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With his 7 last words, Jesus speaks to us all

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Aleteia - published on 04/14/17

Pray with us as we hear from a cop, a doctor, 2 students, a nurse, a mom who's lost her son, and The Anchoress.

Piecing together the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, we discover that Our Lord made seven statements from the cross.

These are known in tradition as the 7 Last Words of Christ, and various Good Friday customs are centered on meditating on each of these statements.

As we reflect today on the mystery of our redemption, we offer to you reflections penned by ordinary believers, who in some way have taken light and solace from their own meditation on these dying utterances of our Savior.

Read the reflections by clicking through the page numbers below, or individually at this link: 7 last words.

  1. Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.
  2. Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
  3. John 19:26–27: Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.
  4. Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
  5. John 19:28: I thirst.
  6. John 19:30: It is finished. (From the Greek “Tetelestai” which is also translated “It is accomplished,” or “It is complete.”)
  7. Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.


‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’

A reflection from Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. [Then Jesus said,] “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Luke 23:33-34

There was Jesus of Nazareth, abused, tortured and bloody, mocked, battered beyond comprehension, betrayed, lied about, abandoned, stripped of every human dignity. Surrounded by bitter people with agendas, frightened people holding on to their positions, damaged people reveling in cruelty, mob-mentalists joining in the latest frenzy, he offers up a prayer for their sake, and it is a prayer remarkable in its generosity, offered amidst his unimaginable suffering: “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”

As with everything in Jesus’ life — every word he uttered and action he took — this is instruction for us, meant to teach us how to live, and in this case how to transcend our own suffering. “Father, forgive them” is not an easy prayer to make when one has been treated unjustly, when one has been physically or emotionally injured, when one’s dignity has been trespassed upon. Still, it is a prayer that demonstrates a trust in something greater than the hurt, and with trust comes detachment, and with detachment comes the ability to move on, in the same way that a falcon, untethered, may fly.

Unleashed from our long-held suffering, we can then work toward becoming all that we were born to be.

“They do not know what they are doing…” The Roman soldiers, the Pharisees, the mocking crowds – some of them might have understood that their actions were vile, and hated doing what they were doing, even as they were caught up in it, but none of them knew what they were doing – none of them understood that they were unjustly torturing and braying at the God-Man or that their actions were an affront to the dignity of all humanity, or that they were in essence, “killing God.”

None of them knew, either, than in their actions they were unintentionally moving things toward a Victory that still reverberates throughout the world.

The mystery of mercy: so often the actions of people who have made us suffer have also, quite unintentionally, been the catalysts for our own victories.

We have all hurt others without understanding how, or why, or to what depths. Acknowledging this can help us imitate Christ.

In pondering Jesus’ example of transcendent mercy — his compassionate plea to heaven for his own tormentors — some friends and acquaintances have shared their own prayers for those who have caused them suffering. Perhaps in this Good Friday, as we pray our way through this day of grief, and the emptiness of Holy Saturday, we may add our own pleas to theirs, in remembrance of Jesus’ instruction, and in order to set ourselves free.

Father, forgive them, they do not know…

“Father, forgive my elementary school classmates for laughing at me in my neglected state…” “Father, forgive her for not being able to see what was happening to me…” “Father, forgive my siblings for their rejection…” “Father, forgive my parents for how they drank through their own pain, and never saw mine…” “Father, forgive them for misdiagnosing my daughter until it was too late to help…” “Father, forgive my parents for striking me; it was how they were raised, and they didn’t understand…” “Father, forgive my bosses for demoting me without telling me why…” “Father, forgive them for falsely accusing me, for lying about me…” “Father, forgive the abuse, and help me to forgive it…” “Father, forgive them for taunting me…” “Father, forgive them for not taking me out of that hellhole…” “Father, forgive her from driving right by me, instead of rescuing me…”

O Christ Jesus, look with pity on me, in all of my own sins and failings, and help me to learn mercy from you, who are All Mercy. Then, as I have so often added my own sufferings to yours upon the cross, help me to now add my own words of compassionate forgiveness to yours, that I may learn from your example, and so further comprehend and share in your victory.

Share this reflection through the link at the page here.


‘Today you will be with me in paradise’

A reflection from Dr. Christi Bartlett, a palliative care physician

[The criminal] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:42-43

She had been under my care for nearly two weeks. Her body was shutting down from a combination of ailments, generally the consequences of poor life choices. Years of heavy alcohol use had caused her liver to stop functioning, which set off a cascade of terminal organ dysfunction.  

