Christâ€™s Prayer from the Cross: A Reflection for Good Friday Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi Adapted from Peter J. Vaghi, The Prayer We Offer (Ave Maria Press, 2012). Used with permission.
Introduction Each one of us received a sign of the cross on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday reminding us of our origin and ultimate destination. What an incredibly rich symbol—this sign of cross! I propose that the cross be for you and me the predominant image in our spiritual journey together on this Good Friday. Pope Francis has said, “Christianity does not exist without a Cross.” It is impossible, in fact, to have Christianity without the cross and the cross without Jesus Christ. The cross is the sublime mystery of God’s abiding love for us for he “annihilated himself to save us; was made sin.” And that took place on the cross. The mystery of the cross is the recognition that our wounds, the wounds that each of us bears due to our sin, could only be healed by Jesus’s own wounds when he died on the cross for us. In one of his Sunday audience talks, Pope Francis said, “One who wishes to know Jesus must gaze upon the Cross, where his glory is revealed.” The cross is not simply a decoration, much less a fashion accessory, but is, instead, “a religious sign to contemplate and comprehend.” Pope Francis teaches us that “in the image of Jesus Crucified is revealed the mystery of the death of the Son of God as supreme act of love, font of life and of salvation for the humanity of all time.” “The only way to heal is to look at the Cross, to look at God who takes upon himself our sins: my sin is there” (March 18, 2018 Audience). The cross is the incredible means for our healing and new life in Christ. It is where we meet Jesus. 3
The cross, ultimately and definitively illumined by the Resurrection, is not primarily a sign of death although death took place there. It is not just any death—but the death of one who put death to death forever. The cross is thus a sign of life. Again we listen to Pope Francis: “Anyone who turns away from the cross, turns away from the Resurrection.” The cross is the tree of life. It is not a sign of frustration nor defeat but a sign of hope and victory for you and me who call ourselves Christians. It is the constant reminder of Christ’s presence to us precisely amidst our own daily suffering. Where in our lives we experience burden, uncertainty, routine, inner conflict, illness, the various faces of suffering and death, Christ’s cross reminds us that he walked that path before us. And even now we are not alone; he continues to walk with us as we carry our daily crosses. I invite you to listen to the words Jesus uttered from the cross. We hear in them his prayer from the cross. We refer to the seven words of Jesus, but they are, in fact, seven phrases: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”; “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”; “Woman, behold your son”—“Behold your mother”; “I thirst.”; “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me?”; “It is finished.”; “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (CCC 2605). If we listen closely, listen from the depth of our hearts, we will get a privileged glimpse of the boundless depth of his prayer to the Father—his Father, our Father. Five of the seven utterances are addressed to Abba, his daddy dear, words from his sacred heart to his Father. Jesus simultaneously speaks and acts from the pulpit of the cross. Precisely in the midst of his terrible pain and suffering, the deed of his whole life, his crucifixion, the supreme 4
act of his unselfish love, Jesus also speaks. He prays. Acting and speaking come together here in a dramatic way. Jesus acted out his teaching. As we stand by that cross and listen, we then make his prayer, his words, our own. His words are a sacred commentary on what he was doing for us. His words give lasting credibility to his wondrous act of love for us. This act gives a credible and meaningful context to his words, these last words that he uttered from the cross. They are words of prayer, words from the Hebrew psalms, words of communion with his Father, words of communion and solidarity with and for others to hear, words for us to hear over and over again. In addition to my own prayerful meditation on these words, I have drawn inspiration for this meditation on the seven last words of Christ from three books on this topic—The Seven Last Words of Jesus by Fr. Alfred McBride, The Seven Last Words by Archbishop Fulton Sheen and an excellent book by my rector from the North American College in Rome, Msgr. Charles Murphy, entitled Eucharistic Adoration—Holy Hour Meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ. Each of the seven “words” concludes with a brief reflection from Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, Archbishop of Campobasso-Boiano, composed for the papal Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday, 2014.
