As we make that powerful turn into Holy Week and Beyond, we reflect on Our Lord’s Seven Last Words as Seven Balances we each must make on our own journey toward our crosses.
“Father, forgive them , for they know not what they do.” Luke 23: 34
We understandably take Our Lord’s first word as reflecting his Divine Mercy and compassion. Who among us could ever pray for, much less forgive, those who hate and hurt us? Yet this is yet another clear indication that Christ is the ultimate paradox to this temporary, superficial, secular world. He asks us to love so much that we can forgive so much and forgive so much that we reflect only love for the other regardless of how the other has treated us. However, there is another side, a balancing aspect, to this First Word.
Christ asks that his Father forgive his murderers due to their ignorance. They are teeming with hatred for him precisely because they are confused and misguided. In a word, they are lost. The balancing side to Christ’s compassion and Divine Mercy then, is our duty to seek, to search out truth, clarification, reality, and a better understanding of ourselves, others, and the situations we face. Ignorance may be bliss to some, but it is not so for the true follower of Christ. As such followers, we are called to relentless responsibility grounded in love and service. Cowards and fools find comfort in ignorance, but courageous followers of Christ have an unflinching passion for truth because they have a relentless thirst for Christ, who alone is truth.
Let us seek, then, to embrace Our Lord’s Divine Mercy with a wrap of personal responsibility and relentless pursuit of truth. Let us welcome the mission of destroying ignorance and bringing light to others so that they may seek Christ as well. Let us reject the excuse of ignorance for such tactics do not work with God. The ultimate responsibility of being a christian is that we look to Christ and not to excuses.
“Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Luke 23: 43
Again, we see Our Lord’s transcendent Divine Mercy which has no clock and only shows relentless love and compassion. Here, he forgives a sinner with two strikes, two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning using baseball terms. How often do we measure contrition, compassion, and forgiveness as if doing our taxes? Our Lord’s mercy once again points to the paradox of his love for us. He is truth and justice personified and embodied, yet he is also mercy and compassion epitomized as well. However, yet again, there is another, balancing side to this Second Word as well.
Our Lord practices what he so often preached regarding the importance and joy of finding the lost sheep. Yet, this second word challenges us to pursue Christ consistently and not be content for last minute reprieves. If we do our best to be Christ to others, we will be able to love and serve those others throughout our lives and not be mired in simply saving ourselves. Yes, Christ’s promises are as good as gold. However, this second word invites and challenges us to be humble and shun overconfidence that Our Lord will save us. Confession and Our Lord’s Divine Mercy are not some mere get-out-of-jail cards on Monopoly or a Free Spin on Wheel of Fortune. The challenge of this second word is to follow Christ because we love him and not merely because it is nearly twelve midnight and our carriage is about to become a pumpkin.
“When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he said to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he said to the disciple: Behold thy mother.” John 19: 26-27
Many see this Third Word as a call to take The Blessed Mother as our own, loving and following her example of humility, faith, and obedience. However, once again we need to see the balancing aspect of this Third Word as well.
Every Christian should see Christ as the ultimate GPS to the ultimate destination of salvation in heaven. Beyond this, however, we are challenged here to see Mary as the GPS to Christ himself. In order to do this, we need to embrace and embody her example of loving and serving God even when we do not fully understand what God wants us to do. Mary combines faith and trust in God’s Will in a beautiful and humble way that we all should follow.
It is clear and true that This Third Word invites us to love and honor Mary as our mother and see ourselves as her children. However, the second, balancing side of this Third Word is that, like Mary, we are called to bring Christ to a world which desperately needs him. Following Mary’s example is not a spectator sport lined with rosaries. Rather, it is an active, participant mission calling us to be ministers delivering Christ to everyone we meet.
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matt 27:46
Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, and his divinity allowed him to know that his suffering would achieve its purpose. However, his humanity allowed him to feel the despair that we can all feel when things seem hopeless. Many take this Fourth Word as a representation of that difficult situation, and of the idea that following God’s Will can often not be an easy thing to do. We all can certainly relate to feeling abandoned, betrayed, or forgotten by those around us, especially by those we assume love and care for us. Beyond these ideas, however, we can find two other, balancing sides to this Fourth Word as well.
