Even then, He knew you

As I write this, the church is observing Good Friday. Which means that, by the time you read this, Jesus will have risen, and we will be well into the Easter season. Apparently, after 25 years, I haven't yet mastered the art of meditating on the liturgical year several weeks in advance, so as to make allowances for production and publication schedules. But this actually relates to something I've been meditating on for several months now, and I think you'll find it applies all year long.

The impetus for these particular insights was a small dispute on Facebook. A friend was writing about her Good Friday practices, and another interjected that she couldn't stand Good Friday when she was a child. Everybody was sad and "acting as if Jesus was still hanging on the cross." She doesn't do that anymore. She just celebrates His love for her in her own way.

This leads to an interesting question: If He isn't still hanging on the cross, why do we feel the compunction to mark this day in such somber tones?

Of course, there are pat answers. He died for our sins - which is happy in its result but not in its origin - and we need to acknowledge that.

But for me, this question merged with an insight I received - via the long-dead Pope Pius XII - only a few months ago. I had been struggling somewhat in my meditations on Jesus' life on earth. I know that Jesus, as He is now in heaven, knows me personally. But that man who walked the earth? He didn't know me. He knew the people around Him. I would imagine that He knew of those who came before Him. But me? I wasn't born yet. I didn't exist. So how could I be known by God? Although He lived and died for everyone - past, present and future - He died for me only in the larger sense that I am one of the vast crowd of people yet to be born.

And then, a dear priest friend said something in a homily that turned all of this upside down for me. He said that Jesus, when He walked on earth, did know me. Not just as "one of the crowd" yet to be born. But me - Mary Beth Bonacci, to be born 1,963 years after He was, if the calendars are accurate. He knew me personally. He knew my struggles and my triumphs. He knew my sins, and He died for them. He did what He did on this earth for me, personally.

Not only me; you, too. All of us. He knew us. He suffered for us, not just for the people around Him and everybody who would come along later.

How do I know? Pius XII, who did not know me personally, told me via an encyclical entitled "Mystici Corporus Christi," or "On the Mystical Body of Christ." Via a homily by my friend, who quoted this line from the document: "For hardly was (Christ) conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the beatific vision, and in that vision all the members of His mystical body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love" (No. 75).

How could this be? How could one person have every soul who ever lived continuously present to Him? It doesn't seem possible. But then again, it doesn't seem possible that God in heaven could be present constantly to every single person on earth - to know our thoughts and hear every one of our prayers. But He can because He's God. And He was God while He was here on earth, too.

Thus, on that horrible day when man crucified God, He knew me. He was thinking of me. He did it out of love for me and you. He did it for my sins and for your sins - which He already knew. And so, just as you and I were present to Him in that moment so He must be present to us on this day that we commemorate His death.

In a sense, we can be present for Him - not in the "He is still hanging on the cross" sense because He is not, but because time is more elastic with God than it is with us. In prayer, in commemoration, we can communicate with the Christ who died for us. We can go back to that moment with Him. We can place ourselves at the foot of that cross. We can thank Him.

And, on Easter Sunday, we can rejoice with Mary Magdalene, Peter and John at the empty tomb. At Christmas, we can enter the stable and adore the Baby Jesus.

And every day, we can enter more deeply into the day's Gospel reading, knowing that the Jesus we read about is not just some historical figure, but the Savior who knew you and me and who was loving us uniquely and individually as He was living His life here on earth.

Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We're On a Mission from God and Real Love.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015