Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In these final days before the glories of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday, we celebrate his saving Passion and death. Today, Holy Thursday, and tomorrow, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, together make up what is called the “Sacred Triduum,” the “Three Holy Days” in which our salvation was first enacted.
We celebrate the Triduum, not first with joy, but with remorse for our own sins which nailed Jesus to the cross, and with contrition and sorrow for all the evil we ourselves have done. Yet we still call this Friday “Good.” It is good, not because Jesus suffered and died on this day, but because of what his suffering and death accomplished. “This is the proof of God’s love: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Christ is not the unwitting or unwilling victim of mere violence. If he were a mere victim, how would his death be more salvific for us than the death of any other victim? Rather, he chose willingly to die: “Not my will be done, but your will” (Mk 14:36); and, “You would have no power over me, were it not given to you” (Jn 19:11). He who was without sin chose freely to accept the punishment of death for our sins, so that we would not have to die.
In this free choice, he is not only the victim, but also the priest offering the sacrifice of his own body and blood. As the one true and eternal high priest, “entering the tabernacle not made by hands,” (Heb 9:7-15), he brings to perfection the old covenant, and all the promises of salvation made by God down through the centuries, and thus inaugurates the new covenant. All of the mysteries of the church, the holy sacraments which we celebrate throughout our lives, are contained within his perfect sacrifice. The blood and water which flow from his pierced side are the water of baptism, the blood of the Eucharist, and the power of all the seven sacraments.
Gazing on him on the cross, we are most deeply moved to acclaim, “By your wounds we are healed” (Is 53:5, 1 Pet 2:24), and especially, “Jesus, I trust in you!” This is the tremendous, the unheard-of, the overwhelming mercy of God, to take on himself our just punishments, out of pure and free love for us, his wayward children, in order to allow us to be reconciled again to him by his grace!
Therefore, along with our contrition, there is already joy in these days, by anticipation of Easter Sunday. We know that Jesus did not die in vain, nor did he die and simply remain dead, but rose from the dead! Sin and death, Calvary and the tomb, are not the end, neither for Christ nor for us. Life is the end, new life in Christ, the life that never fails or fades, no matter what we might suffer, because it is his perfect and divine life in us. Thus, St. Paul preaches again and again the practical center of all our Catholic faith, “We died and were buried with Christ by baptism, so that, just as he rose again from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, Col 2:12, etc.).
In our discipline of Lent, and especially in our fasting on Good Friday, and in the silence and the waiting of these three holy days, we remind ourselves of that baptismal death. United with Christ in his saving passion, we prepare to be united with him in his glorious resurrection. This is the pattern of all the holy sacraments, of every Lent and Eastertide, indeed of the whole of our life as disciples, beginning with our baptism. This is why our daily discipleship is so important. St. Cyprian, one of the early martyrs and a bishop, described being a disciple of Christ as “practicing to die with Christ every day.” We practice such dying with Christ as often as we commit any pious acts of prayer and devotion, of works of charity and mercy performed “for the least of these” (Mt 25:40). We practice such dying with Christ in struggling to uphold daily a disciple’s fidelity to faith and morals, and to the demands of our personal vocation. We practice such dying with Christ when we love like Christ.
And our dying in faith leads to our new life, just as it did and does for our Savior. The fruit of our willingness to die with Christ, to be buried with him, is grace and conversion of heart. This is the joy of Easter, of knowing the “wellspring of eternal life” within us, not just for one day or for one week of the year, but every day. Exactly as much as we don’t live for ourselves (Mk 8:35), can we live in Christ, and he in us!
In these days, on the cusp of Easter, we enter this mysterious exchange of life as deeply as possible, seeking that full and perfect union with Jesus Christ which is our end as baptized followers. In silence and fasting, in contrition and conversion of heart, we anticipate the fullness of joy to come. And in our celebration of his passion and death, we offer ourselves along with him, dying to self in order to live with him, to rise again to a new and better life of mercy, joy, hope, and love.
May the celebration of these three most holy days enliven our faith and renew our hope and love! May our anticipation of the joys of Easter open our hearts to all the grace the Lord pours out so generously upon us. May we follow him with greater devotion in the year to come, more committed to being his faithful disciples, more attentive to our call to share with others the mercy and grace we ourselves have already begun to receive. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, a most blessed and joyful Easter to you all.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City