The First Word
“Father, Forgive Them, They Know Not What They Do.” —Luke 23:32-33 They stripped him of his clothes, scourged him, spat upon him and lacerated his body. Mockingly, they put a crown of thorns on his head and gave him a rod to look like a king. Then they insulted him, made fun of him. They nailed him to a tree but made him first carry his cross to that place of execution. There was the flush of a fever mixed with the chill of his fastapproaching death. It was, if you will, a dramatic example of man’s incredible inhumanity to man—an example of what we have seen and continue to see so often in our own world—particularly in the last century but continuing daily in our times. The twentieth century produced the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, Auschwitz (“an unspeakable tragedy”), the Tet Offensive, Bosnia, wars in the Middle East. In this century, we began with 9/11 and continued with ISIS (and all that connotes), the violence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, expanding parts of the Middle East (including the Palestinian Territory) and Africa, and closer to home, the senseless murders in our streets, such as Baltimore and Chicago, the shooting in Florida and the violence in the streets of urban areas throughout the world. On Skull Hill, it was different. Violence was perpetrated intentionally against God, the God Man, our God who was violently crucified. There must have been great spiritual anguish as Jesus realized that down through the ages many would reject his redemptive love. 6
Punctuating this evil and cruel drama, we hear the voice, his prayerful voice, a voice from the cross of divine generosity which is so very consoling—“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” His first words, unique to Luke’s Gospel (often called the gospel of forgiveness), are directed to his Father but on behalf not of his friends but of his enemies. It is as if the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:21, forgive “not seven times, but seven times seventy times,” take on new vitality, new meaning, new credibility. Or the words of the Our Father, his prayer par excellence, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” make more and more sense. Jesus now witnesses to his own teaching in the midst of his awful suffering on the cross. His first word is not only a teaching; it is a prayerful act of forgiveness. It is the Gospel of Mercy—the restorative power of our God. For sure, it was a terrible scene, yet one permeated with a haunting beauty that came forth from the magnificent love of his forgiving and merciful heart. And he forgave them because of their ignorance. What profound ignorance to pin God to a tree! And yet the wound of ignorance results from original sin. Referring to original sin, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as “a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’—a state and not an act” (CCC 404). It is the same wound, a wound caused by the sin of Adam, that brought Jesus to the cross to suffer and die for us for that wound to be healed. Does Jesus not continue to forgive us in that encounter called confession, an ancient encounter but one ever new. 7
One of the cornerstones of Pope Francis’s papacy has been a consistent encouragement of this sacrament highlighting the restorative power of God, that which we call mercy. And confession is about healing, God’s mercy and the forgiveness of our sins. Pope Francis reminds us that confession is not a torture chamber. In the words of Pope Francis at one of his daily homilies, words he has used often during his two year papacy, the Pope, speaking of the Sacrament of Penance, says: “First of all, God always forgives us. He never tires of this. It’s we who get tired of asking for forgiveness. But he does not tire of pardoning us. When Peter asked Jesus: ‘How many times must I forgive? Seven times?’— ‘Not seven times: seventy times by seven.’ Namely always. That’s how God forgives us: always. But if you have lived a life full of so many sins, so many bad things, but in the end, a bit repentant, you ask for forgiveness, he will immediately pardon you! he always forgives us.” This might just be the Lent, this Good Friday, to confess that one sin that, in the words of Hebrews, “clings to us” (Hebrews 12:l). Each of us struggles with at least one sin that simply reoccurs. If Jesus could forgive his enemies, he can and will certainly forgive those of us he has called “his friends.” Jesus could as easily be speaking directly to you and me from the cross in these words. Imagine, concerned about us, our sinful state, as he hung dying. What wondrous love! There could never by words so sweet to the ears of those burdened down by sin and alienation and guilt—the first words of Jesus from the cross translated into the words of absolution in confession. I invite you, from my priestly heart, on this Good Friday or 8
tomorrow, to examine your own lives and confess that one troubling sin with the assurance and confidence of Jesus’s words of forgiveness from the cross.