First, despair and hopelessness is a normal part of being human we can all and will feel from time to time. Following Christ means falling on the way to our mission as he physically did three times. The key, however, is that following Christ does not truly begin when we merely fall, despair, or feel hopeless on our journey toward salvation. Rather, following Christ most truly begins when we get up from those falls that come our way as Christ got up.
Second, when God is our goal, all despair and hopelessness will yield to hope, faith, and anticipation. We all experience fear, regret, sorrow, despair, hopelessness, and even a temptation to give up, to surrender and throw our hands up. However, if we keep Christ in our sights and hearts, all such feelings will fade before the majesty of Christ’s relentless and transcendent love for us. Despair is followed by hope and faith when Christ is involved.
“Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst.” John 19:28
A few years ago, I read for the first time how this Fifth Word represents not only Our Lord’s physical thirst but also his third for souls to save. I thought that this idea was such a beautiful and touching representation of t his Fifth Word. However, here too one can see a second, balancing aspect to this Fifth Word.
God has prepared a cup for each of us. Our mission and purpose in life is to drink fully and lovingly from that cup. The cup will contain happiness and joy as well as sorrow, pain, and disappointment. Many of us either refuse to drink the cup altogether or merely try to drink the cup partially, sipping from what seems like good things and avoiding the tough stuff. If we truly love God and seek to serve Him and follow His Divine Will for our lives, we need to fully and lovingly drink all the His cup for us means. It is not enough for us to be willing to drink of that cup as if it were some homework assignment or chore. In fact, it is not even enough for each of us to welcome that cup and all it brings. Rather, we must actively thirst to drink that cup, to serve and love Our Lord, and to please God Almighty despite our many faults.
Ultimately, our lives must reflect that thirst. We must see our journey as a continuous struggle to satisfy the thirst of loving God and following Our Lord and helping others do so as well. Christ expressed this thirst for souls when he had accomplished his mission. We are called to embody this thirst for serving and loving God and others in order to accomplish our mission.
“Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated.” John 19:30
We all understand this Sixth Word to show that Christ was nearing the end of his earthly mission to enable our salvation. However, perhaps we can also see the other, balancing side of this Sixth Word to mean that following Christ and fulfilling God’s purpose and mission for our lives is something we must fully accomplish to the best of our ability. We are each an investment of God’s wonderful gifts, blessings, and graces. The true question is whether or not we will each yield the interest and gain of that investment as God intended us to be. Regardless of how large our pool of resources is to fulfill our life mission and purpose, we are each called upon to fully actualize whatever potential for love and service God has given each of us.
In a way, fully following Christ means we are never finished by the standards of this world. This is so because our measure and standard is found in heaven and follows different quotas that this world’s merely superficial and temporal standards represent.
“And Jesus crying with a loud voice, said: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. And saying this, he gave up the ghost.” Luke 23:46
Certainly, we will see this Seventh Word as Christ willingly and obediently giving up his spirit to his Father. It is a reminder that we begin service of God with obedience, faith, trust, and a willingness to wrap our will with the Holy Will of God. However, yet again and in a final balancing perspective, we may see this Seventh Word as confirmation of the idea that all we are, do, say, think, and achieve in this world is of no consequence if it is not done for the glory of God and serves God’s Will and purpose for our lives.
Regardless of how this world sees us, what ultimately matters is how God sees us. We can find no better satisfaction that satisfying our Heavenly Father with what we have done in this world. Let us see each season of Lent as a reminder that our lives are lent to us by God and we will each be called to give an account of what we have done with this gift of life we have been given. In the end, we must each return this gift back to the Creator Who alone gives life and Who alone should take it.
Each Lent we each struggle to stumble behind Our Lord’s example of loving service and obedience to God and loving service to others. With varying success, we each try to carry some sort of cross or consider that crosses we may carry in this effort to justify our designation as so-called followers of Christ.
Ultimately, however, it will be how sincerely, humbly, lovingly, and purely we carried out that struggle that will determine if that label of follower of Christ is justified. Let us see these powerful Seven Words as further guides in that effort.
2019 Gabriel Garnica