Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Seven Last Words

In case you can't listen on the radio  :-)

Reflections on the Seven Last Words of Christ
Father Matthew J. Albright

1. “Father, forgive them, for they not know what they do.”

The compassion of our God is a treasury that knows no limits, an ocean of mercy that cannot be exhausted.  With beautiful analogies, psalm 113 says “…as the heavens tower over the earth, so His mercy towers over those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” 

The final and most profound sermon of Jesus, delivered from the pulpit of the Cross in seven last words, begins with a proclamation of the riches of His mercy.  He looks upon His accusers and executioners, not with anger for their harshness but with compassion for their deep spiritual blindness.  These lawless men have murdered the incarnate Christ.  They know not what they do. 

The merciful gaze of Jesus from the Cross, moved with pity for the wandering souls of His people, falls upon us.  We see Him face to face and He encourages us by the knowledge that He loves us passionately to acknowledge and repent of our sins, and then to turn toward those who have most hurt us to share that same compassion we have received from the Lord.  Consider your sins.  Consider those who have sinned against you.  May the mercy of Jesus descend from the Cross to wash over you. 

2. “Amen, I say to you: today you will be with me in paradise.”

It is the will of God that we surrender ourselves to Him in this life and be united with Him forever in Heaven.  Jesus sees the sincere contrition of the “good thief” who is hanging beside Him on the hill of Calvary.  The man perceives the wickedness of his past sins and the gravity of his impending death and surrenders his life to Jesus, trusting that His kingdom is the place where he will find true peace and joy.  This was a leap of faith at a moment when the man had no other options.  Jesus was his only hope.  Seeing his sincerity, Jesus welcomes the man into paradise.  Because the thief handed everything over to the Lord, he was able to experience the saving power of the Lord’s forgiveness and reconciliation. 

The word “paradise” carries images of the Garden of Eden and returning to the original innocence, unity and love of God’s plan for the first human persons.  However, with the Incarnation of Jesus and the new dimension he brings to our relationship with God, the Heaven for which we long is so much more.  To the restoration of the original harmony of the first humans in “paradise” Jesus adds the blessed opportunity for becoming God’s adopted children.  We will see God face-to-face, as He is, and become like Him.  Jesus came to share in our human nature so that we might come to share in His divine nature.  This is the blessedness to which Jesus invites the thief, and all of us, if we surrender our lives to Him.

3. “Woman, behold your son.  Behold your mother.”

The pain of losing a child to an unjust and horrible death is a feeling we cannot imagine if we have not lived through it ourselves.  On Calvary, Mary sees Jesus, her little boy, torn apart and rejected by the very people He came to save.  As Simeon had foretold, a sword of sorrow pierced Mary’s heart.  Even before Jesus had died, she was in sorrow seeing Him brutally tortured.  Then, Jesus asks her to accept a replacement, her son’s best friend, John, as her caregiver until the end of her earthly life.  There is no replacement for her only child, her first-born son, the pride and joy of her youth, the fruit of her obedience to God.  Mary’s gracious acceptance of the direction Jesus gave to her and to John is a sign of God’s plan still at work.  She accepts John as her son because she always trusts the will of God, even when no human mother could accept another as a replacement for her child.  She says “yes” because this is part of the divine plan.  John took her into his home. 

In John we see ourselves.  Mary is entrusted as “mother” to every one of Jesus’ disciples, who are all beloved in His sight.  As Mary was the vessel through which God took on flesh and entered our world, the surest path for us back to Jesus is through Mary.  Mary, mother of the Lord and mother of the Church, continually intercedes, inspires and guides her loyal subjects here on earth.  Her goal is for all who turn to her to in turn experience union with Jesus.  Invite Mary into your home, into the recesses of your heart and the daily grind of your human experience.  Invite her to walk with you in your journey of faith.  Devote yourself to following her lead.  Ask her to help you say “yes” to God. 

4. “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”

As a faithful son of a Jewish family, Jesus would have known by heart and prayed the Psalms as a regular part of His upbringing and young adulthood.  These words of doubt and abandonment open psalm 22, which Jesus is praying from His heart, from His memory, as He hangs on the Cross.  The psalms does not remain in the depths of despair but beings the one praying through a journey of self-exploration to end with words of hope and promise.  I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you…For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one…Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.  They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!”