R “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Now, heroically, Jesus emerges from the fear of death. For if we live freely in love, everything is life. Forgiveness renews, heals, transforms and comforts! It creates a new people. It ends wars. —Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, Papal Way of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, Good Friday, 2014
The Second Word
“Amen, I Say To You, Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise.” —Luke 23:43 It is not surprising that Jesus dies between two thieves, that he spends his last hours between two lost sheep. It is precisely the lost sheep that Jesus came to save, those on the periphery. It is the sinner that he is addressing here. One was angry and made a sarcastic remark to Jesus. The other, we call him Dismas, captures our special attention when he asks Jesus for salvation: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In all the delirium of man’s rebellion against God, only one voice, that of a condemned man, was raised in praise and recognition. It was the voice of a sinner. It was the cry of faith. Archbishop Sheen writes: “One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of redemption, but in the Divine plan it is a thief who steals that privilege and marches as the escort of the king of kings into Paradise” (Seven Capital Sins,18). The scene is dramatic: three crosses. Jesus’s death between them dramatically signifies his solidarity with the “world of human suffering,” and the “world of sin,” the mystery of sin. He became sin for us on the cross. His profound agony on the cross signals his solidarity with our personal suffering whatever it might be, suffering unique to each of us, physical or mental, perhaps the terrible hurt of aridity in our prayer lives, the need to seek a deepened faith or the pain of broken or challenged family relationships. Jesus, pinned between two thieves, identifies and 10
embraces our pain and makes it his own. Jesus suffers not alone, but with two suffering thieves, with each of us. He knows and identifies with our specific human suffering. Not one of us should ever suffer alone nor be insensitive to those who are suffering. In contrast, the faithful Christian accompanies a person who is suffering. Christian behavior, the example of the innocent One going to slaughter, is a silent, effective and powerful proclamation of the Good News. It is wordless witness. It is Jesus’s kind of witness. Such witness triggers the power of conversion. Our entire lives should be characterized by continual and continuing conversion—turning to God. It is never too late for any of us. Dismas’ unique conversion is akin to a deathbed conversion. As a priest, I have experienced that type of conversion before a person closes his or her eyes for the last time—oh how beautiful and God induced. “Jesus, remember me.” It is a thief ’s prayer, perhaps his first. It is never too late to embrace the Gospel. His word gives us hope: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” How it echoes the first words of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth as he began his public ministry: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The second last word of Jesus is as much about Dismas as what was said by Jesus. As he hung losing his life, he was saving a soul. He was a missionary disciple to the very end of his life. There is a permanence to the missionary state. Seeing Jesus, the innocent One, he must have developed a “silent bond” of affection for him. He felt the need for spiritual life and Jesus satisfied that need by the power and humility of his obedient suffering. Dismas experienced a religious conversion 11
on the cross, as we often do in the crosses of our lives—these moments of incomprehension, of fear, of feeling lost and alienated and abandoned. In the words of Archbishop Sheen: “Oh, what greater assurance is there in all the world of the mercy of God? Lost sheep, prodigal sons, broken Magdalens, penitent Peters, forgiven thieves! Such is the rosary of Divine forgiveness” (The Seven Last Words, 17). Or as Msgr. Murphy writes in his book: “It is entirely appropriate for Jesus to die in the company of ordinary criminals for he was known during his entire life to associate with sinners and even to dine with them (Lk 15:2). He constantly reached out to the excluded, the outcasts, and those labeled unclean and restored them to a place in society. The forgiven criminal was most likely a Gentile to whom Jesus also offered forgiveness and reconciliation” (p.44). Or in the words of Pope Francis, we need to reach out, to witness, to those on the periphery. No one is or should be excluded. Each of us lives on the periphery of the faith in some way. Our challenge, to be kindled anew each day of our lives, is to seize every possible moment to bring the Lord’s “today” of salvation to those we encounter, to witness the faith with deep love and compassion. One never knows where such witness of love can have a fruitful spiritual effect, be spiritually fruitful. Who would have thought that one would experience conversion in the midst of dying on a cross? Jesus’s second word reassures us and encourages us never to give up our efforts at strong and moral and courageous Christian example. As Saint Paul VI wrote in that great apostolic exhortation on Evangelization: “‘Modern 12
man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.’” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 41). Yes, I speak of a missionary spirit and a sense of urgency and perceptiveness.
