Friday, April 14, 2017

Failure is the ONLY Option - Good Friday reflection

Crucifixion of Jesus by Marco Palmezzano
Florence), painting c. 1490
The 8th graders who in level 2 of the parish confirmation program are given the opportunity to write reflections on the stations of the cross.  Their statements are incorporated into a parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross at noon on Good Friday.  After the last station I offered this reflection the confirmation candidates and parishioners.
In our prayer, today we have not only recounted a story but through the reflections you offered, we engaged ourselves in that story.  In doing so, each of you attempted to experience Jesus in a way that is real or more tangible to you.  Through this meditation of the Stations of the Cross, on this Good Friday afternoon we have had an opportunity to know the pain of our Lord in a profound way.  But some of us may ask, “What is the point?  We have our own pain and none of it seems to make any sense.”  So, as a way of bringing this experience to a close and in an attempt to “make sense,” of it for you, I offer you to points to take with you.  First, Failure is not only an option, it’s the only option.  Second, the only cross we are asked to bear is our own – and Jesus carries it with us.
We have heard the phrase, “Failure is not an option.”  This statement originated as a line from the movie, Apollo 13 and it was uttered by the character of the flight director, whose responsibility it was to bring the astronauts of the disabled spacecraft home safely.  The truth is the real person, in the actual situation, never said those words.  They are the words of a Hollywood scriptwriter.  The reality was that failure had already happened.  That particular mission to the moon failed because an explosion had disabled the ship.  Because of that failure, however, the minds of many had to come together to figure out a way to get these men home and through the failure they learned what they never could have and achieved something they never would have believed possible.
Michelangelo's Pieta
St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican
From the human perspective, Jesus’ mission appears to be failure.  After being followed by throngs of people he was abandoned to die alone on a cross.  Two of his apostles fail him in the acts of betrayal and denial.  He is mocked, tortured and killed, what a failure.  We stand here today calling this Good Friday because we know that the mission does not fail.  We know about the resurrection and therefore we can see and anticipate the success.  But this reality was not yet known on that Friday afternoon.  The religious leaders, the Romans, the crowds and Jesus disciples only saw failure.  It was only after the resurrection that the apostles, other disciples and future believers came to understand how failure was in fact the only option.  Jesus had to be abandoned, betrayed, denied, tortured and killed.  The worse had to happen so that the greatness of God could truly be known.  St. Paul says that death has no power over us.  We only know this to be true because the failure of death happened first.
Holy Family School's 7th Grade
Living Stations 2017 
In our lives, we have daily reminders of failures; academically, athletically, artistically and socially.  We can even perceive our bodies as failures.  People around us might readily point out our flaws and some never seem to let us forget them.  We ask ourselves, “Why did I have to fail?  Why can’t I just get it right?”  The answer is failure is the only option.  We learn from our failures, and learn very little from that which we accidentally get right.  So too we learn from our sin, the very sins that led Jesus to the cross.  Our sins and our failures are the gateway to God’s mercy.  Through them we come to know the power of Jesus’ love and mercy for each of us.
It’s hard to know this amid failure however and so we must trust in what we cannot see.  We trust in the wisdom of others and we trust in the wisdom of faith.  Let me share with you a post resurrection story that illustrates this point.  In one of his appearances after the resurrection, Jesus meets his apostles on the sea shore.  They have breakfast together and after they finish eating Jesus says to Peter
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep. Jn 21:15-19
Do you see what was happening here?  Peter who denied Jesus three times is given an opportunity to express his love for Jesus three times.  This must have been such an awesome revelation for Peter.  How much stronger and apostle and leader he was because he failed first.  The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus teaches us that failure is the only option.
Confirmation Candidates and Parishioners
venerate the Cross following
Stations of the Cross on Good Friday
Lastly, I offer you this.  Before they knew what would eventually happen, Jesus told his apostles that if they wished to follow him they must take up their cross daily.  He did not tell them to carry his cross, nor did he tell them to carry the cross of others.  Jesus does not need for us or want us to suffer needlessly.  He does not expect us to take on the burdens of the world.  He asks us to make the sacrifices of our lives, to accept the burdens of love and bearing with our own personal failures.  He also tells us that our burden is light because he is carrying it with us.  While it is true that the Lord may use us, to be his hands and feet to help another person, he does not command us or want us to assume the burdens of other on ourselves.  Many years ago, I heard a mother tell her son she wished she could take away a pain he was experiencing, and he told her he didn’t want her to, because the pain was his and he needed to be healed from it, not have another take it from him.  In dying to the cross, Jesus alone takes on the burdens of the world, we who follow are to accept our burdens and trust that he will transform them.  Any even though he may call upon us to be his presence for another, we do not have the capacity, the ability or the right to make another’s pain our own.  That is for Jesus.

As we conclude I invite you to venerate the cross, to come forward and in gesture show that because of the suffering and death of Jesus we know that we can take up our cross daily because we believe he bears it with us and we know that failure is the only option that will lead us to new life.
Pilgrims touch the stone beneath the altar at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem 

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