April 10, 2020
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
GOOD FRIDAY in Times of Anguish and Turmoil
In the midst of these times of epidemic and anguish, I can think of no better way to commemorate the sacred day of Good Friday than remembering the commentaries of holy men and saints who have gone before us.
It is not just this COVID-19 virus that physically infects and threatens us presently, but a much more potent and spiritually deadly infestation that has infiltrated, debilitated and taken power not only in our inherited Christian civilization, but also in our personal lives. From the first Good Friday onwards there has been a constant conflict, a spiritual war—sometimes expressed violently—between God’s Redemptive Gift granted to His people, through the Sacred Blood of His Crucified Son, and the Satanic minions of Evil, whose constant cry has been and continues to be “ye shall be gods,” that is, “non serviam”: “I will not serve.”
In the words of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, in his poem dating from a century ago, “The Second Coming”: “…twenty centuries of stony sleep/ Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,/ And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.” For twenty centuries the Rocking Cradle of Bethlehem has held off, held at bay the “Rough Beast,” who Yeats calls the “Spiritus Mundi,” “A shape with lion body and the head of a man,/ A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.”
In many forms has this Rough Beast made its appearance throughout history. And each time, in its assaults on the Christian Faith and the civilization created and nurtured by that Faith, it has been repulsed, but never vanquished. But in the 20th century and most especially in our own, its Legions and apparatchiks have made signal progress in their designs. Understanding—as such Marxists as Antonio Gramsci did in the early 1920s—that the Christian church and the Faith could not be defeated by frontal attacks, minions of the Rough Beast engaged in subversion and infiltration, the “long march” through our inherited institutions and through the Church.
At first simply demanding “tolerance” or a “broader interpretation” of this doctrine or that teaching, by the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) those demonic forces had managed to open wide the portals to heterodoxy. Already the major established Protestant sects had fallen, many times without their faithful realizing it. The Catholic Church, adamant in its condemnations of Modernism, Communism, Secularism and the various poisonous “isms” of our time, remained. And the crowning achievement of the Rough Beast—the Rebellion against God—was to insert its adherents into positions of authority and to muddy just enough the interpretations of long-held teachings to enable those who rejected those teachings to assume power and totally pervert their meaning.
And, once again, it occurred without most of the faithful realizing what had happened. For the process—following the design—was gradual, not all at once, which would have elicited intense reaction.
Think of the frog cast into a pot of water under which the heat is turned up progressively until the boiling point. When the frog finally realizes what has happened, it is far too late. Thus it has been with most modern-day Christians who cling to what they believe to be the Articles of Faith—Articles which have been progressively denatured, and finally, altered to favor the triumph of the Rough Beast.
And thus, with the subversion and resultant decadence of established Christianity, indeed, now in many cases with its newfound militancy on behalf of Evil, the foundations of our civilization—of our culture—collapse. And as Yeats declares:
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
On this Good Friday, then, let us recall once again that it was the Blood of Our Saviour which was shed for us, for our salvation…and that It will overcome all impediments, all obstacles. For as the old Protestant hymn goes “There is power in the Blood.” Although the hosts of Evil, of the Rough Beast, appear victorious—even though resistance to them seems futile, almost non-existent—even though the “best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity”—despite this very real and visible condition which engulfs us and surrounds us—despite this, we know with certitude that there follows in three days the Resurrection, the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord, and with Him we also may rise again with grace if we keep the Faith.
As an old Spanish friend of mine once told me: “Although we seem now to live in a catacomb and Evil is triumphant, if we are strong in the faith—fortes in Fide—and our Hope is in Christ Jesus and His reign, then in the end we shall be victorious.”
One of the most significant Christian authors in 19th century France, a Benedictine monk who restored traditional monasticism to that country ravaged by the Godless French Revolution, and the great restorer of Gregorian chant (most especially at the Abbey of Solesmes), was Dom Prosper Gueranger (d.1875).
Dom Gueranger left behind a multi-volume, detailed commentary on the feast days of the liturgical year and the traditional liturgy that accompanied it (L’Annee Liturgique). From that opus I offer a portion (from a century-old English translation) of his commentary on some of the events of that first Good Friday, with the wish for each of you and yours that this day your faith be deepened and strengthened…and Hope never be extinguished.
Good Friday ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger
IN THE MORNING OF GOOD FRIDAY
The sun has risen upon Jerusalem. But the Priests and Scribes have not waited all this time without venting their rage upon Jesus. Annas, who was the first to receive the divine Captive, has had him taken to his son-in-law Caiphas, the High Priest. Here he is put through a series of insulting questions, which disdaining to answer, he receives a blow from one of the High Priest’s servants. False witnesses had been already prepared: they now come forward, and depose their lies against Him who is the very Truth: — but their testimony is contradictory. Then, Caiphas, seeing that this plan for convicting Jesus of blasphemy is only serving to expose his accomplices, turns to another. He asks him a question, which will oblige our Lord to make an answer; and in this answer, he Caiphas, will discover blasphemy, and blasphemy would bring Jesus under the power of the Synagogue. This is the question: I adjure thee, by the living God, that thou tell us, if thou be the Christ the Son of God? Our Saviour, in order to teach us that we should show respect to those who are in authority, breaks the silence he has hitherto observed, and answers : Thou hast said it : I am : and hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Hereupon, the impious Pontiff rises, rends his garments, and exclaims: He hath blasphemed! What further need have we of ‘witnesses? Behold! now ye have heard the blasphemy : what think ye? The whole place resounds with the cry: He is guilty of death!
Scarcely have the terrible words, He is guilty of death, been uttered, than the servants of the High Priest rush upon Jesus. They spit upon him, and blindfolding him, they strike him, saying: Prophesy! who is it struck thee ? Thus does the Synagogue treat the Messias, who, they say, is to be their glory! And yet, these outrages, frightful as they are, are but the beginning of what our Redeemer has to go through.
But there is something far more trying than all this to the heart of Jesus, and it is happening at this very time. Peter has made his way as far as the court of the High Priest’s Palace! He is recognised by the bystanders as a Galilean, and one of Jesus’ Disciples. The Apostle trembles for his life; — he denies his Master, and affirms, with an oath, that he does not even know him. What a sad example is here of the punishment of presumption! But, Jesus has mercy on his Apostle. The servants of the High Priest lead him to the place, near where Peter is standing; he casts upon him a look of reproach and pardon; Peter immediately goes forth, and weeps bitterly. From this hour forward he can do nothing but lament his sin; and it is only on Easter Morning, when Jesus shall appear to him after his Resurrection, that he will admit any consolation to his afflicted heart. Let us make him our model, now that we are spending these hours, with our holy Mother the Church, in contemplating the Passion of Jesus. Peter withdraws, because he fears his own weakness; let us remain to the end, for what have we to fear? May our Jesus give us one of those looks, which can change the hardest and worst of hearts!
Meanwhile, the day-dawn breaks upon the City, and the Chief Priests make arrangements for taking Jesus before the Roman Governor. They themselves have found him guilty; they have condemned him as a Blasphemer, and according to the Law of Moses, a Blasphemer must be stoned to death: but they cannot apply the law: Jerusalem is no longer free, or governed by her own laws. The power over life and death may only be exercised by her conquerors, and that in the name of Caesar. How is it that these Priests and Scribes can go through all this, and never once remember the prophecy of Jacob — that the Messias would come, when the sceptre should be taken away from Juda? They know of it by heart, they are the appointed guardians of those Prophecies, which describe the death to which this Messias is to be put — and yet, they are the very ones who bring it about! How is all this? — They are blind, and it is jealousy that blinds them.
The rumour of Jesus’ having been seized during the night, and that he is on the point of being led before the Roman Governor, rapidly spreads through the City, and reaches Judas’ ear. This wretched man had a passion for money, but there was nothing to make him desire the death of his Divine Master. He knew Jesus’ supernatural power. He perhaps flattered himself that he who could command nature and the elements, would easily escape from the hands of his enemies. But now when he sees that he does not escape, and that he is to be condemned to death — he runs to the Temple, and gives back the thirty pieces of silver to the Chief Priests. Is it that he is converted, and is about to ask his Master to pardon him? Alas! no: despair has possession of him, and he puts an end to his existence. The recollection of all the merciful solicitations made to him, yesterday, by Jesus, both during the Last Supper, and in the Garden, gives him no confidence; it only serves to increase his despair. Surely, he well knew what a merciful Saviour he had to deal with! And yet, he despairs, and this at the very time when the Blood, which washes away the sins of the whole world, is about to be shed! He is lost, because he despaired.
The Chief Priests, taking Jesus with them, present themselves at the Governor’s Palace, demanding audience for a case of importance. Pilate comes forward, and peevishly asks them: What accusation bring you against this man? — They answered: If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up to thee. It is very evident from these first words, that Pilate has a contempt for these Jewish Priests; it is not less evident that they are determined to gain their cause. Take him you, says Pilate, and judge him according to your Law. — The Chief Priests answered: It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.