R “Remember me…” (Lk 23:42). The fraternal plea of the thief who became his companion in suffering, pierces Jesus’s heart; it is an echo of his own pain. And Jesus grants that request: “Today you will be with me in paradise” The pain of others always redeems us, since it draws us out of ourselves. —Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, Papal Way of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, Good Friday, 2014
The Third Word
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother—“Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple—“Behold your mother.” —John 19:27 He speaks to a “woman.” It is not just any woman. If Jesus’s first words from the cross were directed to his enemies, the second to sinners, these words are directed to a saint. In the words of Pope Francis: “On the cross… [Jesus] could feel at his feet the consoling presence of his mother and his friend. At that crucial moment, before fully accomplishing the work which his Father had entrusted to him, Jesus said to Mary: “Woman, here is your son”. Then he said to his beloved friend: “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:26-27). These words of the dying Jesus are not chiefly the expression of his devotion and concern for his mother; rather, they are a revelatory formula that manifests the mystery of a special saving mission. Jesus left us his mother to be our mother. Only after doing so did Jesus know that “all was now finished” (Jn 19:28). At the foot of the cross, at the supreme hour of the new creation, Christ led us to Mary. He brought us to her because he did not want us to journey without a mother, and our people read in this maternal image all the mysteries of the Gospel. The Lord did not want to leave the Church without this icon of womanhood.” (Evangelii Gaudium 285) 14
And indeed Mary has had, and continues to have, a unique and mysterious maternal role in the history of salvation. I speak of her role at the Annunciation (where moved by the Holy Spirit she conceived the author of life), at Bethlehem (where she gave birth to the Savior of the world), at Cana (where her word facilitated Jesus’s first miracle), on Calvary (where Jesus gave us his mother as our mother) and finally in the upper room at Pentecost (where—praying—she joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit and the birth of the Church). At Cana, the beginning of his public ministry, Mary invited Jesus to save a newly married couple from a terrible embarrassment. More importantly, she invited him to begin his saving work by changing water into wine—to manifest his glory. Now she was present at the foot of the cross as his saving work was being brought to its conclusion—his Hour had come and his mother was there. Mary, the Mother, stands at the foot of the cross. There too are John, the beloved disciple, and other relatives and friends. The cross challenged her to let go in a way she could never have anticipated. No mother wants to let her son die. Mary must have felt the wounds and suffering of her Son as if they were her own. Speaking to Mary and to John, Jesus was in effect communicating his last will and testament. It is not unlike a bequest—a gift of son to his mother and a mother to his beloved friend. Witnesses were present. At his dying moment, Jesus was concerned about the care of his mother and he was concerned about the care of his Church, his living body—each of us—you and me. Or as Pope Francis writes: “He brought us to her because he did not want us to journey without a mother…The Lord did 15
not want to leave the Church without this icon of womanhood” (Evangelii Gaudium 285). The words uttered by Jesus from the Cross signify that the motherhood of her who bore Christ for nine months in the tabernacle of her womb finds a “new” continuation in the Church and through the Church. The Church, all of us, is symbolized and represented by John who is told “Behold your mother.” Mary is our Mother, too. Or as Msgr. Murphy writes: “At his death, Jesus is designating his mother as the mother of every Christian, indeed of all humanity. Reaching back even further in salvation history, Jesus is declaring Mary to be the new Eve, ‘the mother of all those who live’” (Gn 3:20)” (p. 65). Mary stands at the foot of the cross. And Mary prays in the upper room awaiting the Spirit at Pentecost. Mary is a woman of deep prayerful faith, a faith that never faltered. Mary is also a woman who never ceases praying, communicating with God, praying for each of us as a mother does her child. She is powerful. Mary stands by her Son to the end. And she stands by us in our suffering, suffering which often comes like a thief in the night, suffering which helps in the redemption of the world for on Calvary Jesus lifted suffering to the level of redemption, our redemption. No other human being in history spent more years, days and hours in such personal proximity to our God, to Jesus, than Mary—from birth until death on a cross. How close are we to Jesus? She leads us to Him. Are we with Him only in the good times or do we stand by Him when we experience the pains and suffering of our crosses and who of us does not suffer? She stands with us. We turn to her and, with maternal care, she brings us to 16
her Son. She is our mother. Yes, Mary is Mother of the Church. As if to underscore that, on March 3, 2018, Pope Francis decreed that “the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church,” should be inscribed in the Roman Calendar on the Monday after Pentecost and be celebrated every year in churches throughout the world.
