April 7, 2023

Deacon Tim Papa Homily
Seven Words

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

There is a tradition started by a Jesuit priest in Seventeenth Century in Peru. It calls for the reflection during Holy Week, and especially on Good Friday, of what Christ said prior to his death while on the cross. This practice is called the seven last words of Christ, words not in the literal sense since there are actually fifty-two of them by my count, at least in English in the translation we use at Mass, but words in the sense of statements that he made. Whole homilies can and have been made on each one of these words. They encapsulate many of the teachings that Jesus made over the course of his ministry, and during the year we touch on all these themes. But today I would like to make a brief reflection on each one, since the passion of our Lord that we remember today is our call to give fresh meaning to them all in our lives.

The first comes from Luke’s Gospel: "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do" [Lk 23:34 NABRE]. Jesus taught many times about the need to forgive, for instance the need to do it seventy time seven times, and most importantly in the Lord’s Prayer, where we ask God to forgive us in the same measure that we forgive others. Christ would have course forgiven all offenses of others against him in his life, but he says it out loud to make sure we understand definitively that it was done and set an example for us to follow.

The second word also comes from Luke: "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" [Lk 23:42]. This was to the repentant thief, and taken in conjunction with the first word, proves that true repentance and asking of forgiveness does indeed bring about salvation. What true repentance entails is a topic that we have and will spend time discussing in many Sunday homilies.

The third word is from John’s Gospel, the one we just read the Passion from today. Jesus tells Mary, "Woman, behold, your son," and then the disciple whom he loved, presumably John himself, "Behold, your mother" [Jn 19:26-27]. You could read this as just some last-minute will-and-testament-type activity to make sure his mother was provided for. But the Gospels do not contain idle color and dialog – everything they recount has significance beyond the basic facts and get to the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Catholics correctly understand this word to have much significance. In giving his mother to the disciple he loved, he is giving her to all of us, since he loves all of us. In giving the disciple he loved to Mary, he is giving all of us to her for her protection. Mary’s significance is enshrined on the cross for all to see.

The fourth word comes from two Gospels, Matthew and Mark: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" [Mt 27:46]. Jesus is quoting scripture, the twenty-second psalm [Ps 22:1a]. The psalmist is lamenting the fact that Israel was sent into captivity in Babylonia, and it reflects that it is human to question, in the midst of adversity, what God’s plan is for us. Because Christ, in addition to being fully divine, was also fully human, he would experience the same feelings of despair that we all do. Here he teaches us that it is acceptable to feel despair during pain and suffering, but it is wrong to give into that despair. While we might not know the nature of God’s plan for us, it is there, just as it was with Christ, and we must have trust.

The fifth word is from John: "I thirst" [Jn 19:28]. Once again, this is not just a simple statement of a bodily need. This thirst, told to us just before he dies, is the final statement of the whole reason of his incarnation on earth: he wants our love. It is the bookend to the beginning of John’s Gospel, where he writes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” [John 3:16] So we begin John's Gospel with the revelation that God loves us and wants to be with us, and then we end it with the revelation that Christ wants us to love God and come to him in return, having taught us how to love God by his life and death. He doesn’t just want our love, but thirsts for it.

The sixth word is also from John: "It is fulfilled" [Jn 19:30]. The seventh and final word is from Luke: "Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit" [Lk 23:46, cf. Psalm 23]. These statements I need not go into right now since they are simultaneously the end of the passion and the beginning of the resurrection. They are the bridge, the beginning of the message of Easter, which we will celebrate in just a few days. We cannot understand Easter without Good Friday, and we can’t understand Good Friday without Easter.

During this time before our Easter services, we would do well to focus some prayer and reflection on any or all of these words. Let them guide us as we prepare ourselves to participate in the glory of God’s plan for us, the pinnacle of which comes with the joy of the resurrection.

As we continue with our Good Friday service, let the veneration of the cross that we perform include a veneration of the words spoke by Christ to us, and resolve to renew their lessons in our lives with the sense of rebirth that is the Easter season. As we receive the Eucharist that was consecrated yesterday at the Holy Thursday Mass, let it give us the graces to understand Christ’s message from the cross to all of us. Let us thirst for the love of God and neighbor and emulate Christ in all that we do.

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