Her family was estranged, but her brother would appear at bedside on occasion and give her medical team glimpses into her life. She had been abused in her younger years and found comfort in drugs and alcohol. She had a couple of children, but was unfit to raise them and hadn’t seen them in years.  

Now she was dying. She had been essentially unresponsive since I took over her care. Her blood pressure was often so low that our blood pressure cuffs couldn’t measure it. Her hands and feet were cold and dusky, physical signs usually seen in the few hours prior to death. It appeared as though she would die any minute. But she didn’t.  

Her brother suspected that she had not only been estranged from her family, but had also been estranged from God. He didn’t come out and say it, but it was obvious that he worried about her salvation. She continued to hold on, day after day, for nearly three weeks. I have no medical explanation for how her body lingered without food or water, on the brink of death for so long. Then one morning I came to work and she was gone. She had died overnight with only her nurse at her bedside.  

As a Palliative Care physician, I witness death on a regular basis. I am constantly humbled by the opportunity to be at the bedside of patients as they take their final breaths. I have been a spectator, observing the collision of heaven and earth, of this life and the afterlife on numerous occasions. I have watched as patients slip away gently and I have watched as others cling to this life with every shred of their being, not ready to die.  

In Luke 23:42, the thief on the cross next to Jesus asks to be remembered when Jesus comes into His kingdom. In the following verse, Jesus says to the thief, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Ask any hospice provider and they will tell you stories of patients who have seen angels, spoken with loved ones who have already passed, even spent time with Jesus, in the days and hours before they died. These stories are not unusual and the themes no longer surprise me.  

While many patients and families take a great deal of comfort in the promise of Heaven and the stories of loved ones and angels coming to carry them off to eternity, there are others who face death with less certainty, perhaps no certainty at all. Much like the thief on the cross, they have come to a spiritual crossroads. Perhaps they have spent their life running from God. Maybe they have lived a life of sin and destruction and are now full of regret. With trepidation and fear, they are staring death in the face.  

I have seen people like my patient lie unresponsive for days, sometimes weeks, in the throes of a spiritual crisis, refusing to let go without resolution. The body holding on only at the insistence of the soul.  

As I care for these patients and reflect on the story of Jesus and the thief on the cross, I remember Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

Even when the mind has become unconscious to the things of earth, Jesus speaks into the soul. When the body is no longer able to respond to earthly stimulus, Jesus stirs the spirit.  

Like the thief on the cross, Jesus loves us and continues to pursue us until the end. He is not barred from the heart by the condition of the body. He pursues the thief and the liar and the alcoholic, just as He pursues the priest and the giver. He seeks us, undeterred, asking only that we believe in Him. Even for those who have spent all of their lives running from Him, He doesn’t give up. Even when the body has all but ceased to function, and the mind is seemingly asleep, I believe that Jesus persists, offering the promise of the cross and the assurance of paradise. As He was with the thief on the cross in his final moments, Jesus is there, ready to take us home, whispering, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” I hope that in my patient’s final moments, she took Him up on His offer and was finally able to slip away into eternity.  

[Identifying details have been withheld to protect patient’s privacy.]

~

Share this reflection through the link at the page here.


‘Behold thy son … behold thy mother’

A reflection from Peter Lajoie, a student in Rome

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. 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.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27

These are dark times. Modernity looms as our skyscrapers and our sins cast long shadows that enshroud us in cynicism and obscure the light of faith. In these shadows, the spirit of the world lurks, whispering to us through its forked tongue, tempting each of us into the dark alleyways of iniquity and death.

Our first mother, Eve, succumbed and so we suffer, but ever before our eyes during this Holy Week is Our Blessed Lord on the Cross.

Who stands at the foot of the Cross? Not our fallen first mother, but the Mother of God. While all others abandon him, she is suffering there with him. She suffers because her son suffers – agonies from head to foot, down to his bones, and in his sacred heart. The mother suffers with her child; her crucified heart bleeds.

Mary is not alone at Calvary. John, the beloved apostle, is with her. This faithful man stands for each of us at the Crucifixion. He is there at the end, ready to love Christ, while all others flee from the Cross. John did not succumb to avarice as Judas did, nor to fear as Peter did, nor to distraction as we often do. John did not follow the serpent into the darkness, but stayed in the light of Christ. During this Lent, when it seems madness would consume our world, we must seek refuge at the feet of the Crucified Christ. John knows this and for his faith on Good Friday, Jesus rewards him.

