by Deacon Keith Fournier
Early this morning I crossed the Street and opened Saint Benedict Church in Richmond, Virginia. During my PhD coursework at Catholic University, I have had the privilege of serving this inner city parish.
Most mornings, the opening of the Church is a highlight of my morning prayer.
I walk into the darkened, beautiful Church to cascades of light coming through its elegant stained glass windows. I kneel before the Tabernacle, presiding over the sanctuary from its place of honor in the very center of the old High Altar.
Next, I visit the chapel of Saint Joseph, a special Patron for me after all these years during which I have tried to live my vocation as husband, father, worker and deacon. Joseph in his silence, obedience and fidelity has so much to teach me about fathering, husbanding, working and obeying the Savior whom he held in his arms and taught his trade. The One from whom he received such a dignified vocation in the communion of saints.
This tour through the Church while I unlock her doors for visiting pilgrims is a daily ritual which I have grown to cherish. It has often invited me into an encounter of communion with the living God. That encounter has provided the supernatural fuel I so needed to persevere in an otherwise difficult season of my life.
However, this morning was different.
Last night, we joined with the millions of Christians throughout the world in the Holy Thursday Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. After the beautiful Liturgy, the faithful stayed in the Church to adore the most Blessed Sacrament until midnight. Then, I came across the Street and moved the Blessed Sacrament outside of the Church to a place of repose.
So, when I entered the Church on this Friday morning, it was dark, with no votive lights. The Altar was stripped and the Tabernacle was empty, with the door opened to underscore the deeply significant meaning of the events in which the faithful throughout the world will participate in our Good Friday observance.
I stayed for a while, prayed, and reflected on my service as a Deacon of the Church.
Later today, I will assist in the carrying of the Cross in the procession into this empty Church sanctuary, stripped in honor of Jesus Christ who emptied Himself for us.
However, this morning I was drawn back to a memorable Good Friday, where, serving at the side of another good priest, Father Brian Rafferty, I experienced a couple who changed my life. I also remembered the loss of my father in law, on another Good Friday, another occasion of grace for me. He was a good man whose death helped me to live life differently.
I share this reflection, the fruit of both of those experiences, with my fellow pilgrims on this Friday we call Good.
I had just carried the Cross into the waiting assembly at Christ the King Catholic Church in Norfolk, Virginia chanting three times: "This is the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world," at which the assembly responded, "Come Let us worship." Next, that cross, lodged in the arms of Father Brian Rafferty, was presented for all who had gathered to come forward and venerate. They would do so with a kiss or a profound bow, as is the ancient custom.
A frail couple approached. The wife could barely walk without her husband’s loving firm support. As they drew closer, I could see that the husband’s face was filled with deep wrinkles, the kind of wrinkles which become etched in the face from suffering borne with grace. His head was covered with unkempt white hair and framed with a coarse white beard.
His eyes were filled with pure love for his beloved wife whom he assisted tenderly as she came forward to venerate the Holy Cross. Her eyes were distant and her face was beautiful, wrinkled but profoundly feminine, revealing a landscape of embedded sorrows and joys, a full life now coming to its winter.
As she drew closer, I could tell that the lines in her face had been accentuated by the progressive ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.
He stooped to kiss the cross and in so doing moved his steady hands and his face momentarily away from her gaze. She looked at first afraid, because his face had left her view for a brief moment. I noticed as he came back into her view that a serene look filled her eyes. She seemed to be asking her beloved a simple question with her expression, "What now?"
He directed her head toward the base of the Cross and in so doing he caught my eyes with his own. Instantly, I raised the Cross so that she could touch it with her lips as a sign of her surrendered love. He smiled at me and directed his beloved wife back to the pew. Words were useless. I knew, he knew, and the Lord knew.
A little later, during the third part of the solemn Good Friday service, when Holy Communion is given to the faithful for the last time before the Easter Vigil, I saw them again. I had the privilege of carrying the Body of Christ to this same couple.
