One of the things that I think sets New Yorkers most apart from people from many other parts of the country is our distinct appreciation for the concept of irony – whether its in our humor (it’s no coincidence that the sitcom “Seinfeld” – perhaps the most ironic comedy ever produced on television – is set in New York City), or in recognition of the sometimes circuitous journey that life take us on, New Yorkers appreciate irony like almost no other people on Earth. Given this fact – and considering that I am a born & bred New Yorker – I have always found the events of Holy Week extraordinarily powerful. It is a week of events that to the common observer appears to begin with Earthly exaltation ending five days later in apparent weakness, humiliation and death…..and yet to believing eyes, these circumstances are quite the opposite – the events at the culmination of this most Holy of weeks signifying not the destruction of a particular life that those in authority in that time and place had intended – but instead, the beginning of life renewed for all of us; a sacrificial gift of love that created hope of life renewed for us all. It is for this reason that we Christians call the Friday of this week “Good” Friday – it is not because the things that happened to Jesus on that day were in any sense good: the conviction of an innocent man for reasons of politics and religious intolerance, His scourging and torture, and His eventual execution by the means employed by the governing authority of that day on a Cross, are by no means “good” things – neither today nor 2,000 years ago. No instead, we Christians call this day “Good Friday” because it was on this day that Jesus Christ took on the means employed by the governing civic and religious authorities of his day who intended to utterly humiliate, degrade and destroy him by those means, and yet – by the power of His loving sacrifice – He transformed these terrible events into the birth of hope for the world that has endured for the over 2,000 intervening years since that day when those in authority thought that they had finally “taken care” of what they considered to be their “Jesus problem”.
This thought about the irony of the fact that we Christians dare call the day of Jesus’ loving sacrifice “Good” Friday hit me recently when a colleague of mine – after I had returned from the Sirius/ XM studios with our Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan after the taping of one of his “JustLove” programs – asked me about the topics discussed on the air that day. I responded to her that that day, we had highlighted one of our “Catholic Charities Around the Nation” segments, and that the topic that we had discussed was a shelter – operated by Catholic Charities of the New Orleans Archdiocese – that assisted those who were victims of sexual assault and domestic violence to remove themselves from their abusive situations and begin to rebuild their lives in an atmosphere of support and respect. In response to my statement, my colleague challenged me how I could maintain a hopeful disposition when discussing a topic as horrible as sexual assault and abuse. To be honest, her question left me very shaken – and I truly had no adequate answer for her at that moment; she got me thinking not only about sexual assault and domestic violence, but about many of the topics that we had discussed during the show for the past several month – of the aftermath of the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and the overwhelming toll of death and destruction that occurred in these places, of events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire whose 100th anniversary just occurred where many young working immigrant girls lost their lives due to a desire for profits over safety, of the tragedy of the shooting in Tucson in January that took the lives of 6 innocent people including a 10 year old girl born on September 11, 2001 – all these things terrible –and like those things done to Jesus that Friday 2,000 years ago – none of them in any way or any sense “good”.
My colleague’s question continued to haunt me for some time; like any good one, it had me search deeply within – asking fundamental questions about human suffering, about pain, about loss, about love, and about God. Blessedly, this searching on my part happened during the later stages of Lent and Holy Week, when our attention turns to Jesus’ own suffering and death. Answers to these questions are of course never easy, even those who were closest to Jesus during His life on Earth remained confused when confronted with His profound suffering, of His undeserved death. In Scripture, after the events of Good Friday, the women who accompanied Jesus – Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James, all while the male disciples were in hiding – went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body with spices as was the Jewish burial custom of the day. I am sure that they were all three troubled by questions as they walked together to that tomb – questions about suffering, about pain, about loss, and about God – and they sought answers. When they had reached their destination, they found Jesus’ tomb open and empty. In answer to their questions, a messenger from God appeared to the women and asked them “Why do you seek the living among the dead”, informing them that Jesus was not there – and reminding them of Jesus’ words to them that His suffering and death would not be final, but that He would be raised up. God’s messenger did not then dismiss the women upon proclaiming Jesus’ triumph over suffering and death, instead he called them to action – enjoining them to “go quickly and tell the disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and He is going before you to Galilee”….for Jesus Himself at that time was not standing still but was on the move ahead of them…
Here at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, our motto is “Providing Help. Creating Hope.”; that motto is included in our logo, and appears in the shadow of a Cross. It is here, in reflecting on the words of this motto – in the shadow of the Cross, on this Easter weekend – that I believe I can begin to find an answer to my colleague’s question. If we, like the first Christians – those women who witnessed both the terrible suffering and underserved death of Jesus as well as His Resurrection from the dead – can respond in action to the terrible suffering of this world, perhaps we can play a small part in creating the Hope that His loving sacrifice and Resurrection laid the foundation for on that first Easter weekend 2,000 years ago.
A Blessed Easter to you all!