25 March 2016

Looking upon the Cross with Queen St. Margaret of Scotland - A Good Friday Homily

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

As she lay upon her deathbed, Queen Saint Margaret desired to look upon the Black Rood, the relic of the True Cross of Our Lord encased in ebony that she had brought with her to Scotland from Hungary. When those attending the dying queen delayed in bringing it to her, she exclaimed, “Shall we not be permitted once more to look upon the Holy Cross!”[1] To look upon the Cross, the incontrovertible proof of the love of Our Lord was her dying wish.

Dear brothers and sisters, were we, this day, to find ourselves on our deathbeds, what would our dying wish be? Would it even enter our thoughts to ask to look upon the Cross? Whereas Saint Margaret had to plead with her courtiers to be allowed to see the Holy Cross, Holy Mother Church presents it to us today and, holding it aloft, confidently cries out, “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world!” The holy queen longed to cast her loving gaze upon the Cross. Will we do the same? Will we set our eyes upon it and contemplate the sacred wood and all that it means, or will we simply turn a glance toward it and refuse to let our eyes linger?

We are often quick to avert our eyes from the Cross and from representations of the Passion and Death of Our Lord because we do not like to see the stark brutality that he willingly endured for us. We would rather not remember the ugliness of our sin that led the Lord Jesus to ascend the Cross. We prefer to ignore the suffering of the Cross and would rather look upon an image of the Nativity which seem simpler, safer, and more serene, but we forgot that the only begotten Son of God took on our flesh to also take on our death. We turn our eyes from the Cross because it is cruel. It readily calls to mind the reality of who we are: sinners who will die. Why, then, was Saint Margaret’s last wish to look upon something that seems so unpleasant? Because she had looked upon it so often throughout her life, and meditated upon it so frequently, she understood it was through the Cross that “joy has come into the whole world.”[2]

Bishop Turgot tells us “there was a gravity in her joy,” a curious turn of phrase to be sure.[3] Saint Margaret was filled with joy because, having spent so much time pondering the mystery of the Lord’s Cross, she knew the tremendous power of his love, but she was also filled with gravity, with seriousness, because she knew at what cost we receive this love. As we look upon the cross this day, as we adore and venerate the means of our salvation, there ought to be a gravity in our joy, as well, not only today, but every day.

Together with Saint Margaret, let us ask to look upon the Holy Cross one last time and to look upon it as never before. Let us yield to the Lord’s love. Let us put down our defenses, set aside our excuses, and acknowledge our sinfulness to the Lord. Let us allow our hearts to experience the gravity of our sins so that we can come to know the great mercy offered to us through the Death of Christ Jesus our Lord. If we do, we will find ourselves in that place “where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”[4]

Saint Bonaventure wrote beautifully about the grace and power of the Cross:
Then when you have done all good things, begin anew as if you had done nothing. If at times something sad happens, something bad, something tedious, something bitter, and certainly if sometimes a good thing happens by chance, then you should immediately look to the crucified Jesus hanging on the cross. Look there at the crown of thorns, the iron nails, the lance in the side; gaze at the wounds in his feet and hands, the wounds in his head, his side, and his whole body, and recall that this is what he suffered for you, what he bore for you, so that you may know how much he loved you. Believe me: after gazing in such a way, you will find that everything sad becomes joyful, everything heavy becomes light, everything boring lovable, everything harsh sweet and soothing.[5]

Saint Margaret knew the truth of these words. With her, then, let us adore the wood of the Cross in so devout a way that we will perceive and feel its gravity and its joy, not only today, but every day until we depart this life. Amen.

[1] Turgot, The Life of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, 4.
[2] Antiphon 3 of Morning Prayer for Good Friday.
[3] Turgot, The Life of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, 1.
[4] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 6.4.
[5] Saint Bonaventure, On the Perfection of Life, VI.11.

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