Jesus takes our place, accepts our sins, along with the guilt and punishment we incur, and receives the chastisement that we deserve.  He even experiences the feeling of abandonment we sometimes feel when God seems far away, as if He is not answering our prayers and is not interested in us.  In His humanity, He cries out, as we so often do, “why is this happening, why has God abandoned me to this suffering?” 

Still, in His divinity, Jesus hangs on to the end of the psalm, the end of the story of God’s plan for Him, consummating the loving union between God and His people out of His great love for us.  In Christ is our hope, for He agonized in His death so that He might soon again rise to glory.  When you begin to feel abandoned and to doubt and question even God’s love, hang on strong with the power of Jesus and remember that He is always with you, He never despises you and future generations will continue to praise His goodness. 

5. “I am thirsty.”

Psalm 69 is one of the Old Testament texts in which we can see a prefiguring of Christ.  It reads “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.  They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”  As Jesus cries out, expresses His thirsting, He is given sour wine, or vinegar, to drink. 

In fulfilling the words of the Old Testament, Jesus reveals two dimensions of “thirsting” that He is experiencing.  In His humanity, the pain of scourging and crucifixion, of falling while being drug through the streets under the weight of the Cross, of the nails and the labored breathing – all this has made His throat dry and parched.  He longs for a drink of cold water. 

Underneath the human thirst of Jesus is His supernatural thirst for the faith and love of His beloved people.  He cries out for companions on the journey and finds none.  When Jesus encounters the woman at the well, He asks for a drink but has no bucket.  He is thirsting for the woman’s soul – for her to open herself up to Him so He can give her the living water of His love that will cleanse her, free her and make her a fountain of grace for others.  

That thirsting of the Lord for the holiness of His people reaches its climax on Calvary.  As the High Priest ascends the Altar of the Cross to offer the perfect sacrifice of Himself, the Victim provided by the Father, He thirsts with agony for the souls of mankind to be united to Him in total trust and unending love.  Nearly everyone has abandoned Him.  The thirst of Jesus is unquenched until we surrender ourselves to Him.  Jesus wants you, your love, your total gift of self.

6. “It is finished.”

It is a cry of relief and a cry of victory.  The Lord has conquered sin and death.  Jesus told Pilate “For this I was born and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth.”  Jesus emptied Himself of equality with God in order to take on the likeness of human flesh, as Saint Paul says in Philippians.  He further humbles Himself in accepting death on the Cross.  Jesus is the suffering servant whose life and death testify to the truth of God’s passionate love for His people and to the truth of what it means to be a disciple of Christ: loving others as Christ loved us. 

This mission of the Lord, which bought the power of God’s love into our world and took mankind’s relationship with God to a profoundly deeper level, reaches its fulfillment on the Cross.  As priest and victim, Jesus offers Himself on the Altar of the Cross.  He pours out His blood, mingled with water, giving birth to the sacramental life of the Church from His pierced Sacred Heart.  God’s power is perfected in suffering.  The mission of uniting Himself to humanity in order to open the path for our union with God is fulfilled in this epic act of self-emptying.

Gazing upon Christ hung on the Cross, we see what Jesus means by loving others as He loves us.  We are destined by Baptism to lay down our lives for others in acts of self-sacrifice until our life of discipleship is consummated in union with God in eternal life. 

7. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

At the final moment of His passion, Jesus hands everything over to the Father who sent Him into the world to accomplish the work of our salvation.  This is the culmination of the mysteries of the Lord’s life – a return of all His love and His whole self to the Father of all creation.

In the end, this is the fundamental attitude of the Christian discipleship – surrender to the Father’s will.  In the morning offering, we offer all the joys, works and sufferings of the day to God.  In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Thy will be done.”  In the Magnificat at evening prayer, we pray “My soul magnifies the Lord” and recall the words of Mary “Let is be done to me according to your word.”  In night prayer, the Church prays “In to your hands, I commend my spirit.” 

Each day is a new opportunity for us to abandon our own wills and seek to do the will of God, whose plan for our lives is the true path to happiness and salvation.  Each morning we have a fresh beginning in which commend our wills into the Father’s hands.  Each night, we go to sleep commending our souls to Him.  As disciples of Jesus, our whole lives are a gift from God, a gift we return to Him with thanksgiving and praise.  In these final words of the human life of Jesus, he abandons Himself to the Father.  The rest of Holy Saturday leads to the triumph of Easter Sunday.  Trust in the Lord, live for Him, and see what victories tomorrow brings! 

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