Mercy is the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.
On Good Friday we commemorate the supreme act of mercy, Jesus giving himself up to an ignominious death to reconcile us to the Father. St. Paul describes it in his letter to the Church in Philippi: “… He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 7-8).
This supreme act of mercy flows from the compassion of God. At its root, the word compassion means to “suffer with,” accompanied by a desire to relieve the suffering. God’s compassion is not mere empathy, but a sharing of our suffering and a determination to alleviate it. That desire, that determination manifests itself in God’s mercy. Jesus is the personification of God’s mercy, or, as Pope Francis puts it, “Jesus is mercy incarnate.”
The liturgy on Good Friday is central to the Passion of the Lord. It includes the ancient Christian custom of Adoration of the Holy Cross, dating to the fourth century. (Cf Pilgrimage of Egeria). The antiphon sung during the adoration explains why we both venerate and exalt this symbol of our salvation:
We adore your cross, O Lord.
We praise and glorify our holy Resurrection.
For behold, because of the wood of a tree
Joy has come to the whole world.
Our Holy Father Francis recalls that, “Jesus on the cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it; he defeats it with his resurrection. This is the good that Jesus does for us on the throne of the cross. Christ’s cross, embraced with love, never leads to sadness, but to joy, to the joy of having been saved and of doing a little of what he did on the day of his death.” The Church of Mercy
Think about this for a moment. Jesus transformed the cross, an instrument of death, a mark of ignominy and human failure, into a symbol of the triumph of love and mercy.
Each of us has his or her cross, and in some cases, crosses. They can be overwhelming, almost unbearable. Let us seek to embrace them, as Jesus did and he will come to us, as Simon of Cyrene did for him, to help us bear our cross. They are our badge of discipleship.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,* take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)