Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why It's Good To "Hate" Good Friday

A few years back, I was attending the Good Friday service with my little brother-in-law, and at some point in the middle of the service he looked up at me and said; "When will it end?" When I tell this story today, I repeat this line, but I do it a little more dramatically than it was originally stated. Perhaps I do so mainly because the story is funnier that way, but I also do so because, frankly, I know exactly how he feels. For the most part, I hate the stations of the cross. And as for the Friday liturgy, there is a desert dryness in it that only serves to remind me of just how hungry I really am. Stale toast and rumbling tummies, ah, now that's bliss. Indeed, my brother-in-law is only echoing what everyone else in that church is thinking. Sure, there might be a moment or two in which one finds one's self moved by the liturgy (like when the priest in the very beginning lies prostrate on the floor, and there's a deafening silence). But by the time those intercessions kick in, and we find ourselves kneeling and standing over and over again for what seems like an hour and half, that little boy's words become my own; "When will it end?!"

And don't even get me started about those stations of the cross, wherein we tell Jesus "we love him more than we love ourselves" and that "we truly despise our sins" and that "all we want to do is love Him forever". "No", "no I don't", and "no it isn't"! Whenever I find myself saying these words during the St. Alphonsus Liguori stations, I feel like a fraud, a phony, and a loveless shell of a human being. If I were really being honest, my words would probably be more like; "Lord, I love you more than my toothbrush and perhaps even more than my GPS, but not quite as much as every other imaginable thing." And as for the sins I've committed, generally speaking, I feel very little about them one way or the other. Occasionally I may experience a burst of compunction, but that quickly fades back into indifference again. And as for loving Jesus forever, there are perhaps instances where I have genuinely desired that... I think? The point is Good Friday makes me feel like the Walking Dead, A Dark-Seeker, the undead. So does this mean that the prayers of Good Friday are useless, or that the Stations of the Cross are worthless?

To the contrary, the fact that I feel like the Walking Dead on Good Friday (and practically every Friday during Lent), is in a way the actual point of Lent. Lent does not exist to make us feel like we are righteous, it exists to remind us that without God we are a stale flavorless piece of bread; "Remember, from dust you came and to dust you will return." The fact that I "hate" Good Friday is not a sign that I am irredeemable, but rather a sign that I am a perfect candidate for it. If it does not make me want to leap for joy, so be it. I hardly think, in spite of what the "Lord of the Dance" says, that even Jesus felt much like dancing on that day. So if I feel like I'm walking in the desert during the liturgy, all the better for the spirit of the day. The real question is am I accompanying my Lord to the dark abyss known as Golgotha, or am I looking to escape to some Caribbean island where they play steel drums all day? If I feel dry, emotionless, and without consolation, I should not shun this feeling, but recognize that I am participating in only the tiniest portion of that profound God-forsakenness that our Lord faced. To feel nothing, and still accompany our Lord on this journey, is not only not a sin, but rather a far greater act of faith than simply being motivated by tears. The virtues of faith, hope, and charity are best understood not as something sentimental, but as a movement of the will towards God's purpose in spite of our inclination to do otherwise.            

Therefore, the name Good Friday is truly apt in that delightfully paradoxical (Christian) kind of way. There is something remarkably morbid and strange about calling the day that God died "good". And yet... this is the irony which marks every aspect of our Faith. Indeed, our Faith is forever surprising us by redeeming those things that seemed, at least on the surface, most irredeemable (like myself). The truth is I am a zombie, I am the undead, I am a "warm body", but in light of the Good Friday liturgy that comes as good news! Why? All those Stations of the Cross, all of that kneeling and standing, all of that baroness of spirit- is only a stark, but happy, reminder that; a) Jesus died for me; and b) without that awful sacrifice I would never know the joy of the resurrection and instead be condemned to a permanent state of the undead. So rejoice and be glad, it's good to "hate" Good Friday!  


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