The Good News of Good Friday
Homily for the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord’s Passion
Preached on March 29, 2013 at Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Readings: Isaiah 52:13-52:12; Psalm 31:2, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
Bill Longworth was raised Catholic, but somewhere along the way he had left the practice of the Faith. On Good Friday 2008, something inside him, some seed that was planted within him when he was growing up, told him that he needed to be in Church. He asked his wife Jennifer if she had any interest in going to the service at Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary in Lexington. She was curious about what went on in a Catholic church and went along with him. They got there late, around the time that I was going up to the ambo to preach my homily. Jennifer was intrigued by what I had to say; she did not expect that a Catholic priest like me would have spoken about sin or the suffering of Jesus, the cross or being a disciple of Christ. It dawned on her that Catholics were Christians, too, and that realization drew her, a daughter of a United Methodist pastor, to reconsider her views about the Catholic Church.
What I had to say that Good Friday helped to change her mind about Catholics. But, something else she saw at that service changed her life.
Jerry Ubelhor was a devout Catholic whose illness and old age had forced him into a wheelchair. Yet, even that did not stop him from going to morning Mass every day. He would follow the flow of the Mass with his well-worn missal at the back of the Church and his wife Gloria would wheel him up from there for Communion. But, on Good Friday 2008, Jerry rose from his wheelchair and walked up with forearm crutches to kiss the Cross of the Lord.
Jennifer Longworth saw this and it brought her to tears. She could see how difficult it was—painful even—for Jerry to walk up to the Cross. Yet, at that moment she recognized what Saint Paul had once said to be true: “The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). However weak he was, the Cross was not a crutch for Jerry. It was the source of the strength that swelled his spirit. It was the trophy of the Savior’s victory over sin and suffering, a victory over disease and death that by baptism Jerry knew he already shared. Although his own frail body belied any glimpse of victory, he found in the Crucified Christ not just One who was able to sympathize with his weaknesses (cf. Heb. 4:15), but more so One who bore on His body all the sins and failings (cf. Is. 53:4-5) that Jerry could never have endured on his own.
What Jennifer heard me say that Good Friday made her like Catholics. What she had seen Jerry do made her want to be one.
Shortly thereafter, Bill Longworth returned to the practice of the Faith. His wife Jennifer and their daughters joined the Church at Mary, Queen. Jennifer now works to spread the Gospel that she had received at the Catholic radio station in Lexington. Her journey of faith for me is a reminder that, though the spoken message has the power to convince, it is the lived-out message that has the power to convert.
Perhaps, that is why we have the Cross in the first place. The Bible recalls how the Lord God had sent many a prophet to tell His people that He loved them. But, they would not listen. Finally, instead of telling us, He showed us just how much He really loves us on the Cross. The searing image of the naked and dead, bruised and broken Body of His Son is so shocking a sign that generations of Christians have tried to censor it with a loincloth and sanitize it with an image of the Risen Christ. Yet, God had meant to present us with such a dreadful display of His devotion. Thus did Isaiah the seer prophesy, “Even as many were amazed at Him—so marred were His look beyond human semblance and His appearance beyond that of the sons of man—so shall he startle many nations; because of Him kings shall stand speechless; for those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it” (Is. 52:14-15).
God could have kept on telling us that He loves us. But, He knew that that would hardly change our minds about Him. So, with the cross He showed us just how far He is willing to go with His love.
The question is: would His spectacle at Calvary be enough to change us? Would it be enough to make us follow Jerry’s lead: kiss that cross and cling to it, take it up and carry it every day?
Whatever it is we decide to say or do, know this: someone is listening and someone is watching. And what they will hear or see from us here and hereafter just might be the Good News about Good Friday that they have been waiting for.
NB. Jerome Ambrose “Jerry” Ubelhor died in Lexington, KY on March 13, 2013, two weeks before Good Friday. Jennifer Longworth sang with the choir at his Funeral Mass at Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary Church.