Good Friday has always been an odd day for me, and the hungriest to be sure (not only for food, but for life and light as well). I’m fairly certain it is odd because the majority of the world doesn’t even know it is happening – it is just another day.
But for the Christian, the self-aware Christian, the Christian possessed by Christ, Good Friday becomes the day when the call to participate in Christ’s mysterious mission of salvation cannot be ignored. And, this participation is perhaps the greatest service that the Christian can offer the world – which I realize is contrary to those who often measure holiness by visible charitable works, service outings, and some sort of Pelagian “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and save the world” mentality.
What the Church, because of Christ, in Christ, and through Christ, ultimately offers the world is salvation, and Good Friday highlights this missionary call and all of its power unlike any other day of the year.
And the world doesn’t even know it’s happening.
To quote extensively from Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood:
The last and highest mission of the Christian in relation to nonbelievers is to suffer for them in their place as the Master did. At the end of his life, only a few days before his Passion, Christ described his life’s mission in these words: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his love as a ransom for many’ (Mk. 10:45). These words express not only the basic law of Christ’s own life, but the basic law of all Christian discipleship. The disciples of Christ will always be ‘few’ as the Lord said, and as such stand before the mass, the ‘many,’ as Jesus, the one, stands before the many (that is, the whole of mankind).” (83)
This is the basic law of discipleship – to suffer as the Master suffered and to give love and life for others. To participate in His suffering by uniting ours with His. And no day of the liturgical year brings this law to the fore as Good Friday does.
But notice Ratzinger’s words that echo the sentiments of Jesus (and all of salvation history, really) – the disciples will always be few, a remnant. Many people in the world want to go and make a difference, and however noble this may be and is, few are willing to suffer. This is the call of the Christian – to love as he loved. Yet most of us are content with calling ourselves Christian without the cross.
“The disciples of Jesus are few, but as Jesus himself was one ‘for the many,’ so it will always be their mission to be not against but ‘for the many.’ When all other ways fail, there will always remain the royal way of vicarious suffering by the side of the Lord. It is in her defeat that the Church constantly achieves her highest victory and stands nearest to Christ. It is when she is called to suffer for others that she achieves her highest mission: the exchange of fate with the wayward brother and thus his secret restoration to full sonship and full brotherhood. Seen in this way, the relationship between the ‘few’ and the ‘many’ reveals the true measure of the Church’s catholicity.” (84)
The Kingdom of Christ, then, is built in plain sight, yet remains “unseen” by the many, and quite honestly, the way of vicarious suffering doesn’t match the rather worldly way of building up the kingdom that has pervaded much Catholic thought over the last several decades.
“In external numbers, it will never be fully ‘catholic’ (that is, all-embracing), but will always remain a small flock – smaller even than statistics suggest, statistics with lie when they call many ‘brothers’ who are in fact merely pseudadelphoi, Christians by name only. In her suffering and love, however, she will always stand for the ‘many,’ for all. In her love and her suffering she surmounts all frontiers and is truly ‘catholic.’ (84)
“For Jews demands signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:22-23).
Only united with Christ on the cross does the Christian call take on light and achieve its mission. Good Friday reminds us of this fact.