The Seven Last Words
Traditionally, the seven last words are meditated and preached on Good Friday to remember the last words of Jesus before His death. It is a devotion spread all over the world. Its diffusion and practice is attributed to St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, who wrote a treatise entitled The Seven Words: Spoken by Christ on the Cross. It is a Lenten tradition of the Church that takes us into the very heart of Our Savior. We must widen our hearts to listen to these words with open ears and not let them fall into the void. What do these words of Jesus say to me in particular?
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Jesus in his Passion gives us an example to follow: forgiveness to those who offend and persecute us. Jesus, the innocent one, the one who did not deserve insult, accepts the outrages, offers them to the Father and intercedes for those who mistreat Him. "Father, forgive them." His prayer is addressed to the Father. Jesus's prayer to the Father always was and is a confident prayer. Elsewhere in the Gospel He will say, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I know that You always hear Me" (John 11:41). This is how our prayer should be: confident, knowing that God always listens to us. In our prayer we should always ask for great things. We should not stop at the small things in our lives, but raise our eyes and see what we should ask on behalf of others. Among them is the prayer for the sinner, the distant one, the one who even hurts me. We must pray for their conversion and for God's forgiveness. Here we see also that Jesus says, "They know not what they do." How often we are more guilty than they are because we have known His love, and our sin and offense is committed knowingly! In a certain sense, Jesus also prays for us, for those times that, blinded by our vice and sin, we neither see nor realize how much we offend Him.
"Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."
It says in Scripture that His word is living and active. The promises of Jesus, being His word, are also living and effective. It is a promise He makes to the repentant thief. Let us look at the repentant thief. Repentance is necessary to hear this promise of Jesus. The thief asked Him to remember him when He enters His Kingdom. Jesus's promise goes further: He promises him that he will be in Paradise with Him that day. Surely the thief did not dare to ask Jesus for the grace of being with Him because he was aware that he deserved his punishment. Yet humility, repentance and recognition of the divinity of Jesus are what purifies his sin and makes him worthy of hearing from Jesus the promise of something much more, not because of his merits but because of the Lord's mercy. This inspires us to approach Jesus and humbly ask for forgiveness: "Remember me, Lord Jesus. Do not forget me."
"Woman, behold, your son!"
Along with the Eucharist, the most precious gift the Lord left us was His own mother to be our mother. It is a great mystery that God wanted to entrust us with His mother, but even more mysterious is the deeper fact that in these words of Jesus, another, more important intention is revealed. It is not so much to entrust His mother to John, but to give the disciple to Mary, thus assigning her a new maternal mission. This mission is exercised towards all Christians, therefore towards each one of us, Mary's children.
"My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?"
A great darkness had fallen over Jerusalem. Jesus is on the cross. Death is near. From Jesus's innermost depths come these words from Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why?" Jesus took upon Himself the death of a sinner. In his encyclical Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI says, "So great is God's love for man that by becoming man He follows him even unto death, and so reconciles justice and love." To give the sinner salvation and life, God goes so far as to "set Himself against Himself by giving Himself" up to death in His Son. Why? To fulfil God's justice. With what purpose? To reveal to us what love is in its most radical form.
At times in our lives we may also experience an apparent abandonment and silence on God's behalf. It is in these moments when we must turn to Him with more confidence, knowing that He does not abandon us. The feeling of loneliness can help us grow in faith, abandonment and trust. It is also a precious opportunity to offer ourselves together with Jesus and make His sufferings our own.
Jesus is thirsty. It could refer to a physical thirst since, after hours of suffering, loss of blood, and the fever that consumed Him, He would feel a burning thirst. But as always Jesus's words are much deeper. Jesus thirsts to drink the cup of suffering to pay our ransom and drink it to the dregs. Jesus also thirsts for our love. We could recall his request to the Samaritan woman, "Give me a drink" (John 4:7). Later, to the Samaritan woman's surprise, He said to her that if she knew who it was who was asking her to drink, she would ask Him and He would give her the water of eternal life. Here, too, Jesus shows His thirst in order to quench ours. He is thirsty for our love because if we love Him we will open ourselves to His love which is much more and He will fill us.
"It is finished."
"No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:18). On the cross it is Jesus who decides when He will die. In so many moments of the Gospel, we see how there were attempts to kill, imprison, or cast Jesus out, yet it was impossible. Jesus, with a remaining thread of voice, says to the Father, "It is finished," I have fulfilled Your will in all things, I have sought only to please You, I have fulfilled Your mission to the end. Jesus was the faithful Son "obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). The Father expects this same fidelity from us. He expects fidelity to His will in us, to the concrete mission He has entrusted to us, and to the vocation to which He has called us.
"Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."
His last words are also for the Father. They reveal to us the secret of peace: "Into your hands I commit my spirit." Peace is abandoning ourselves to the Father and doing His will. God is with us at all times. Let us throw ourselves into His arms, just as we are. May our life be all for Him.
Let us not forget that Our Lady in Garabandal insisted that we meditate on the Passion. This meditation helps us to realize how much God loves us and to feel impelled to correspond to this love in our concrete and daily life by responding to His call, living His commandments and striving to love our neighbor in Him. It is a time to fix our eyes on Christ crucified asking Him with confidence, "Grant that I may repay You love for love." We will not be able to reach the resurrection with Him if we have not passed through the Passion with Him.
God bless you,