During those years when I was working on a master’s degree at UM-Saint Louis, I would occasionally glimpse a young man speeding to classes in his souped-up/electrified wheel-chair. From the outside looking in, I have some memory of thinking how cool it was that technology had made college possible for folks whose limbs couldn’t properly propel them. Then a mutual friend introduced me to the wheel-chair jockey. Soon Steve and I were visiting on a regular basis, and I got to get an inside view of his life. What I discovered, was that it took more than technology for Steve to get around.
For over half of his twenty-six years, Steve suffered from muscular dystrophy. His father, Arch, was working long hours to keep his job at McDonnel Douglas when they were down-sizing. Despite those long hours, throughout each night he would care for his son Steve whose mobility was limited to a few fingers on his right hand. A simple wrinkle in a sheet could deliver excruciating pain over the course of a night when Steve couldn’t adjust his own body. Having lost the ability to clear his own airways of saliva, a beeping monitor would alert Arch that his son had to be immediately suctioned in order to breathe.
Christendom kicks into high gear this Sunday here at the beginning of Holy Week. I’ve had enough theology to know that the high point of our liturgical year is the celebration of Easter at the Holy Saturday Night Vigil Service and the Masses that follow on the next day. But year after year, the high point of my spiritual experience during Holy Week has been Good Friday. I used to think that there was something a little off in this preference until I had a good look around and saw that I was not alone. In every Catholic church you will find the permanent fixtures of the Stations of the Cross, as well as a Crucifix with the pre-resurrected body of Jesus still attached.
So what gives? What draws us Catholics to the cross to kneel in quiet contemplation before the harsh and dreadful mystery we encounter there? Can you answer that question for yourself?
As a Catholic boy, I would sit in the pew each first Friday for the Stations of the Cross and benediction. As the drama would unfold, my imagination was captivated by a God who would pay any price to make his love and friendship available to me. Even my sins became opportunities to experience the steadfast love of Jesus.
When I stand before the cross on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, I stand next to Arch and to Steve, and I see a God who has penetrated every aspect of our human condition-even our most profound suffering. As we walk the stations with our Lord, we find there a muscular love that gives us the strength to stand up when we fall under the weight of debilitating disease, personal failure, or even death.
Stripped of everything non-essential, Good Friday clearly proclaims that there is nothing in our lives that stands apart from God’s embrace. On Good Friday we contemplate the immense dignity and the quiet heroism of each and every person who comes up to venerate the cross. On Palm Sunday, and Good Friday we discover that Christ’s passion was not for nails, or thorns, or the humiliation of the cross. His passion is for you. His passion is for me. On the cross we see the promise that my friend Arch knew and proclaimed with his life. In God, we have the power to channel a muscular love toward those things and people that wake up a deep and holy passion within us. When a Catholic gazes upon a crucifix on Good Friday, he or she looks into the wounds and sees there the seeds of Easter planted and growing strong.