Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.
R. Come, let us adore.
(Good Friday Liturgy, Showing of the Holy Cross)
A little while ago, browsing the “religion” section of Coles bookstore (always a more depressing pastime than it seems it should be), I came across a book by (in)famous televangelist, Joel Osteen, titled “Every Day a Friday”. My initial, glib reaction was “But I don’t want to be a vegetarian!” Osteen, of course, was trying to say that since studies have shown that people are happiest on Friday, because they are anticipating the weekend, that we should live every day with that sort of happiness-producing anticipation. Of course, the fatal flaw in his logic is that people are apparently happier when looking forward to the weekend than they are actually enjoying the weekend for which they have been longing. The happiness of Friday, then, is a false and fleeting happiness which the promise of the weekend never actually delivers. Arresting one’s psyche in a state of anticipation for a fulfilment that never comes isn’t true happiness, but seems to be a particularly disillusioning philosophy. It is, in the end, the proverbial feast before the famine.
Of course, as a Catholic, I recognise that Friday, contrary to the secular world’s view, is not so much a party day anticipating a weekend of relaxation, but is rather a penitential day on which we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross for our sins. And today is the Friday par excellence! It is a day of Fast and Abstinence, commemorating that sacred event when Jesus purchased our salvation with His own Precious Blood. And in our more zealously pious moments, reflecting on so great a gift, and at so great a price, we may be tempted to indeed “make every day a Friday”—a life of penance and self-denial. Yet as holy as those intentions may be, the reality is that it is just not a tenable (or a healthy) way to live. Throughout the centuries, the Church in her wisdom has always sought to temper that pious ideal and mitigate the penances that we might wish to impose upon ourselves in our zeal—while at the same time imposing penances upon us lest we fall prey to a libertine prosperity gospel such as Osteen preaches. To everything there is a season—a time to fast, and a time to feast, and days on which fasting is mandated, and days on which fasting is actually forbidden!
Unlike the secular view of Friday, giving way to a weekend that fails to satisfy, Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday, our penances are transformed into praise, and we who are alive in the grace of God know that the joyful hope of Easter does not disappoint, but that there will be a perfect fulfilment of our desires, “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (cf. Romans 8:17). For now, it is the fast before the feast.
Today we venerate the Cross of Christ, and we recognise in it our salvation, our invitation, and our opportunity. Our salvation, because through the Cross, Jesus bore our sins and nailed them to it, opening up the way to God. Our invitation, to take up our own crosses and follow Him, taking His humility and willingness to suffer as our guide to holiness. Finally, our opportunity, to transform the many sufferings in our lives, which otherwise would be meaningless, into opportunities for grace for ourselves and for others, as we unite our sufferings with those of Jesus and for love of Him. In that sense, every day should be like Friday, in which we daily take up our crosses and follow Jesus to that ultimate resurrection to glory!
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