Monsignor James Shea, this year’s preacher of the Tre Ore service for Good Friday at New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, has said he will speak about how the suffering and death of Christ is “the actual pattern of the Christian life.”
“Suffering is meant for us to be something which opens our lives to meaning and to purpose,” Msgr. Shea told CNA April 9. “Suffering that’s empty is the worst thing you can imagine. But suffering that has meaning, suffering for love, is the thing which gives (the) most beauty to life.”
Msgr. Shea, a priest of the Diocese of Bismarck, is president of the University of Mary, located in Bismarck.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York selected Msgr. Shea to preach at St. Patrick’s Cathedral April 18 for the Tre Ore service. Previous preachers at St. Patrick's Tre Ore have included Fr. Robert Barron and Fr. Romanus Cessario.
The event, lasting from noon until three, is a reference to the three hours during which Christ hung on the Cross, and it reflects on the seven last words from the Cross. It will be followed at 3:30 p.m. by the solemn liturgy of Good Friday.
The service was introduced to the Archdiocese of New York by Venerable Fulton Sheen, who was an auxiliary bishop of New York from 1951 until 1966.
During the Tre Ore, Msgr. Shea will deliver seven homilies of 10-15 minutes each. The service will also include music, meditative prayer, and opportunities for silent meditation.
Msgr. Shea emphasized that Christ's death “isn’t simply a sentimental or nostalgic event that happened some time ago.” As the Son of God, his death is “the center point of human history.”
In this light, “to consider these final words of the Lord from the Cross is really quite extraordinary.”
He said Christ's words, specially recorded in the Gospel of John, are an invitation to “a deeper level of understanding.”
“Behold your mother, behold your son… Father forgive them, they know not what they do… I thirst,” Msgr. Shea said, quoting the Gospel.
The priest reflected that New York City is “a crossroads of the world,” very different from his home in the plains of North Dakota.
“All cultures and even faiths converge in New York. I think and pray about all those who will come into the cathedral that day.”
He anticipated that many will visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the day.
“It will be Good Friday, and so people will be apt to wander in to hear the music. In the midst of that, I have the very humbling opportunity to speak to them about the death and the dying of Jesus, which is really actually very touching.”
Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck has stated that Msgr. Shea, “himself a devoted and zealous priest and a deeply spiritual man, will, I am confident, inspire all who hear him preach during this most holy time on Good Friday.”
“He's an excellent preacher of the word of God and will impress upon all the depth of the love and mercy of God in offering his only begotten Son for the sins of the world.”
Msgr. Shea said Cardinal Dolan’s request that he preach the Tre Ore “speaks to his kindness as a spiritual father” and “expresses his esteem for Catholic education.”
The priest was a seminarian at the North American College in Rome, at the time that Cardinal Dolan was serving as its rector.