Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

The scandal of the Cross: ‘Good Friday should have been a disaster’

by Msgr. John Donnelly, for the Inland Register

(From the April 10, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

(Editor’s note: Msgr. John Donnelly, a retired priest of the Diocese of Spokane and former editor of the Inland Register, wrote the following for his parish bulletin some 20 years ago. He offered to share his reflections with the rest of the diocese.)

By all human standards, Good Friday should have been a disaster. Almost all of Christ’s beloved friends reacted as if it were. Either they cowered in their upstairs hideaway - that Last Supper room where they should have learned the meaning of hope – or else scattered to their own villages. The two disciples running off to Emmaus on Easter Sunday probably reflected the thoughts of most of them. Recounting to the stranger they met on the road the events that had taken place in Jerusalem the past few days, they spoke with faces downcast: “Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.”

“You foolish men,” the stranger who was Jesus answered them, “so slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:13-35)

The story of Christ’s life on Earth is a story of gradual – but complete – reduction to the lowest ebb of his humanity. “His state was divine,” St. Paul observes. “Yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and being as men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).

Pagan deities, to the way of thinking of their devotees, often prove their divinity by lording it over humanity and exacting impossible demands as signs of subservience and reverence. Our God deals with us differently. In order to win love, his Son becomes our slave. In order to gift us with eternal life, his Son dies on a cross. And the sign of reverence he asks from us most of all is a heart that is humble and repentant. Such a gift he promises never to scorn (cf. Psalm 51:17).

To some extent, our human faith in God is bolstered when we plumb the depths of our own understanding and find the logic of his love. There comes a point for all of us, however, when we need to acknowledge in humility that our reason is exhausted and inadequate. We need to empty ourselves of human pride and admit that some truth – his Truth – is far beyond our grasp. When we have done that, then our faith becomes our rock, and our trust in the person of Christ can set us free from fear of the darkness of our understanding.

For as St. Paul observes, “the language of the cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation, but those of us whoa re on the way see it as God’s power to save. Do you see now how God has shown up the foolishness of human wisdom? If it was God’s wisdom that human wisdom should not know God, it was because God wanted to save those who have faith through the foolishness of the message that we preach.

“And so,” Paul challenges, “while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ: to the Jews, an obstacle that they cannot get over; to the pagans, madness; but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (I Cor. 1:18-25).

Nowhere in human history is this point more graphically illustrated than in the events of Holy Week, when Christ did it all the wrong way by human standards of assessment: when his weakness overwhelmed the might of Rome; his gentleness melted the hardness of our hearts; and his love got through to us at the very moment when we were dealing him the cruelest blow of all.

What further evidence do we need of his love? What further proof that we can trust him? Nor is there any clearer sign than this that, thanks to him, we can begin to trust our humanness again, and to find in it the means to our salvation – provided we pursue our humanness the way he did his.

May your Easter be filled with this reality!

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