Good Friday | Fr Peter Hunter highlights the realistic hope that Christians find in the Cross of Christ.
I could never be a secular humanist. I have friends who are. I respect them, and can accept that they hold their views after thoughtful consideration but I cannot share their views and particularly their view of human progress.
It’s not that I think there was some golden age when people were better than they are now. It’s that in every age, including our own, people have acted selfishly and stupidly and meanly, not all the time, but consistently enough that every age has been marked by it. In short, the view that humans can, unaided, lift themselves out of sin seems hopelessly optimistic and naive.
We see this in our own case. It is not “Catholic guilt” but realism that recognises that our lives are broken and beyond our own ability to fix.
And the cross itself testifies to it. When perfect love came among us, we humans preferred darkness. We rejected God in Christ and killed him, hideously. This didn’t happen because the Romans were particularly wicked. Christ is crucified in the vulnerable of every age and place, including our own.
People tend, it seems to me, to cope with this in two ways. Either they deny the reality of the problem. “Humans are basically good,” or in their own case, “I am fundamentally a good person”.
Or they become despairing of humanity or themselves, aware of the problem, but incapable of seeing how it could ever be solved. “I am a terrible person, and nothing whatever, not even God, could change that.”
But the cross doesn’t just show sin for what it is. It also definitively shows God’s response. God in Christ suffered every fury of the human heart and loved still. God’s incompressible response to sin is love. To make it personal, God’s response to my sin and yours is to love us, not in a way that leaves us in our sin but by calling us away from it.
It’s that love which makes a true humanism possible. We can believe in a future for humanity, a way out of self-destruction, because a man, Jesus Christ, returned perfect love for every hatred heaped upon him. Jesus becomes the seed of a new humanity, founded on a new law of love, people who succeed, not by their own power, but by power of the love of God.
We can believe that our own sins have no ultimate power over us because they are met in the cross by God continuing to love us in our worst moments. His love calls us back, aids us in our repentance, heals us with his forgiveness and strengthens us anew. The cross assures us that our sins have a remedy.
So today we venerate the cross with joy, because although it shows us with stark realism the reality of sin, it also shows us God’s unprecedented response of love.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of the Crucifix venerated in Blackfriars Oxford on Good Friday.