During Holy Week of 1977, a recording of the following sermon by Pedro Arrupe was played across Spain’s Radio Chain of Broadcasting Stations of the Church. It was translated into English by the Jesuit Jerome Aixala and appeared in a publication for Jesuit Sources. In these remarks, Arrupe examines the meaning of what he calls the “seven words of Christ,” words that either Jesus expressed or were expressed about him while he was on the cross. The story Arrupe tells “is not an old tale.” He concludes that “today’s events and situations have spoken to us of the living Christ and will continue to do so if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. For Christ is right here with us. He is the saving power of God. Christ lives on.”
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
Warm greetings to you, dear listeners, from these microphones!
We are going to fix our eyes, you and I, on a Man, a Man who is on the point of dying. I am not going to tell you an old story. I am going to recount facts that are taking place at this very moment, of people who are next to us and whose names and surnames perhaps we know, of words still throbbing with life which time has not been able to erase. You know the power and impact of the last words of one condemned to death; they have the transcendence of a last will.
Then imagine that this dead person is alive, that after pronouncing his last words he has come back to life, because he was and is a man. But more than that; this is more than a Man, he is at the same time the Son of God. Jesus Christ, alive today in the Church, speaks to the world through a new language of signs and facts, which many men, deafened by the din of life, cannot grasp. Let us listen attentively, for this mysterious person condemned to die is going to speak to us.
1. Christ is crucified today
And they came to the place which is called The Skull. There they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. This is the First Word of Jesus on the cross. After having heard this so often, we got used to this word of pardon. But Jesus was saying this as he hung from the tree. When facing the firing squad, standing beside the guillotine, or waiting in the death cell before being hanged, who has the heart to continue loving one’s enemies and executioners?
Let us heed today the voice of facts, the words of the living Christ. