[REFLECTIONS] The good about Good Friday

Father Ro Atilano, SJ

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[REFLECTIONS] The good about Good Friday
We are called by God to uphold justice and protect the least, the last, and the lost during this time of crisis

What is good about Good Friday? 

As of today there are already around 1,500,000 cases of COVID-19 infection worldwide. More than 88,000 have already died. And the numbers are still increasing! We really do not know when or how this will end.

For those who passed on, this is the worst time to die: no wake Masses, no eulogies, no embraces nor handshakes. And most of them died alone in the hospitals while their bereaved loved ones were left alone in their grieving as well.

Meanwhile, it has almost been a month now since the enhanced community quarantine took effect here in our country. Think about our frontline workers – doctors, nurses, health workers, guards, police, supermarket crew, relief-operation volunteers, just to mention a few – who, with much anxiety, report to work in order for us to stay safe at home. Think about those millions of Filipinos who are daily wage earners and right now have nothing to put on their table. 

Why, Lord?

Every time we experience suffering in life we are confronted with this fundamental question again and again: If God is all good and powerful, why is there suffering in the world? 

One of the books in the Old Testament directly and essentially deals with this problem: the book of Job. The story is about a righteous and devout man, Job, who lost everything: children, wealth, good name, and even his health. This series of unfortunate events happened to Job when God allowed Satan to test him. At the end of the story after Job’s faith was severely tested, he remained faithful to God who eventually restored everything that he had lost. 

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini wrote some theological reflections regarding human sufferings:

First, trials exist, and everyone, even the best of us, has them. We cannot find any reason why Job should be tested since he was blameless in every way. What we can get from the story of Job is that suffering exists as a fundamental fact of life and part of human existence. But then again, when personally faced with this fundamental question on the existence of suffering, we experience a loss for words for we ourselves fall short in our very own understanding. It is easier for us to rationalize and just say something like, “No one is exempted from trials,” than to admit our own doubt and confusion. And what makes it even more difficult to understand is knowing that we have a God who is all good and powerful. That brings me to the next theological reflection.

God is mysterious. For some, this can be an instant spiritual advice to all problems and questions in life, while for others a scapegoat or an alibi, when trials in life become too much to bear. Yet for some, it can be a real source of consolation. Still, what seems terrifying and primarily mysterious in the story of Job is the fact God allowed Satan to test him. The same mystery revolves around the story of Yahweh who tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. 

So if God is all good and powerful, how could He allow suffering in the world? 

Unfortunately, we don’t have the complete and absolute answers to this fundamental question. Hundreds of philosophers and theologians have wrestled with this question over the centuries and have come up with different principles such as the concept of human freedom and sin in order to reconcile the goodness of God and the reality of suffering. But then again, even these principles seem to escape us when sufferings and trials visit us. 

According to Manoling Francisco, SJ, in one of his published homilies, the reason why it is very hard to find the answers to the questions on suffering is because “God’s reply to our innumerable questions regarding suffering and evil is not a proverb, not a proposition, and not a philosophical treatise.” God’s answer is a person – Jesus! “Jesus, broken, bent, and bloodied, torn apart, twisted and tangled, stripped naked, numbed by pain and nailed to a cross is God’s mute yet unsurpassable response to our gnawing questions about suffering.” God answers our questions on suffering by “appropriating upon Himself the consequences on sin and evil, by embracing our torment and anguish, our despair and death.” God freely made our sufferings His own like a mother embracing her child in pain.

This is what is good about Good Friday! This is the Good News. This is our consolation. Jesus on the cross is the answer to all our questions. Out of God’s unfathomable goodness and love for us, Jesus, who was sinless and blameless, was condemned to die as a criminal and nailed on the cross. The cross has become the testimony that every time we suffer, God is with us in our very own suffering. 

Isn’t this what love is all about, that is, to be with the person who is suffering and to share the pain? Peter Kreeft wrote, “He came. Out of our tears, our waiting, our darkness, our agonized aloneness, out of our weeping and wondering, out of our cry ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ He came, all the way, right into that cry.” 

Perhaps, this is the reason why thousands of people flock to the Jesus Nazareno of Quiapo every day: to gaze at the God-made-man carrying the cross and know that they are not alone in their sufferings. God may not take away our suffering, but the cross is the promise that He is with us in our suffering. So that every time we look at Jesus on the cross crying to the Father, “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?” His cry becomes ours and our cries become His. Then we are consoled that Someone is accompanying us despite our lack of understanding of these mysteries.

My dear brothers and sisters, what we can beg from God during this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic is not the grace of understanding but trust. However, trust in God’s will does not mean passive submission to suffering. We are also called by God to uphold justice and protect the least, the last, and the lost during this time of crisis. We accompany Jesus carrying his cross on the way to Calvary as we carry ours and help others whose crosses are heavier than ours. With our lack of understanding but hearts full of hope and trust in God, we face this difficult challenge knowing that the end of Jesus’ way of the cross, the end of Holy Week, is not Good Friday but Easter Sunday! 

Now, let me go back to the story of Job. A few years ago, a young teenager who had attempted suicide because of several family problems asked me the question I dreaded the most: Why did God allow the devil to test Job? I tried my best to give him the best advice drawing some points from my theological training and priestly formation. I was a bit scared that perhaps I did not console him with my answers. Then he said something that blew my mind.  “Wow Bro. Ang lakas din pala ng tiwala ni God kay Job. Alam Niya na ‘di niya bibiguin si God.” (God was very confident and trusting in Job. He knew that Job would not fail him.) I was left speechless for a moment. For this troubled teenager, it was God who had a deep trust in Job, in him, in us, that whatever test we are undergoing God is confident that we can make it through. I learned so much from this boy that day as much as I did in my theological training.   

What is good about Good Friday? It’s Jesus on the cross – God’s answer to all our questions. – Rappler.com

Father Roseller “Ro” Atilano Jr is a Jesuit priest. Ordained in 2017, he was first assigned to the New Bilibid Prisons. He is now campus ministry head of the junior and senior high schools of Ateneo de Manila University.

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