Father Rick Frechette from Haiti offered refections on the Sunday Gospels during Lent on this blog. Days before Palm Sunday, a friend and employee at the hospital he attends was shot and killed outside the hospital gate. On this Good Friday he offers this reflection:
“Even though the sun was shining, there were the thick, dark, heavy, invisible clouds of evil overhead,
mocking both the light of day, and the light of God.
This was true both for him and for HIM.
There were expressed threats to kill both HIM and him, uttered in public and private places.
Bad words can pierce ones head worse than a bullet, which at least finishes you off in a matter of minutes.
The words of hate and threat linger, brood and multiply, in the mind and heart, spreading like cancer, and they twist joys into anxieties and confidence into dread.
For HIM the words caused no less than the sweating of blood.
For him, the words caused both fear and a furor.
As for the onlookers, they had lived with killings and threats for so long that one more violent death could not possibly interfere with enjoying a last piece of bread, or delivering the bawdy punchline of a joke they were in the middle of, when the shot was fired.
The onlookers had seen many crucifixions on the hill, they were all the same.
They had seen many gunshot dead in the streets, they were all the same.
“Been there, done that. Next.”
But this is not true for little onlookers, children for whom violence sets their gaze, and their hearts, rigid.
How can we soften them?
It was the hour of first vespers, for Palm Sunday 2021.
I was at his funeral, and preparing for HIS week of Holy Memory.
For HIM, the hammer set to the nail was an announcement. Those closest would hear it.
Some would shiver- would you have shivered?
For him, the announcement was a thunderous crack, when the small metal lever struck the bullet. I was near enough to hear it, but I couldn’t.
I was lifting a box of medicines, in front of a large screeching fan.
But as chickens scatter by any blow, some towards and some away
and since our eyes are finely tuned to movement much more than to acuity,
the sight of our staff running in all directions dropped my heart to my feet.
And I ran, heart-footed, toward, and not away.
Chicken, I am not. At least not totally.
For HIM, a lance in the side was the finale, the outflow of the remaining life blood and water.
For him, the side was torn open wide by a flying mini spear.
“We need to cover him. GET A SHEET!”
The children on the street will see a red spotted cloth, rather than his empty eyes and generous entrails.
Long ago, there was nothing to cover HIM, high on the cross.
Two of us preach.
Fr Fitho speaks first, and my eyes wander.
Not for lack of interest in his moving message away from revenge and toward placing confidence in God’s justice,
but because it was impossible not to lock my eyes on the faces of his four small children, in their grief, of his wife on the floor, of his white haired mother lamenting in heart wrenching rhythms’
My turn to preach came.
Full heart, useless tongue.
For him there were two priests, each a one-time preach.
For HIM, preachers have spanned twenty centuries and counting.
My words came out as they wished, my eyes spoke more to the eyes of others, well known to me, whose presence at the funeral prayers was a tortured reliving of that day, many years ago, when they lost their mother or father in this dreadful, public way.
My eyes locked with all of these eyes, looking for viridans (greenness) deep within- known from ancient times as the very first life sign of life.
It is there but dimly lit.
“Lead kindly light amid encircling gloom, lead thou me on.”
For HIM, there were few eyes to look into.
Most were not there to pay respects but to be amused.
If they had iphones they would have filmed and posted, with smiling selfies.
Others there were functionaries. Like the doorkeeper in NY who recently closed the door on the elderly woman being attacked for being a foreigner.
But present there for HIM, most beautifully and meaningfully, three Marys and a John.
They radiated viridans through the deepest sorrow and grief, as HIS viridans receded.
Yes I see it in their eyes. Alleluia! Strange how I can be happy for a minute at such a moment.
I will start visiting them in their homes, these very days, in the name of HIM who, Isaiah promised “will not quench a dimly lit flame.”
When we start by protecting the failing flame through friendship, we prepare the way for God to do a great work.
Lightening the load, enlightening the heart, is holy and luminous work.
About HIM, there was a (motive-minded) posting on the Cross
“The King of the Jews”
When this was challenged, Pilate retorted
“Quod scripsi, scripsi.”
About him, there was a (motive-minded) posting on facebook by his killer
“Old men don’t strike old men”
which was challenged with
“Old men don’t kill old men!”
answered with silence.
But in fact, neither are old.
(Ironically, at this point of writing, I just ran out and delivered a baby in the hallway, having heard the screams. Enter, stage right, a new life overflowing with viridans)
Joseph and Nicodemus took down HIS body, bathed and anointed it with wonderful oils,
to prepare it for burial.
Fr. Fitho and I lifted up his body, and sutured his shredded wounds back together.
As I held his hand away from his own wound as we worked, it was still warm in mine.
Viridans departs slowly, but finally.
HIS was Calvary.
So was his.
And so has Calvary marked ours lives in the strongest of ways, from COVID, cancers, car wrecks and chaos.
On Calvary we are in blessed company.
And the looking into the eyes has been through tablets and phone screens, on facetime and zoom.
We have been impoverished by the necessity of standing by the cross virtually, standing at the cross by proxy.
Such has been the lonely need for isolation.
But virtual light is better than none.
From the 10th verse of the 700 year old Good Friday Hymn Stabat Mater:
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.
May the dim light of our hearts be powerful in the face of any darkness!”