2016-03-21 14:31:00

James Martin SJ reflects on the Seven Last Words of Christ

(Vatican Radio) In Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus (Harper Collins 2016), Fr. James Martin, SJ, leads readers to the foot of the Cross, inviting them to hear the seven phrases Our Lord is recorded as having uttered from the Cross in the Gospels:

  1. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Lk 23:34)

  2. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43)

  3. “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” (Jn 19:26–27)

  4. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34)

  5. “I thirst.” (Jn 19:28)

  6. “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30)

  7. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46)

Based on a series of reflections he delivered on Good Friday, 2015, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, at the invitation of New York’s Archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Fr. Martin’s published version preserves the sense of discursive intimacy with which he conducted the talks, while offering the reader the chance to engage the traditional Lenten exercise of prayerful meditation on the seven sayings at his or her own pace.

If Fr. Martin’s other works have aimed at piquing the interest of the lax, lapsed, or indifferent both inside and outside the Christian fold, this latest effort is frankly devotional.

“It does presume that you are – at least – a believer,” Fr. Martin told Vatican Radio. “My other books sort of ‘brought you into’ the Faith, but this one really does ask you to accept the fact that Jesus is fully human and fully divine,” he explained.

Click below to hear Fr. James Martin, SJ's extended conversation with Vatican Radio's Chris Altieri

If the book is for “the initiate” in this sense, it nevertheless does not require advanced training in sacred science in order to be read with profit. “It is broadly for the Christian,” Fr. Martin said, adding, “it also doesn’t presume that [the reader] knows a great deal about the Gospels or the Seven Last Words – so, it is for ‘the initiate’ in the sense that it is for the average Christian,” whether he or she be new to the devotion, or a devout believer ready to go deeper into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Seven Last Words is accessible: it is also challenging.

“My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?” is not an easy thing to hear any man say, and harder still when the man saying it is God. “It is a very complex phrase,” said Fr. Martin – the hardest of the sayings to treat, and a source of profound and at times contentious theological discussion. “I wanted to be very respectful [of the different] interpretations," he explained, "but also to allow the reader in his or her own mind to meditate,” on the meaning of Our Lord’s utterance.

Seven Last Words: An Invitation to Deeper Friendship with Jesus is published by Harper Collins, and is available in bookstores and through online sellers in paper and e-book formats. 

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