R “Woman, here is your son! …” (Jn 19:26). But it is his mother, Mary, who stood with John at the foot of the cross, who dispels all fear. She fills that scene with tenderness and hope. Jesus no longer feels alone. So it is with us, if beside our bed of pain there is someone who loves us! Faithfully. To the end. —Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, Papal Way of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, Good Friday, 2014
The Fourth Word
“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” —Matthew 27:46 Even with his mother and dearest friends close to his side, this overwhelming sense of abandonment, isolation and loneliness overcame Jesus. Each of us has those experiences, in varying degrees, from time to time. But on Good Friday, darkness covered the whole earth. Jesus felt the absence of God’s presence as he hung upon the cross. Imagine that even Jesus experienced the abandonment of his Father. Msgr. Murphy writes: “In Matthew, Jesus says ‘My God’” like any other human being. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus experienced death and abandonment on exactly the same terms as all of us, no secret trap doors, no escape hatches, and no exceptions” (p.13). Each of us identifies with these words of Christ from time to time in our lives. It had to have been the most crucifying of all pain for Jesus. How he, who was God, could know such abandonment, such emptiness, we do not know. We do know from St. Paul, that “He emptied Himself, took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2: 7). He took on our human condition—everything but sin. He emptied himself to that point where even the presence of God is denied him. That is the ultimate emptying. The fourth words from the cross reveal that most poignantly. Archbishop Sheen writes: “In some strange, mysterious way his human nature seems separated from his Heavenly Father, and yet not separated, for otherwise how could he cry, ‘My God, My God’”? (The Seven Last Words, p.33) 18
And yet these are words of prayer. Jesus turns to prayer, to Psalm 22 in his hour of abandonment—the first line of that psalm—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus prayed from the cross, prayed this Hebrew psalm. By choosing to pray these words out loud—in a brutal shout—Jesus reveals how much he had integrated that Hebrew prayer into his life. It is a prayer in the Hebrew language. What a contrast between Abba (Aramaic) Father when he taught us to pray the “Our Father.” Now the Son calls the Father, his Father, simply God. Our challenge this Good Friday is to deepen our trust in the Lord to prepare us for moments of doubt or seeming spiritual aridity. It is wonderful material for this Good Friday meditation. Moreover, Jesus’s prayer is a model for us when we find ourselves in the same situation, as we so often do, when we feel abandoned, lonely, isolated, a lack of love and faithful friendships, yes even the lack of the presence of God, an increasing experience in this digital age. The phenomenon of spiritual aridity is not uncommon even among those of us who regularly seek him prayerfully with a humble heart. Jesus has not abandoned us. More likely, we have abandoned him. In those situations, it is time to look more closely to Jesus on the cross, to look at his face, to listen to his fourth word from the cross and identify with him who so clearly identified with us. His darkest moment, and ours, are one darkness. And yet, in that darkest hour, Jesus did not give up discouraged. Nor should we. He was basically telling God: I want to experience Your presence. He did not let his desolation absorb Him in self-pity. He chose instead to continue to submit 19
obediently to the Father’s will. There is a momentum to the work of salvation. As he prayed that psalm, the last invocation of Psalm 22 “May your hearts be ever merry!” it seemed to stir in Him already the smell of the Easter lily, a scent that should always be with us at every moment and hour of our day even on Good Friday and every day.
