March 14, 2016 — When he was nailed to the cross on Good Friday, Jesus uttered seven last phrases. From the well-known “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” to Jesus’ plea, “I am thirsty,” the phrases provide a written transcript of the Savior’s last hours. But for Fr. James Martin, SJ, they’re something more: the words – of pain, suffering and spiritual alienation – invite us into a deeper friendship with Jesus.
Last Good Friday, Fr. Martin, a bestselling author and editor-at-large of America magazine, preached the Seven Last Words at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. And that sermon became the basis for his latest book, “Seven Last Words,” which, at 144 pages, has been called “short and powerful” by Publishers Weekly.
On the cross, Jesus was thirsty and in pain. He felt abandoned. And, according to Fr. Martin, those expressions of humanity are exactly the point. “Jesus went through all of the same things that we do, he suffered physically, emotionally and even spiritually. He had a human body for 33 years so he had all the things that went along with having a human body. The insight is that Jesus understands us not simply because he is all knowing but because he actually had human experiences.”
And when you have a friend with a shared experience, it’s easier to connect. “If you’re, God forbid, struggling with cancer and you meet someone who’s been through that, you’re going to be more open. You can be more open with a Jesus who understands you, and I hope that makes people more comfortable opening themselves up to Jesus.”
Fr. Martin offers a meditation for each of the seven phrases Jesus said while hanging from the cross:
forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“Woman, this is your son” . . . “This is your mother.”
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
“It is finished.”
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
And even though the seven phrases were familiar to Fr. Martin, there were still revelations. “I’m continually amazed by the phrase ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ I think the thing that was new to me in this book was that Jesus suffered spiritual pain, which all believers do. So there’s another way we can relate to Jesus, which is not to say that he didn’t believe in God anymore but that he felt God’s distance.”
Fr. Martin is pleased that book groups and parishes are using “Seven Last Words” but he cautions that the “insight that Jesus understands us transcends even Lent.”
The book is available in print, digital and audio formats and can be ordered at jamesmartinsj.com. View a short video clip of Fr. Martin introducing “Seven Last Words” below and read an excerpt from the book at America Magazine. [Sources: HarperCollins, Read the Spirit]