Pilate leaves the Hall, in order to speak with these men. He returns, and commands Jesus to be brought in. The Son of God and the representative of the pagan world are face to face. Pilate begins by asking him: Art thou the King of the Jews? — To this Jesus thus replies: My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews. But, now, my kingdom is not from hence. — Art thou a King, then? says Pilate. — Thou sayest, answers Jesus, that I am a King. Having, by these last words, confessed his august dignity, our Lord offers a grace to this Roman; he tells him, that there is something worthier of man’s ambition than earthly honours. For this, says Jesus, was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the Truth. Every one that is of the Truth, heareth my voice. — What is Truth? asks Pilate ; but without waiting for the answer, he leaves Jesus, for he is anxious to have done with this case. He returns to the Jews, and says to them: I find no cause in him. — Pilate fancies that this Jesus must be a leader of some Jewish sect, whose teachings give offence to the Chief Priests, but which are not worth his examining into them: yet at the same time, he is convinced that he is a harmless man, and that it would be foolish and unjust to accuse him of disturbing the state.
Scarcely has Pilate expressed his opinion in favour of Jesus, than a long list of accusations is brought up against him by the Chief Priests. Pilate is astonished at Jesus’ making no reply, and says to him: Dost thou not hear how great testimonies they allege against thee? — These words are kindly meant, but Jesus still remains silent: they, however, excite his enemies to fresh fury, and they cry out: He stirreth Up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee, even to this place. This word Galilee suggests a new idea to Pilate. Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee, happens to be in Jerusalem at this very time. Jesus is his subject; he must be sent to him. Thus Pilate will get rid of a troublesome case, and this act of courteous deference will reestablish a good understanding between himself and Herod.
The Saviour is therefore dragged through the streets of Jerusalem, from Pilate’s house to Herod’s palace. His enemies follow him with relentless fury; but Jesus still observes his noble silence. Herod, the murderer of John the Baptist, insults him, and ordering him to be clothed in a white garment, as a Fool, he sends him back to Pilate. Another plan for ridding himself of this troublesome case, now strikes the Roman Governor. At the feast of the Pasch, he had the power of granting pardon to any one criminal the people may select. They are assembled together at the court-gates. He feels sure, that their choice will fall upon Jesus, for it is but a few days ago that they led him in triumph through the City: besides, he intends to make the alternative one who is an object of execration to the whole people; he is a murderer, and his name Barabbas. Whom will you that I release to you? says Pilate : Barabbas, or Jesus, that is called the Christ? — He has not long to wait for the answer: the crowd exclaim: Not this man, but Barabbas! — What then, replies Pilate, shall I do with Jesus, that is called the Christ? — Crucify him? — Why, what evil hath he done? I will chastise him, therefore, and let him go. But they growing irritated at this, cry out so much the louder: Crucify him! Crucify him! Pilate’s cowardly subterfuge has failed, and left him in a more difficult position than he was before. His putting the innocent on a level with a murderer was in itself a gross injustice; and yet, he has not gone far enough for a people that is blind with passion. Neither does his promise to chastise Jesus satisfy them: they want more than his Blood: they insist on his death!
Here let us pause, and offer our Saviour a reparation for the insult he here receives. He is put in competition with a murderer, and the murderer is preferred! Pilate makes an attempt to save Jesus: but, on what terms! — he must be put on a footing with a vile wretch, and, even so, be worsted ! Those very lips that, a few days back, sang “Hosannah to the Son of David,” now clamour for his Crucifixion!
The City Magistrate and Governor pronounces him innocent; and yet, he condemns him to be scourged, because he fears a disturbance!
Jesus is made over to the soldiers, to be scourged. They rudely strip him of his garments, and tie him to the pillar, which is kept for this kind of torture. Fiercely do they strike him; the blood flows down his sacred Body. Let us adore this the second Bloodshedding of our Jesus, whereby he expiates for the sins we and the whole world have committed by the flesh. This Scourging is by the hands of Gentiles: the Jews delivered him up to be punished, and the Romans were the executioners: — thus have we all had our share in the awful deicide!
At last, the soldiers are tired; they loosen their Victim; — but it is not out of anything like pity. Their cruelty is going to rest, and their rest is derision. Jesus has been called “King of the Jews”: a King, say they, must have a Crown! Accordingly they make one for the Son of David! It is of Thorns. They press it violently upon his head, and this is the third Bloodshedding of our Redeemer. Then, that they may make their scoffing perfect, the soldiers throw a scarlet cloak over his shoulders, and put a reed, for a sceptre, into his hand; and bending their knee before him, they thus salute him: Hail, King of the Jews! — This insulting homage is accompanied with blows upon his face; they spit upon him; and, from time to time, take the reed from his hand, wherewith to strike the Thorns deeper into his head.
Here, the Christian prostrates himself before his Saviour, and says to him with a heart full of compassion and veneration: “Yes! my Jesus ! Thou art King of the Jews! Thou art the Son of David, and therefore our Messias and our Redeemer! Israel, that hath so lately proclaimed thee King, now unkings thee; the Gentiles scoff at thy Royalty, making it a subject for keener insult: — but reign thou must and over both Jews and Gentiles: over the Jews, by thy justice, for they are soon to feel the sceptre of thy revenge; over the Gentiles, by thy mercy, for thine Apostles are soon to lead them to thy feet. Receive, dearest King! our homage and submission ! Reign now and forever over our hearts, yea, over our whole being!”
