Hard Times for Hard Reflection

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on April 7, 2020

“What are you afraid of?” Pope Francis asked this question during his March 27 prayer service, just two Fridays before the strangest Good Friday of most contemporary Western Christians’ lives.

At a time of such uncertainty, it was a reminder to trust in more than we can clearly see, more than is of this world.

Good Friday Column

There’s an old Bill Buckley column about Good Friday that I often read around this time of year. In it, the founder of National Review magazine shares his annual conundrum of whether to close the office on that sacred day. This is what he struggled with: If he strongly suspected or even knew that some of his Christian employees were going to use the day to do the 1964 equivalent of watching Netflix, would he be in the wrong? If he at least had given them the opportunity to approach the day as any other workday, would they at least be in good conscience performing a duty and service? Suffice to say: Good Friday was of the utmost importance to Bill, and I have no reason to believe that if he were still alive, this wouldn’t be the case as much now as it ever was. However strange it may be this year.

Our Own Complicity

I am far from alone in aching for a Buckley column addressing all that is happening now. What would Bill, in the prime of his experience and wisdom, say about our current state of affairs? I’d like a Buckley column that could clear away some of the earthly brush and see everything from the vantage point of heaven. Of course, I am quite confident we couldn’t handle that perspective. It would require that we face our own complicity in some of the sorrow inflicted by our own cruelty, indifference, impatience and simple thoughtlessness β€” never mind actual malice, of which even a short tour of the social media landscape gives you more than enough examples.

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But short of Bill filing a column with means other than a Wi-Fi enabled laptop, here we are in the holiest week of the year for Christians, asking some basic questions like where God is in all of this and why the doors of the parish church are locked. Well, of course, we know the reason for the latter. In New York City, the mayor even threatened to permanently shut houses of worship that violated orders to stop gathering. Mercifully, I don’t think that will pass constitutional muster, but the challenge remains: What do these holy days of Passover, Holy Week and Easter look like when everything but the grocery stores, pharmacies and the liquor stores seem to be closed? What is the Passover Seder without people? If you live on your own, that is literally the reality. We have Palm Sunday this year without the palms and Good Friday without the veneration of the cross. How do we mark all of these things without our sanctuaries, without the ability to be with people, never mind our ministers?

The Message of Freedom

Well, Palm Sunday was never really about the palms, and Easter was never about baskets, bonnets or even the dresses and hats at church. Passover is literally about liberation from slavery. Easter is about freedom from sin and death. At a time when many of us are sheltering in place, with an unprecedented number of Americans having to file for unemployment, we all could use a little good news, and a reminder about the things that really matter.

The questions Bill raised about a normal Good Friday back in the day remain our challenges today. Are we going to make use of this time to make sure our lives are what they should be? Or are we going to sit back and watch TV, sunk in wells of apathy or complacency? It’s safe to say what our lives and the world need us to choose. For people of faith, actively choosing the unholy path is the only thing to fear.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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