Jesus, with some of his final words, extends perfect filial love; he provides for his mother. He honors her by entrusting her to the beloved apostle, and him to her. John, who forsook the world to follow Christ, now has Mary as a mother. He has gained everything. Where John has gained, we have gained also. Christ has given Mary to us to be our mother and we are now her children.

How are we to act in the face of this sublime mystery? The Immaculate Virgin and the Mother of God is now our mother? Are we not too stained by the filth of our times? Are we not too harried by rabid demons? The solution is as simple as Mary’s love is pure. What would any child do when darkness closes in and nightmares chase him from his bed? He runs to his mother, and her radiance and love smite the demons.

Despite the evils of our fetid times we have the opportunity to take part in what Saint Louis de Montfort calls a “glorious transformation … from dust into light, uncleanness into purity, sinfulness into holiness.” Christ is instructing us to love our mother, for she is the “Mother of Grace,” and, by her intercession, grace may be added unto us.

As it says in Proverbs 1:7-9:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: That grace may be added to thy head, and a chain of gold to thy neck.

Christ teaches us to turn to Mary in order to receive the Catena Aurea, the golden chain of grace; for de Montfort explains, “God chose her to be the treasurer, the administrator and the dispenser of all his graces, so that all his graces and gifts pass through her hands.”

We ought to despise the world because the Passion and the Resurrection shine forth and cast the shades of all lesser loves away. In Lent, by our mortifications and prayers, we acquire a healthy disdain for the world and seek, instead, the shining and golden promise of God’s love.

This Holy Week, let us make haste to our mother Mary at the foot of the Cross, so that by her love and care we might attain eternal life.

~

Share this reflection through the link at the page here.


‘Why have you forsaken me?’

A reflection from Leticia Ochoa Adams, a mom facing tragic loss

And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34

Every year I go to Good Friday Stations of the Cross and when I hear that Jesus felt forsaken, I feel comforted — not because I am happy that Jesus felt that way on the cross, but because I know that my God has gone where I am now going.

I follow a God Who Knows — he knows how I feel during the hard times of life, because he has suffered. I don’t mean just the kind of hard times that almost everyone goes through with family, marriage, and bills, but the kind of suffering that knocks the wind out of you and makes you feel sucker-punched and alone, and yes, forsaken — like the moment when you must bless the body of your oldest son after he has taken his own life.

A year ago my uncle died in front of me after a long stay in the hospital. He suffered tremendously the last few days of his life.  He wasn’t a saint by a long shot, but the idea that he had to suffer like that — even if his suffering was joined to Christ’s own for the sake of the world — didn’t make any sense to me. It mostly made me angry, and scared. I wondered, “What is death going to look like for me? What is life going to look like for me, for that matter?”

I felt abandoned.

Two months ago my aunt, the wife of my uncle, passed away. She didn’t suffer as much as my uncle did. When we laid her to rest I felt peace. She had a strong faith all the way to the end of her life. She showed strength and grace after the death of my uncle and taught us all how to grieve with the same strength and grace.

But again, I felt abandoned. My aunt was one of the few people who treated me with kindness. She would kiss me on the cheek and tell me she loved me. She was the person I went to when I was coming into the Catholic Church. Each one of those conversations was full of encouragement and love. My aunt spent her life loving me. Losing her was a loss of a supportive figure in my life.

Then there was the suicide of my son. Again I felt abandoned and this time, yes, forsaken. There was certainly a feeling of God forsaking me and forsaking Anthony. The questions came in a flood:

Where was God when Anthony decided to kill himself?

Where was God when Anthony called person after person that day to talk to them?

Where was God when he called to make an appointment with a counselor to try and get help?

Where was God when Anthony wrapped that belt around his neck and kicked the stool out from underneath him?

Why didn’t God save my son?

Forsaken.

These are all questions that I have asked over and over for that last month.

People give me advice and try to tell me things that they hope will make me feel better but none of them answer those questions. None of them answer my questions, or comprehend them as does Jesus crying out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

His question still does not answer mine, but it gives me the assurance that Jesus knows what I know and has experienced it. He knows the heart-wrenching pain of feeling as if God was absent in the moment of His greatest suffering.

