Good Friday: A Speaking Silence

Detail from Fra Angelico's "The Crucifixion of Christ" 15th cent.

He was a few weeks shy of his seventeenth birthday. It was a morning in spring, and he was on his way to a youth rally. As he walked past his parish church, the Basilica of Saint Joseph, on the Avenida Rivadavia, Jorge Borgoglio felt compelled to enter. “I went in. I felt I had to go in—those things you feel inside and you don’t know what they are.”

The details of what happened next didn’t fade for him. They’re recorded in Austen Ivereigh’s biography, The Great Reformer (2014).

I looked, it was dark, it was a morning in September, maybe 9:00am, and I saw a priest walking. I didn’t know him. He wasn’t one of the parish clergy. And he sits down in one of the confessionals, the last confessional as you’re looking down the left side at the altar. I don’t quite know what happened next. I felt like someone grabbed me from inside and took me to the confessional. Obviously I told him my things. I confessed…but I don’t know what happened.
Right there I knew I had to be a priest; I was totally certain. Instead of going out with the others I went back home because I was overwhelmed. Afterward I carried on at school and with everything but knowing now where I was headed (35-36).


Hearing a vocational story is similar to asking someone how he fell in love. You hear the details, but the interior event remains elusive. You can’t watch what happens within the heart. But imagine being enraptured by a beautiful face and then suddenly realizing that it’s looking back at you.

Explaining his own encounter Pope Francis offered a description, if not a definition, of God.

This is the religious experience: the amazement of meeting someone who is expecting you. From that moment on, God became, for me, God is the One who te primerea—“springs it on you.” You search for Him, but He searches for you first. You want to find Him, but he finds you first” (34).  

In their interview with Pope Francis, the journalists Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti recorded, “He adds that it was not only the ‘astonishment of the encounter’ which revealed to him his religious vocation, but the compassionate way in which God called him—in such a way that, over time, it became a source of inspiration for his own ministry” (34).

The night before he died, Jesus told his disciples, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Saint John adds, “He said this indicating the kind of death he would die” (12: 32-33). In the Fourth Gospel, the book of signs and glory, the visible breaks open to reveal the invisible. Jesus is crucified. The Word of God falls silent on the cross, and, in the stillness of Calvary, Jesus calls men and women to himself.

Even as many were amazed at him—
so marred was his look beyond human semblance
and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man—
so shall he startle many nations,
because of him kings shall stand speechless;
for those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it (Is 52: 14-15).

The Christian experience of grace is cruciform. It has the hue of the Christ. When we suddenly realize that God is present in our lives, when God appears as “the one who goes before,” we recognize the visage. We’ve seen it before, though, until this moment, the silence hadn’t spoken. It’s the love and compassion revealed on Calvary.

Isaiah 52: 13 -53:12  Hebrews 4: 14-16, 5:7-9  John 18:1-19:42

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