Thus mangled and bleeding, holding the reed in his hand, and with the scarlet tatters on his shoulders, Jesus is led back to Pilate. It is just the sight that will soften the hearts of the people; at least, Pilate thinks so; and taking him with him to a balcony of the palace, he shows him to the crowd below, saying; Behold the Man! Little did Pilate know all that these few words conveyed! He says not: “Behold Jesus!” — nor, “Behold the King of the Jews !” he says : Behold the Man ! — Man! — the Christian understands the full force of the word thus applied to our Redeemer. Adam the first Man, rebelled against God, and, by his sin, deranged the whole work of the Creator: as a punishment for his pride and intemperance, the flesh tyrannised over the spirit; the very earth was cursed, and thorns were to be its growth. Jesus, the New Man, comes into this world, bearing upon him, not the reality, but the appearance, the likeness, of sin: in him, the work of the Creator regains its primeval order; but the change was not wrought without violence. To teach us, that the flesh must be brought into subjection to the spirit, Jesus’ Flesh was torn by the scourges: to teach us that pride must give way to humility, the only Crown that Jesus wears is made of Thorns. Yes, — Behold Man! — the triumph of the spirit over the flesh, the triumph of humility over pride.
Like the tiger that grows fiercer as he sees blood, so is Israel at the sight of Jesus after his scourging. Crucify him! Crucify him! — the cry is still the same. — Take him you, says Pilate, and crucify him; for I find no cause in him. And yet, he has ordered him to be scourged enough to cause his death! Here is another device of the base coward; but it, too, fails. The Jews have their answer ready: they put forward the right granted by the Romans to the nations that are tributary to the Empire. We have, say they, a law, and according to the law he ought to die; because he made himself the Son of God. Disconcerted by the reply, Pilate takes Jesus aside into the hall, and says to him: Whence art thou? Jesus is silent; Pilate was not worthy to hear the answer to his question. This silence irritates him. Speakest thou not to me? says he. Knoweth thou not, that I have power to crucify thee, and I have power to release thee? Here Jesus deigns to speak ; and he speaks, in order to teach us that every power of government, even where pagans are in question, comes from God, and not from a pretended social compact : Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above. Therefore, he that hath delivered me to thee, hath the greater sin.
This dignified reply produces an impression upon Pilate: he resolves to make another attempt to save Jesus. But the people vociferate a threat which alarms him: If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar’s friend; for whosoever maketh himself a King, speaketh against Caesar. Still, he is determined to try and pacify the crowd. He leaves the hall, sits upon the judgment-seat, orders Jesus to be placed near him, and thus pleads for him: Behold your King! as though he would say, “What have you or Caesar to fear from such a pitiable object as this?” : The argument was unavailing, and only provokes the cry: Away with him ! Away with him! Crucify him! As though he did not believe them to be in earnest, Pilate says to them: Shall I crucify your King? This time the Chief Priests give the answer: “We have no king but Caesar.” When the very Ministers of God can talk thus, religion is at an end. No king but Caesar ! — then, the sceptre is taken from Juda, and Jerusalem is cast off, and the Messias is come !
Pilate, seeing that nothing can quell the tumult, and that his honour as Governor is at stake, decides on making Jesus over to his enemies. Though against his own inclination, he passes the Sentence, which is to cause him such remorse of conscience that he will afterwards seek relief in suicide. He takes a tablet, and with a style, writes the Inscription which is to be fastened to the Cross. The people demand that two thieves should be crucified at the same time — it would be an additional insult to Jesus: this, too, he grants, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaias: And with the wicked was he reputed. Having thus defiled his soul with the most heinous of crimes, Pilate washes his hands before the people, and says to them: I am innocent of the blood of this just man; look ye to it! They answer him with, this terrible self-imprecation: “His blood be upon us and upon our children!” The mark of Parricide here fastens on this ungrateful and sacrilegious people; Cain-like, they shall wander fugitives on the earth. Eighteen hundred years have passed since then; slavery, misery, and contempt, have been their portion; but the mark is still upon them. Let us Gentiles — upon whom this Blood of Jesus has fallen as the dew of heaven’s mercy, — let us return fervent thanks to the goodness of our heavenly Father, who hath so loved the world, as to give it his Only Begotten Son. Let us give thanks to the Son, who, saw that our iniquities could not be blotted out save by his Blood, on this day, even to the very last drop.
And beyond that in a few short hours, after the physical torments of the Cross, comes His Resurrection…and ours.