That is how I feel now.

In that suffering of Jesus, feeling abandoned and alone, I can see myself. I can see the mother who walked into a garage and looked at the body of her son dead.

In that suffering I see a God who went where I am now going.

It is in that suffering that I feel that I am following a God who knows my heartbreak.

That knowledge is why I keep following Him. There is no life without suffering. Knowing that God knows that and put Himself in a place where we would have to go makes me feel His love is real and true.

~

Share this reflection through the link at the page here.


‘I thirst’

A reflection from Tom Moore, a Catholic police officer

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. John 19:28-29

Being a police officer is dangerous work.

Over my 15 years in the department, I’ve found that the public, by and large, appreciates some of the danger we face. When I was a uniformed patrol officer, many people approached me in public places and thanked me for my work, expressing their hopes for my safety. One of my friends always tells me to wear my ballistic vest. And I know why. Officers get shot and stabbed and run over by cars. There are very real physical dangers.

But I think there’s another danger that faces a cop, an even greater one: the danger of thinking that physical safety and security are the greatest goods.

My experience tells me the gravest danger to public servants is a spiritual assault on their souls.

It is common for my colleagues to lose faith, first in people and then in God.

This often happens slowly over time: The trauma of seeing innocent children harmed and the broken nature of so many people in our communities takes a toll.

The ruthless nature of modern society and its vices can make us all skeptics, but none more so than the police who see folks at their worst.

Before somehow landing in a police car with a badge, I spent some time in the seminary. I use my training in philosophy and spirituality to try to strike a balance between my charitable faith and a healthy skepticism as to the motives of those I think might be committing crimes.

There is a truth that helps interpret both the intentions of your fellow citizens and the meaning of Scripture. Actions speak louder than words. If you want to know what a speaker means, then watch what he does.

Here’s an example: “I thirst.” These are among the last words of Jesus just before his death and resurrection in the Gospel of John.

What does he mean?  Watch what he does.

It could easily be seen as a simple physical request for a drink, as he takes of the sour wine offered him. Dying for our sins at the hands of the Romans was cruel, tortured, agony. Even the harsh vinegar must have been a blessing to a parched throat.

We know Jesus drank, and then he died, but the Gospel does not stop there.

Go deeper. If you want to know what a speaker means, watch what he does.

From the moment he dies, Jesus is satiating his thirst, not from a physical cup, but for the most precious of God’s creation — our souls. He descends into Hell, he opens the gates of Heaven, he returns to his disciples to reveal the glory of the Resurrection and prepare them for the coming of the Holy Spirit and his Church. In his actions, he clearly seeks a spiritual satiation.

Jesus thirsts for all souls and so, it follows, Jesus must thirst for your soul. He cries out from the cross at the precious moment in time that he saves all. He cries out, not in triumph or pity or anger at the injustice of God dying for men. He cries out in desire that all might know his mercy and rest in him. His thirst is far beyond a need for cool draughts on a dry tongue.

Jesus talked of thirst before Calvary. His teaching during the Sermon on the Mount gave all of us the worthy mission to “hunger and thirst for righteousness…” so we can be “…satisfied.”

Is it any surprise that Jesus reveals to us on the cross that he has a deep spiritual thirst? What could be more righteous on God’s part than to so passionately yearn for us to return to him?

As a police officer, I strive to thirst for righteousness for the sake of those I serve. I have learned to serve the spiritual needs of those I meet, not just the physical. I try to take the time to listen to the broken and marginalized members of Christ’s body. I look for opportunities where a kind word of encouragement and mercy could bring peace rather than a cold legal consequence.

Even when I must arrest someone, I act justly and remember that no one is evil, even though we are all capable of great evil.

Jesus thirsts for the souls of the burglar, the robber, and even the pimp, just as he does for the policeman’s soul. I strive to be like Christ and to pray for those I pursue.

My prayer this Triduum is that we might give our souls to Jesus on the cross that he might be satisfied. His physical thirst was met with a bitter hyssop. His spiritual thirst remains.

Through God’s Grace and the ministry of His Church, I pray that you and I will let him drink deeply of our souls this very week.

~

Share this reflection through the link at the page here.