R “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). It is the cry of Job, of everyone struck by misfortune. And God is silent. He is silent because his response is there, on the cross: Jesus himself, the eternal Word who out of love became man; he is God’s answer. —Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, Papal Way of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, Good Friday, 2014
The Fifth Word “I Thirst”
—John 19:28 This is the shortest of the seven last words. The fourth word reveals the sufferings of a man without God. In contrast, these words reveal the sufferings of God without man. He thirsts both physically and importantly for you and me—for our souls and hearts. How did this happen? Heavy blood loss causes severe dehydration. The scourging at the pillar and the crowning with thorns is the principal reason for Jesus’s physical thirst. It is important to meditate on the suffering and blood-letting which Jesus endured for us. By your own blood, O Jesus, you brought us back to God! He shed much blood for us beginning with the scourging at the pillar. As the soldiers repeatedly struck Jesus’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions. He was severely whipped. And the crowning with thorns—a cap of thorns covering his whole head—caused his head to bleed profusely. Amused that this weakened man had claimed to be a king, the soldiers began to mock Him by placing a robe on his shoulders and a crown on his head. A major cause of his physical thirst, that brutal scourging and crowning, evidences dramatically what Jesus would undergo to make the everlasting covenant of love possible. His beaten figure is an everlasting reminder that to live is to love, and that to love involves not only joy, but suffering. Oh how precious and 21
life-giving is the blood of Jesus! “Take this, all of you, and drink from it for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” It is the same blood that Jesus shed during his passion, this same blood, his blood which heals our sins. Every time we confess our sins in confession, we are covered with the life-giving blood of Jesus poured out for us in the scourging, the crowning and ultimately the crucifixion. How can we not confess our sins, even our little sins—and regularly? Each one of us is a sinner. To repent is our duty of love to One who loved us so much that he gave his blood for us. This loss of blood caused Jesus to be thirsty. But there is a deeper cause of his thirst. It is the reason for his whole life, his whole ministry that found its fulfillment on the cross. Jesus thirsts for each one of us. If any single theme dominates the ministry of Jesus, it was his desire for souls. This is the key to this fifth word from the cross. Even from the cross, particularly from the cross, Jesus reminds us of his thirst for us, his sincere desire for us. The physical thirst, realistic as it was, is but a sign of a deeper thirst, the thirst to be able to give God’s most precious gift to us, his love, a share in his wonderful life. The words “I thirst” are the most personal and intimate of all the words from the cross precisely because they speak to each of us—to those of us who seek him regularly and to those who reject and despise him. In our pain, in the pain that life gives us from time to time, focus on the love-thirst of Jesus, a thirsting love revealed from the midst of his suffering and pain—so important is that thirst to 22
him for each one of us. So must ours be for those he puts in our path. Today, this Good Friday is a truly appropriate time, after the heart of Jesus, to recoup some of that wonderful zeal and thirst for souls, precisely those souls close to us, our relatives and our friends, those souls fallen away from our faith, from the Lord and his Church! So often, a mere invitation to come home to the Church or to listen to the concerns of one who has been away from the regular practice of the faith goes a long way to healing. Integral to our lives as followers of Jesus, after all, is the outreach to those on the periphery, a hand reaching out and inviting them home to Jesus, accompanying them home.
R “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28). Like the child who asks his mother for drink, like the patient burning with fever… Jesus’s thirst is the thirst of all those who yearn for life, freedom and justice. And it is the thirst of the one who is thirstiest of all: God, who, infinitely more than ourselves, thirsts for our salvation. —Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, Papal Way of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, Good Friday, 2014
The Sixth Word “It Is Finished” —John 19:30 Consummatum est—it is achieved, it is completed. His “hour” had finally come—the “hour” which had not arrived at Cana, at a wedding feast. It arrived instead on a cross, a wedding of reconciliation between God and each one of us forever. Yes, the will of his Father was completed: to restore in the second Adam, Jesus, what had been lost by the first Adam. In the words of Archbishop Sheen: He has finished the foundation; we must build upon it. He has finished the ark, opening his side with a spear and clothing Himself in the garment of his precious blood, but we must enter the ark. He stands at the door and knocks, but the latch is on the inside, and only we can open it. He has enacted the consecration, but the communion depends on us; and whether our work will ever be finished depends entirely on how we relive his life and become other Christs, for his Good Friday and his passion avails us nothing unless we take up his Cross and follow Him” (The Seven Last Words, pp. 51-52). Stated differently but equally profound, St. Alphonse Liguori comments that in saying “it is consummated,” Jesus speaks at the same time to us and his Father, “As if he had said, O men, I have done all that I can do, in order to save your souls and to gain your love. I have done my part; do you now yours. Love me, and be not unwilling to love a God who has gone so far as to die for you.” 24
