Good Friday and the reality of regret

In choosing life and God’s grace, we can end our days with far less eco-destruction and regret.

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:8-9)

I missed a much-anticipated opportunity today. This made me think of the opportunities to protect the created order that you and I could miss at this critical time in human history.

His Eminence Sean Cardinal O’Malley had invited members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, of which I am invested, to attend Good Friday services at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. I was ready to go but family obligations gave me a late start and traffic congestion added another forty minutes to the journey. In hindsight, I should have anticipated both.

I turned back about twenty minutes after I should have arrived because I still had another twenty or thirty or however many more minutes left. And one does not arrive that late to such liturgies.

I could have planned better. But I didn’t and a wonderful opportunity was missed.

Regret is fitting for Good Friday. And so I thanked God at my own parish services tonight for the opportunity to experience a little uncorrectable, humiliating remorse. In doing so, it helped me spiritually connect with the Passion of Our Lord, who suffered infinite loss, shame, and agony so that payment of an eternal dept could be made—so that the cosmos could balance its juridical scales and allow us safe passage to freedom from sin and death.

In comparison, my despair was infinitesimal. But my regret made me consider what could be terrible regret if those of us alive today do not plan better, live simpler, love more profoundly, and heed the warnings of the modern prophets—those who speak of spiritual hunger and those who speak of accelerating earthly devastation.

There is a (not as famous as it should be) painting of Good Friday that peers into the events of Christ’s Passion from an unusual but appropriate angle. “The Return from Calvary” by Herbert Schmaltz (1856-1935) depicts a devastated Mary supported by her son’s disciples as they walk home. Some look back over Jerusalem towards Calvary as the sun sets behind it. Their postures and expressions indicate grim, confused anguish. They are stunned at the day’s sequence of events. They seem to be wondering what they could have done differently to have had the sun set on different circumstances.

This Good Friday—and the daylight of Holy Saturday—should be a time to ponder the reality of regret. For Catholic ecologists, it should be especially a time to think well of the losses that are at this moment in our power to prevent.

Here, of course, my analogy ends: The crucifixion of Christ comes with theological realities related to salvation. There is nothing that the disciples could have done to prevent the cup of sacrifice being given to Christ by His Father in Heaven.

But in our own lives, free will gives us choices. It allows us to steer our paths to one end or another—or at least try. This is especially so for our work in environmental protection. More accurately, this is especially true in how we live our lives and how close we stay to the grace that poured forth from that Cross. In choosing life and God’s grace (and only in doing so), we can end our days with far less regret than we might see without choosing wisely.

Christ’s death brought salvation. Death and extinction within nature’s tapestry of life, however, will bring us—and every generation after us—only judgment and suffering.

Let us, then, lift high the Cross and ponder its message. Let us pray in earnest so that, by the grace of God, we can act with renewed fervor for the protection of creation—the natural order that God has given to us to use wisely and nurture.

Let our personal and cultural sins not have the last word in how we plan our days, weeks, and the years ahead.


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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.