‘It is finished’

A reflection from Kate Newton, a nurse

When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. John 19:30

As I shut the door behind me and enter the patient’s room, the quiet darkness and peace envelop me. I can hear the noisy rattle of his breath, see the chest heave as his body struggles in what is likely his last hours of this earthly life. I step toward his bedside. I am with him to ensure his comfort and help him die with love and with dignity.

I am a nurse and I am privileged to be with people as they are dying.

Jesus’s words, “It is finished” were foremost in my mind this week when I passed by a room filled with loved ones singing a beautiful song in Greek to their dying family member. I paused outside their room, unable to understand the words they were singing, but I could feel the love and devotion being poured out upon this dying man.

The Greek word tetelestai literally translates as “it is complete” or “it is accomplished” and at first reflection it seems to me that Jesus was letting out a cry of defeat when He uttered these final words upon the cross. But when I ponder it further, I see that like the beautiful Greek song I heard the family singing, this was a cry of love and triumph.

I’ve been with many people as they’ve taken their last breaths and I’ve never heard a cry of triumph like Jesus uttered on that first Good Friday. I wonder how his friends and family at the foot of the cross felt as they heard him say those words, the last of this man they loved and revered? “It is finished.” Why were these his last words and what did they mean?

I like to think that on that first Easter morning it all began to make sense for them. With Jesus’ resurrection came the fulfillment of his purpose on earth. He is telling us that He has come to do what He has set out to do, redeem our sins and offer us salvation. His mission completed, He can give up His body and His earthly life and by doing so fulfill God’s plan for him and ultimately for us.

I walk past the room where the Greek family keeps vigil. Day and night they stay by their loved one’s bedside. As he slips further into unconsciousness and his body further surrenders to death, I feel another aspect of those final words of Jesus wash over me. A patient may not utter many words, or any at all, as they near their last days, but there is no doubt that a feeling of  “completeness” emanates from them. This is solidified for me at the moment of death, when a beautiful peace and quietness fills the now lifeless body and the energy and space of the entire room in which they lay. It is a beautiful, surreal, and deeply profound moment. Their struggles in life and in dying are over. Completed. It is finished.

~

Share this reflection through the link at the page here.


‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit’

A reflection from Keelan Scharbach, a student away from home

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

In January, I traveled overseas for the first time to Spain for a semester with a school I knew almost nothing about, and without knowing a single person in the program.

While I’ve made friends here, I’ve had a difficult time truly connecting with them because of diverse interests and personalities, and drama within the group. So, instead of focusing on the beauty of the countries I’ve been in and the memories I’ve made, my mind has been pre-occupied with how much I wish I could change my experience here and the frustrations I’ve faced.

Sometimes, I become so caught up in my thoughts, and lonely for everyone at home, that I don’t even remember to pray. Or maybe I choose not to because of the bitterness inside my heart.

“This experience isn’t what I wanted!” I say to myself again and again. So I talk to my mom, I listen to Catholic podcasts on my commute to and from school, and I’m reminded once again of the power and necessity of prayer. The need to constantly turn towards God and rededicate myself to Him.

Rededication.

On the cross before his last breath, Jesus dedicates and commits himself to the will of his Father, and I’ve been learning that this is what we, as Christians, are called to do each day as well. Each day we’re called to pray, just as Jesus did, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” We’re called to daily conversion, to turn toward God again and again and say, “Yes, I am yours. Help me to follow your will for me.”

By reuniting ourselves each day with Christ’s love, we’re given the opportunity to live our lives for him, not just in the safety of our houses or our thoughts, but publicly, for everyone to see.

Too often it’s easy to imitate St. Peter’s denial, if not in deed than by inaction. Christ died for us in public, suffering humiliation for a crime he didn’t commit. This Lenten season, I’ve been particularly reminded how we are all called to be like Christ, living in humility and love and displaying it for all the world to see.

One of the most surprising things about being abroad is how much stronger my faith has grown as I’ve learned more about loving God. At home, wrapped up in the daily habits of life, it’s so easy for me to become content. To go about my day without thinking of Jesus until I collapse into and say a short, exhausted prayer.

But here, it’s different. I’ve been uprooted, and I have more time to walk, reflect, and listen, and I have new struggles to overcome that I’ve not had to deal with before. More than ever, I am reminded and am learning to dedicate myself to Christ each day, and to live with his joy in my heart, instead of carrying all of my frustrations around like a gray cloud.

~

Share this reflection through the link at the page here.

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