During this past Holy Week, in the midst of a faith sharing, a friend admitted her life long struggles with Good Friday. This opened a flood-gate of sharing among us. I, too, hated Good Friday as a child. I hated it even more as a Mother, trying to explain to wee children the morose devotions. Trying to protect their innocent minds from the horrors of the Passion story.
I remembered, and shared with my friends, an article that Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ wrote for NCR last year titled How to cope with Holy Week when you are less than inspired. In it, Fr. Reese describes his own struggles with the theology of Good Friday. Struggles that many readers related to,
There is another reason I hate Holy Week, especially Good Friday. When I was a child, we were taught that Jesus had to die for our sins because sin is an infinite insult to God that requires an infinite sacrifice as reparation.
I am sorry, but I don’t think I have ever done anything so bad that it requires me or anyone else to be crucified, let alone Jesus. While I might be grateful to Jesus for taking the blame for my sins, this theology turned God the Father into a legalistic ogre concerned about balancing the scales of justice, not mercy. The Father in this theology sounds nothing like the Father described by Jesus. Alas, some of the liturgical prayers still reflect this theology.
This year, Robert Mickens wrote a piece for NCR called The Greatest story never told. He described how Benedict XVI, both as pope and emeritus, saw the lack of belief in the need for salvation as a major crisis in the church. Mickens quotes Benedict,
“The obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals…If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated,” he noted.
In other words, Benedict believes that when obligation and the fear of hell stopped being the motivating force for Catholics, the pews began to empty. Mickens, rightly I think, questions the good of a fear-centred faith,
But one could argue that a religion based on fear has little to do with having faith in and striving to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I remember too well the scrupulous faith of my childhood. The fear of sin. The even greater fear of confession. The terrifying fear of the fires of hell. I consider myself blessed that I was slowly rid of the guilt and fears, and I have little or no patience for those who try to reinstill them in me.
I believe in a God of love. Just, yes. But loving first. Loving always. God calls each one of us us to live this life of love; a life of goodness, justice and right action. God’s son, Jesus, shows us the way…and it’s a simple one.
The gospel is not a compendium of rules and regulations, but an exohortation to love God and each other in word and deed. As we have received grace freely, so are we to be bearers of grace for others.
Fear or obligation are seldom good motivators for love.