St Boniface

Here is a homily from Fr David Sillince's homilies, as preached at St Boniface church, Southampton

HOMILY for GOOD FRIDAY, March 21st., 2008

“It is finished”


Hitler is a perennially fascinating topic for school history projects, and understandably so, and more and more material is always becoming available.

In Berlin there has recently opened an exhibition unveiling the plans and models of Hitler’s planned new world capital, Germania, with as its centre piece a great domed hall to gold 150,000 people, and bisected by a great thoroughfare broader than the Champs-Elysées in Paris passing under an arch more than twice the size of the Arc de Triomphe. The city was to be built with slave labour using stone quarried from near concentration camps, and on the site of cleared Jewish homes – indeed, there was gladness that the Allies were bombing Berlin because this was clearing some of the site.

And it is not so long ago since there were published not Hitler’s diaries but his conferences with his generals, known as his “Situation Reports”. Hitler seems to have been even more of a control freak and more insistent on taking direct command in the field than we might have imagined. By 1942, at least, he felt unable to trust his generals and was convinced they would distort his commands, so he had shorthand notes taken of all his meetings with them, word for word, to pass to his official historian.

To cope with all this required 8 shorthand secretaries and 7 typists. Each was on duty for 24 hours, then given 2 days to transcribe, followed by 3 days off. By the time the last report was completed, on April 27, 1945, the paperwork amount to 103,000 pages. When it was clear that the war was lost, they were burnt at Berchtesgaden, but not entirely successfully as the text of some 50 conferences survives.

On July 20, 1944 there was the famous attempt on Hitler’s life. On July 31 following he spoke at his conference for an amazing 13 hours, 5 minutes. He covered the whole war, his view of loyalty, the traitors, the conspirators, the “scum” who surrounded him. He wistfully mentioned plans which he had once thought of, but now “we can’t do this”, “we would fail at that”. He also spoke of his failing health: ears, voice, throat, legs, eyes, his trembling and his dizziness. He then admitted that the sudden blow of finding himself conspired against us had caused these symptoms suddenly to disappear, while adding: “though admittedly this is not the best cure”.

What megalomania and what crushing disappointment! What a massive contrast with the last mortal hours of the Saviour of the World! Jesus did not seek to dominate, to exercise control, in his hour of decision. But by accepting with calm dignity the will of his Father, he showed his control. He held no compromising conferences – though he did bid a long and tender farewell to his disciples at the Last Supper. There was no panic destruction of evidence at his death.

When betrayed, he spoke not for 13 hours but for 5 seconds: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. His ‘earthly scheme’, at least as many saw that it should be – to restore the Kingdom of Israel – had not succeeded, nor even actually been attempted. But in dying he uttered no plaintive “we can’t do this”, “we would fail at that”. In fact in doing ‘nothing’ on the Cross, Jesus was doing everything. “It is finished”. This is not a cry of despair. It is a confident statement of victory.

A man in his prime, brought low by agony, racked with pain in every member – but the pain is taken away in his victorious obedience to his Father, and that, indeed, is “the best cure”

Nobody contracted, criticised or corrected Hitler. Just like Saddam Hussein. The disciples of Jesus, however, were frequently doing just those things – fear leading to inaction, as they tried to talk themselves out of his radical demands for commitment Then at the crucial moment they ran away – fear leading to action, but of the most negative kind. At the time of crisis the only question which might usefully have led to dialogue was that from Pontius Pilate: “Truth, what is that?”

Jesus meanwhile is presented as fearless and resolute, but almost alone, and in agony. The agony reaches a crescendo. Rather than having more and more to say, Jesus more or less shuts down all earthly dialogue. But at this moment the communion with his Father is total. The betrayal, the failure, had only become a total victory. “It is finished.”

The betrayal of Jesus allowed him to show his love to the end. Hitler looked around in self-justification for someone to entrust himself to, but for all his words, there was no one. Jesus needed to utter no words of recrimination, of sorrow or of self-pity. On the cross he had become pure trust. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. That was enough.

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