there is no sinner without a future, again thanks to that Amazing Grace.  “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

The Lord’s love knows no limits – except those we would put on it.  Today’s passion narrative begins with the betrayal of Judas.  If you have been reading the secular papers, you might know that there is an effort to rehabilitate Judas. Given that one of the most popular novels in recent years has been the very anti-Catholic and blasphemous Da Vince Code, we should not be surprised.  While the Church has a process of canonizing saints – declaring that someone is definitely in heaven, she does not have a similar process for declaring that someone is in heaven. Judas’ ultimate fate is known only to God.  However, as Pope Benedict said in his Holy Thursday homily last night:  “The Lord’s love knows no limit, but man can put a limit.”  Judas’ treachery is a rejection of love:  a not wanting to be loved, a not loving.  It is a pride that closes itself to the saving goodness of God.

Is it any wonder then that some would wish to rehabilitate Judas – for to admit that Judas was responsible for Jesus’ death would also mean that we would have to accuse ourselves as well.  Like Judas, today many are greedy – money is more important than communion with Jesus, more important than God and his love.  Like Judas, many reject the one who calls himself “the Truth” only to make up their own truths which are in fact lies we tell ourselves to make us believe that power and success alone are the only reality that counts – that love does not count. It is difficult for us to accept that Jesus died for our sins, when we have little consciousness of our sinfulness – rather than to seek to understand the sickness that demanded such a remedy, such a cure – Jesus’ death on the cross – we rehabilitate Judas and in seeking to explain away his treachery, we excuse ourselves.

That Amazing Grace is God’s free gift!  Grace is free – but it does not come cheap.

Dietrich Bonheoffer was a Protestant pastor who lived in Nazi Germany. He was executed by Hitler just a few weeks before the end of the war. He wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship. He was highly critical of the state of the church in Germany at the time of the Nazi takeover. He felt that too many Christians came to believe in a false idea of what Christian living was about. The gospel was no longer seen as demanding because too many came to believe in what he called “cheap grace”

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ who, while risen, still carries the wounds of His Passion.  Years ago the crucifix was prominently displayed in our churches – and in our homes, a good Catholic family would have a crucifix in every bedroom.

One wonders whether it is only a coincidence that as those crucifixes began to disappear, so did frequent confession.  We want grace – but we want it on the cheap.

We cannot save ourselves; but, God will not save us against ourselves. Too often, we hear spoken or expressed in so many words certain attitudes that hide this counterfeit version of grace. The first attitude is express in the phrase: “God accepts me just as I am”. Certainly, God loves us just as he finds us – he does not love us because we are good – Jesus died for us while we were still his enemies. Yet, because God loves us, we can become good. God desires our conversion – he wants us to turn to him and not stay “just as we are”.

Another attitude disguising this “cheap grace” approach to the Spiritual life is expressed in saying: “I am saved–period! It doesn’t matter what I do – if I do good or evil – because we’re all going to heaven anyway”. Or we say, “I can’t do any better; God understands”. As if God doesn’t care if we overcome our resentments, or our sinful habits. Cheap grace, indeed! Similar to this attitude, one that we sometimes hear from the young – but also too often from the not so young: “This is a stage I need to go through until I’ve really dealt with my issues. God is patient”. Oh yeah, God is patient – but will your wife be as patient as you go through this “stage” – with another woman? All this is counterfeit grace – a grace that requires no effort, no struggle on our part. Yet, real grace is costly grace.
It is costly because it cost a man his life, and it is grace because it gives man true life. It cost God the life of His Son: ‘you were bought with a price,’ and what has cost God so dearly cannot be cheap for us.

As Christians, we are engaged everyday in a spiritual warfare – to resist temptation and do what is right, what is pleasing to God. Cheap grace tells us we can give up the battle that we don’t have to fight, to struggle. Why should we not give up the battle? Because it is only in the battle that we will experience God’s grace. Sometimes we try, and we find that truly “we can do all things through him who strengthens us”. Sometimes we try and fail, and lying wounded at the side of the road, his grace comes to us as the Good Samaritan. He binds up our wounds, lifts us up and carries us to a safe place, a place of healing.

We adore thee, O Christ and we praise thee; because by thy Holy Cross you have redeemed the world. This realization, this blessed assurance, more than compensates for whatever price we must pay to walk with Him along the way of discipleship.