Consummatum est. On the cross, Jesus also made a bread offering of his broken body. He seemed like the loaf of sacrificial bread burnt and transformed into a new reality. On the cross, the body of the crucified and dead Jesus was becoming for us the Bread of Life. By the sacrifice on the cross of his body and the pouring of his most precious blood, Jesus effectuated the Sacrament of the Eucharist—that friendship-sacrificial meal, that memorial of his passion and death, celebrated in the Upper Room at the Last Supper and continuing throughout the world each second of each day somewhere and everywhere in this world of ours. This saving act was a supreme act of sacrificial love for us. It lies at the heart of our faith. What wondrous Love Jesus gives us at Mass. How can we live without the Eucharist, the great gift of Calvary! The fruits of his passion and death continue through signs and words in our day, above all in the Eucharist, but also in that special anointing sacrament of the sick. It is the sacrament that unites us—in special and particular fashion—with the passion of Christ. Never be afraid to receive that sacrament—before surgery, when one is truly sick, when one is near death, when one’s sickness advances. Anointing is one phone call away. There is always a priest ready and willing to administer this healing sacrament. On the cross, Jesus leads us from darkness to light, from death to a new and better life, to a life where there is no end and where the desires of all human beings are finally and completely fulfilled. For such is his work completed and brought to perfection. Consummatum est. 25
R “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). Everything: every word, every action, every prophecy, every moment of Jesus’s life. The tapestry is complete. The thousand colours of love now shine forth in beauty. Nothing is wasted. Nothing thrown away. Everything has become love. Everything completed for me and for you! And so, even dying becomes meaningful. —Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, Papal Way of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, Good Friday, 2014
The Seventh Word
“Father, Into Your Hands I Commend My Spirit” —Luke 23:46 At the time of final surrender, the surrender of his Spirit, Jesus again turns in prayer to a Hebrew psalm, a psalm which his mother taught him as a child, Psalm 31—“Into your hands I commend my spirit.” This night prayer taught to the child Jesus thus becomes on the cross his final prayer, his night-of-death prayer. He is on the threshold of his Father’s house. Msgr. Murphy writes about this psalm: “Jesus upon the cross without flinching faced cruel reality and yet was able to utter a prayer of beauty, illumination and trust. He thus went beyond illusion and disillusion with life and was able to see his God as his rock” (p. 55). That final prayer, moreover, has been the prayer of countless saints and martyrs throughout the ages, men and women who have died with the name of Jesus on their lips and in their minds. It has been said by parents mourning the death of a young child, by lovers broken by debilitating separation and divorce, by men and women whose lives are marked by love and patience in the face of the most trying circumstances. It is the prayer of peaceful surrender to the God who made us and the Christ who redeemed us on the wood of the cross, a prayer before we enter the Father’s house. The seventh words from the cross are the responsory for night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, a prayer before we enter the world of dreams at the end of our busy days. This Good Friday 27
may just be the day to begin praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Many lay people and religious do. They join in the same prayers that priests, deacons and those in consecrated life pray each day. Through the prayers of the breviary, the Lord makes each moment of the day, each hour holy. As priests it is a part of our promise of ordination, this daily prayer for the Church.
R “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). No longer emptiness and anguish. But complete trust in the Father’s hands, complete repose in his heart. For in God, all the fragments at last come together to form a whole! —Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, Papal Way of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, Good Friday, 2014
Conclusion My prayer, dear friends, is that the mystery of the cross, the loving suffering of Jesus for us and his prayerful words will help us this Good Friday as we prepare to celebrate the Easter mystery on Sunday and throughout the fifty days of Easter this year. As we meditate on each of these words, we pledge to pray for each other on this Good Friday. My prayer is that each of us will be enriched by our meditation on his revealed words from the cross and will make us more faithful to him who died that we might live forever with him. In the words of Pope Francis: â€œChristian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evilâ€? (Evangelii Gaudium 85). We ponder the cross this Good Friday and listen anew to the words given us by Jesus as he awaited his last breath.