The Christian religion is filled with paradoxes; it teaches doctrines that are seemingly false but really true. On every Good Friday there is a sublime paradox for us to contemplate: Good Friday is a day of sorrow, but it is also a day of gladness.
Good Friday is a day of sorrow: Does not the terrible injustice of the death of Christ at least bring you to the verge of tears! Look at our Divine Lord, look at Him Who had done nothing but good deeds all His life, look at Him Who is our Creator, Who called us out of nothingness, Who is our own Brother by adoption, look at Him who is absolutely innocent being nailed to the cross and being allowed to die in the most horrible torments imaginable.
Consider for a moment the agonies of the scourging. Among the Romans scourging ordinarily preceded crucifixion. It was carried out by soldiers. The prisoner was stripped and made to bend over a post to which his wrists were bound. The blows were administered with a special instrument, the flagellum, a stout leather whip with several tails weighted with little metal balls or even armed with sharp points. Among the Jews the legal scourging was limited to a certain number of stripes, but among the Romans its extent was left to the whim of the floggers, or the prisonerís endurance. Especially if he was going to be executed, he was regarded as something less than human, an empty image with which the law was no longer concerned, a body that could be beaten with merciless freedom. And usually, whoever underwent the Roman scourging was reduced to a sickening and terrifying monstrosity. At the first blows, the neck, back, hips, arms and legs grew livid, and then became streaked with bluish welts and swollen bruises; then the skin and muscles were gradually lacerated, the blood vessels burst and blood spurted everywhere, till finally the prisoner, every one of his features disfigured, was nothing but a bleeding mass of flesh. Very often he fainted under the blows and sometimes he died.
Then consider the terrors that followed the scourging. Prisoners were sometimes scourged on the way to the place of execution. The condemned man was entrusted to soldiers, usually four, commanded by a centurion whose duty it was to certify his death. The horizontal beam of the cross was placed, sometimes tied, on the condemned manís shoulders. A servant of the court walked ahead of him bearing a tablet on which his crime was written in large clear letters, but sometimes the inscription was hung about the prisonerís neck instead. The procession always went through the most popular and crowded streets in order to make the execution as public as possible.
Even when he was not scourged along the way, the condemned man was the victim of every kind of brutal jest on the part of the morbidly curious and bloodthirsty crowd. He was no longer a man to them, but something beyond the law, a walking dunghill.
When the place of execution was reached, the condemned man was led to the vertical post, already set into the ground, and there stripped of his garments, unless he had been previously stripped for the scourging along the way. Thus stripped, the prisoner was made to lie on his back on the ground so that his shoulders and outstretched arms lay on the crosspiece he had been carrying, and then his hands were nailed to it. Next, probably by means of rope fastened about his chest and thrown over the top of the vertical beam, he was hoisted up. After the prisoner had been lifted up in this manner, the crosspiece was nailed or tied to the vertical beam, and then his feet were nailed.
Those were merely some of the physical torments. What was greater in the soul of Christ was the mental anguish: the very thought of the ingratitude of men towards Him Who was dying for all, the thought of the millions of people through the centuries who would reject Him, who would never believe Him. And Christ underwent all of this suffering for my sins and for each one of yours. Good Friday is a day of sorrow.
But, here is the paradox, it is also a day of gladness. It is called Good Friday, a good day for us, for on that day we were redeemed by the saving blood of Christ. We were brought back from the devil, we escaped the pains of hell, we became united once more with God. Our lives were ennobled and enriched beyond measure. The good life became ours on Good Friday.
The good death of Christ should make us yearn and strive to lead a good life so that we may have a good death. Countless books have been written and many more will be written on the Passion of Christ in which lessons are drawn for our example and meditation. By tomorrow noon the penitential season of Lent will be officially over. And so passes another Lent and another Good Friday. But, should we not strive to carry the spirit of Lent throughout the entire year? Are we going to drift back into our old bad habits? Is that how little this Lenten season has meant to us? This may be our last Lent. Let us resolve to make its fruits lasting.
Our Divine Savior was innocent. We are guilty. Do we need any more proof of the necessity of penance?