Good Friday: What is Faith?
Posted: March 20, 2021
Good Friday: What is Faith?
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Those words ran through my head as I stood outside under the moonlight on Good Friday in 2009. That expression is something that most Christians will immediately recognize as Matthew 27:46, the words uttered by Jesus as he was dying on the cross. They are words of abandonment and loss. They are a cry for an answer.
I was standing with my brother as those words ran through my head while a local police officer confirmed what I already knew in my heart, that our son John had just died by suicide. I was shocked. I did not know how I was going to tell my wife and daughter that our worst fears had truly happened. I felt abandoned, I was lost. I needed an answer. It was a moment when my faith was deeply tested.
I was raised and continue to be an active Catholic all of my life. My faith was something I probably took for granted. Sure we went to church every Sunday morning, knew our priest on a first name basis, and were active in the church community. I knew the teachings of our faith and I had done my best to live my life by my faith. We had passed our faith on to our kids and they were also active in the church.
But when I was told my only son is dead, my faith and beliefs were put to the test. My first thoughts went to “why my son, why my family, why me, why has this happened to us? “. It was a moment that my faith was truly challenged. It was a moment when I had to look much deeper into my beliefs and my faith and think about how I was going to help our family survive this tragedy.
Also running through my head was the thought that as Christians, we hope that someday we will rejoin those who went before us in eternal peace and joy. While I was not ready to let my son go, in my heart I knew he was in good hands and in a place I hope someday to rejoin him. If I had to lose my son at 17 years old, at least I believed that he had the “E ticket” to heaven. He was back hanging out with his grandfather and his extended family. It was my faith, it is what I truly believe and it was comforting. My faith was a true gift that helped me through the early days.
I often say that we survived because of the “3 F “s: Family, Friends and Faith. It was a long Easter weekend before we had the opportunity to have a wake and hold a funeral mass for John. But we were surrounded by those that loved us and supported us as we searched for answers. Our pastor was over our house for several hours each day talking with us as we sought a deeper understanding of our faith. On Easter Sunday he actually said mass in our family room with all of those around us to help us find the spiritual strength we would need in the coming days and weeks.
I guess I can say that while I sought answers that first night, it was clear to me that I had truly found my faith. Faith that my son was in a better place. Faith that we would survive as a family. Faith that I would someday understand why we went through what we did. God did not call John home, but God was there to welcome him when he arrived. John got the keys to heaven and I was happy for him.
I find solace in the final hymn/prayer at many Christian funeral services called "In Paradisum":
“May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs receive you at your arrival
and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem.
May choirs of angels receive you
and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.”
In November 2018 I had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem on a business trip and I was blessed to spend time in the Old City and get to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. Two of the holiest places for Christians and Jews around the world. While I was not there on a pilgrimage, I did stop to think about my faith and the faith of those around me as I walked around.
A few things struck me as I walked around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I took the time to not only say my prayers, but I watched those around me as well. Many of the people were sightseers just looking to get their pictures taken. They were the ones who stood on long lines to get their picture on Calvary (Golgotha) the location where Jesus was crucified. They were the ones who stood on long lines to enter into the tomb where Jesus was buried on Good Friday all those years ago. They were looking at these holy places through bulletproof glass and some even managed to say their prayers before they rushed off to see the next station in the Church. They reminded me of myself, taking their faith for granted and going through the motions while they were in a Church. These two highlights drew the most people. I am sure many were there to say their prayers, but it struck me how bizarre it was that they just stood on the other side of the glass and just looked.
What truly caught my eye was the Stone of the Anointing. This is the place where Joseph of Arimathea arranged for Jesus to be cleansed, anointed with perfumed oils and wrapped for burial. This is where the faithful took their time to prepare Jesus for a proper burial. There were no lines of sightseers and there was no bullet proof glass. I kneeled and said my prayers as I touched the stone. I thought about those that had used their faith for service to others. I prayed that I would also be able to use my faith in service of others. You know you touched the stone when you remove your hands from it because it is rinsed with rose oil daily. Those that took the time to actually kneel and touch it were left with a reminder of their faith.
When I lifted my head from prayer at the Anointing Stone, the first thing I saw across the church was the Station of the Holy Woman. This is the location where it is said that Mary stood as Jesus was crucified and buried. This is where she had her faith tested on Good Friday. This is where she likely also felt loss and abandonment as her son died. I thought that she also had her “3 F “s to help her through her loss. She watched on as those took care of Jesus at the Anointing Stone and helped her bury her son. To say I was moved and at a loss for words is an understatement.
I often felt like Mary in the famous Michelangelo statue “Pieta”. The artist chose to show her alone in her grief with her son over her lap. Her grief is palpable in the statue and it was how I felt in the early days. Alone and lost in my thoughts. When I saw the Station of the Holy Woman, I realized that she was also surrounded by her family and friends. Her faith carried her through her tragedy. Those who served their faith helped her survive the worst day of her life.
I left the Church humbled and speechless. I saw my faith mirrored in the Church as I looked around. It was not about me, it was about my faith and how it is not something to take for granted. It was about how we should strive to serve others and not just look out for ourselves. It is not about a selfie.
I then walked the cobblestone streets to the Western Wall. I put on yarmulke out of respect for the faithful Jews who were all around me. The Wailing Wall is impressive in its size and importance to the faithful. There were hundreds of people praying at the wall. There were tens of thousands of prayer slips tucked into the wall. I stood there before I approached the wall thinking about what I should pray for. I was given an opportunity that had me here and I wanted to make sure that I got it right.
Then I thought back on my faith and what I had seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and I realized that my prayers would be for those I knew and not for me. I prayed for the wisdom and the strength to help those I would come across in my life. There were some specific people who I prayed for that were facing particular challenges. I specifically prayed that they would find their faith and answers to the challenges they were facing. I prayed that they would also have their “3F”s to help them through their difficult moments.
I stepped back from the Western Wall and I felt a sense of peace rush over me. It had been an amazing day and I once again found my faith in a different way. I didn’t need to pray for myself or my son; I knew that we were going to be ok. I knew that my God had not forsaken me and that he has blessed me. The faith I had taken for granted for so long was once again renewed.
So while every Good Friday is still a tough day for our family, we remember that John is in a place waiting for us to join him when it is our time. Until then, my faith is something I remember and I share with those who need it.
My wife and I have run the suicide loss support group for the last 8+ years. We speak almost daily with people who have lost loved ones to suicide. They have the same questions, they are looking for the same answers that we were. They often feel the same loss and abandonment. I only hope that my faith and service will allow the hundreds of families that we have met over the years and the many more we will meet to find a sense of peace and faith.
So what is faith? I think I found my answer.