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Good Friday, Gratitude, and St. Alphonsus

It’s weird wishing someone a happy Good Friday. Like, walking up to someone with a big smile on your face and saying, “Happy day of the Lord’s death!” is sort of an awkward greeting, but well, here we are! It is, in a real sense, a joyous day, if not a happy one. After all, we have the advantage of hindsight, and we know that it is a day of profound gratitude for the gift given and the prize won.

Last week, leading up to Palm Sunday, I had the pleasure of going on a small men’s retreat with a few of my friends, and we used the weekend to look into the writings and sermons of St. Alphonsus Liguori, an 18th century bishop and doctor of the Church, and let me tell you, the man pulls no punches. One of the things that has really stayed with me through Holy Week was his reflection on the sorrow of Christ in the garden. He said, and credibly so, that the reason Christ suffered so much in the garden was in large part due to our lack of gratitude for the sacrifice He was to make.

Think about it, Christ gave His life, His very self, to us through the torturous death on the cross, and did so knowing full well that we were all going to keep right on sinning afterwards. To know, that even after He would cooperate with His Father’s will and redeem us, setting us free from our slavery to sin, we would still say, “Thanks, but I’m just going to keep sinning. You’ll forgive me again next time, right? Awesome.” This lack of gratitude didn’t change Christ’s mind. He still loves, forgives, and sacrifices for us out of His perfect desire for our good, but love and sorrow often go hand in hand. When we love someone and seek their good, how painful and sorrowful is it to see them constantly settling for less? Debasing themselves chasing a momentary pleasure instead of securing their greatest good?

This Good Friday, don’t skip to the end. Yes, we know that Christ’s death on the Cross is not really a defeat, but a key step to victory. Don’t let yourself be so focused on that as to forget what a costly victory it was. If we are going to develop our gratitude, we’re going to have to develop our awareness of just what a gift it was. On every day, but especially on this Good Friday, let’s take the time to reflect on the gift, show our gratitude to the giver, and truly accept and live out the graces offered to us. Remember, when Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father,” it wasn’t only the Pharisees that needed forgiveness for putting Him on that tree, it was all of us who He died for, too. Out of our profound gratitude, let’s enter into the tomb with Jesus so that He can lead us out.

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