She was unable to come forward again because her body just wouldn’t respond to her mind. As I approached them with the consecrated hosts, he insisted that she receive first and directed my hand toward her mouth with great affection and love-- for his wife, but even more for the Eucharistic Lord whom he so obviously loved.
Then he received the Lord, and with a profound smile, responded to my affirmation, "the Body of Christ" with a deep, heartfelt, "Amen." Other words were not needed. He and I both knew we had participated in the mystery we were remembering on this "Good" Friday.
His face - and the face of his beloved - revealed the face of Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate.
He and I both knew the beauty of the moment - and we exchanged that knowledge - without words - in the meeting of our eyes. We both knew that this beautiful woman, whom he cherished, was already in the hands of a loving God. It would all be alright. She would one day be made entirely new.
The love that he bore for her was a participation in a deeper Love -- the kind revealed on the Cross that they had both just kissed; the kind communicated to them, given to them freely in the Body of Christ they had just consumed.
He and I both knew at that moment why we call it "Good" Friday.
As I walked back toward the altar, I recalled another Good Friday.
On that Good Friday, I had served as a Deacon at a committal and funeral service for my dear wife’s father, Malcolm. He had died from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. For years, in the progression of that disease, I watched Malcolm reveal the Face of the suffering Christ. It culminated in his passage through the final portal of the great mystery of life and the invitation to faith that we call death.
During those years, I also watched my beloved wife, his loving daughter, reveal the Face of Christ. Through her relationship with her Dad (whom she had the privilege of caring for through the progressive stages of Alzheimer’s disease), she became an "icon", a mirror, a living word of love to me and others whose lives she touched through her faithful witness of love.
As her father became a child and his daughter became a second mother to him, I beheld what I now call a "Mary Moment". I watched my beloved bride truly become, in a new and profound way, a daughter of a merciful Heavenly Father and in that participation in divine Love, embrace her own earthly father with the love that is greater than any that is purely human.
In that chorus of lived out sacrificial love, she resembled Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth, whose humble "Fiat" of surrendered love opened the floodgates of heaven and changed history.
That graveside committal service took place, at his request, in Malcolm's childhood home of Andover, Massachusetts. At the traditional time, when Catholics remember Our Lord, Love in the flesh, hanging on Golgotha’s hill, I commended Malcolm to the Mercy revealed on the altar of the Cross.
As we placed his remains in the womb of the earth until his resurrection at the last glorious day, I also experienced why it is called "Good" Friday. That too was a moment when words were useless.
As I led the ritual of prayers, I blessed the ground with holy water and spoke these words in a graveside reflection, "I now know a little more deeply why we call it 'Good' Friday - it is good because it reveals the heart of a Good God of boundless merciful love who Himself knows our pain and who, in His Son, transforms it all by redemptive love. This is not the end for our brother, father and friend Malcolm, but it is a new beginning. Life triumphs over death and love transforms pain and suffering because Jesus hung on that Cross on that Friday we call 'Good'. That tomb in Jerusalem is empty now, and one day, so too will this ground give back Malcolm, made entirely new by the power of transforming love!"
Through the encounter with the elderly couple, as well as at the graveside of my father-in-law, I experienced the beauty of truly surrendered love.
Every Good Friday is an invitation to each of us to be reminded of that same love through our encounter with Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, who stretched out his arms to embrace each one of us.
On Good Friday we are reminded that death is no longer the final word. For those filled with hope of the Resurrection, it is no longer an enemy but a friend, the passageway to life eternal.
We are also promised that the suffering we are invited to bear, when joined to Jesus Christ, can become a vehicle for love and mercy.
At the end of the Good Friday service at Christ the King, when I turned with the priest to face the gathered assembly, my eyes were drawn again to that beautiful couple. I will never forget their faces. I saw the face of Christ revealed.
What a privilege it was for me to have experienced each of those two "Good" Fridays. What a privilege it will be to experience another one this year.
Love is stronger than death. That is why this Friday is so good. Love Incarnate died for each one of us and transformed the door of death into the portal of everlasting life and communion.
Passion Week Supplement in Malankara World
Sermons for Good Friday
Sermon Collection Based on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross
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