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Why We Call it 'Good Friday'

by Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

I will soon carry the Cross in the procession into an empty Church sanctuary, stripped in honor of Jesus Christ who emptied Himself for all of us. As I prepare, I am drawn back to recent memorable Good Fridays.

Just last year, I saw the face of love, reflected in an elderly married couple. Actually it was two faces, but they became the One Holy Face of Jesus, showing me how He is revealed through the grace of the Sacrament of marriage.

I served as Deacon at the solemn "Celebration of the Lords Passion." I had just carried the Cross into the waiting assembly 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." Now that cross, lodged in the strong arms of the priest, was presented for all who had gathered to come forward and venerate with a kiss or a profound bow as is the ancient custom.

A very old and frail couple approached. She 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 that are etched deeply in the face from suffering borne with grace. This wrinkled face adorned a head that was covered with unkempt white hair and a coarse white beard. His eyes were filled with pure love for his beloved wife whom he assisted as she came forward to venerate Holy Cross. Her eyes were distant and her face was beautiful, wrinkled but profoundly feminine, revealing a landscape of embedded sorrow and joy. As she drew closer, I could tell that this landscape was 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. Then, I noticed as he came back into view, a serene look filled her eyes. She seemed to be asking her beloved a simple question" 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 surrendered love. He smiled at me and directed his beloved 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 that face again. I had the privilege of carrying the Body of Christ to this same couple. She was unable to come forward again, 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.

Then, he received the consecrated host and with a profound smile responded to my affirmation "the Body of Christ" with a deep, heart felt "Amen." Words were useless. He and I both knew we had participated in the mystery we were remembering on this "Good" Friday at a deep level.

His face and the face of his beloved had revealed the face of Love Incarnate. He and I both knew - and exchanged that knowledge- without words - in the meeting of our eyes. 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 past when I had served as a Deacon. Only a few years ago, I presided at a committal and funeral service for my dear wife's father, Malcolm. He had also died from the ravages of Alzheimer's disease. In the progression of that disease, I watched Malcolm reveal the Face of the suffering Christ as well. The progressive disease culminated in his passage through the final portal of the great mystery of life and the invitation to faith that is called death.

I also watched my beloved wife, his loving daughter, reveal the Face of Christ. Through her relationship with her own 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 life she touched.

As her father became a child and his daughter became a second mother to him, I beheld a true "Mary Moment." I watched my beloved bride truly become, in a new and profound way, a daughter of a Merciful Heavenly Father, a spouse of the Holy Spirit, and in that participation in divine Love, embrace her earthly father with the love that is greater than any that is purely human. In that chorus of love she resembled Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth whose humble "Fiat" of surrendered love opened the floodgates of heaven.

In giving her "fiat", saying her "yes" to that invitation to serve, my beloved wife was able to help lead her father to the final embrace of a peaceful death. All of this only deepened my love for this wonderful friend of twenty eight years. I saw beyond the veil. Through her "Fiat" of surrendered love I experienced what I have since called a "Mary Moment".

This had occurred on Good Friday, at a graveside committal service in his 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 that Cross. As we placed his remains in the womb of the earth until his resurrection at the last glorious day, I came to understand, at a deeper level, 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 reflection "I now know a little more deeply why they call it "Good" Friday - it reveals the heart of a Good God of boundless merciful love who Himself knows our pain and in His Son transforms it by love. This is not the end for our brother, father and friend Malcolm, but it is a beginning. Life triumphs over death, love transforms pain and suffering, because Jesus hung on that Cross. 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 this elderly couple, I was reminded once again of the power of transforming love. Every Good Friday is an invitation to each of us to have an encounter with Love Incarnate. We are reminded that death is no longer the final word. For those filled with hope of the Resurrection, it is now the passage to life eternal; and even the suffering we are invited to bear, when joined to Jesus Christ, can become a vehicle for love and mercy.

At the end of that service, when I turned to face the gathered assembly, I was drawn to this beautiful couple once again. I will never forget their faces because, at a deeper level, I saw the face of Christ revealed. Then, as I scanned the gathered assembly, now with heads bowed in deep prayer having heard the Passion narrative, I saw His face throughout the crowd.

What a privilege for me to have experienced each of these "Good" Fridays. What a privilege to experience one more this year. Love is stronger than death.

That is why we call it "Good."


Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon, who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with approval. He is a human rights lawyer and a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is a co-founder of the Your Catholic Voice Movement and the founder of Common Good.


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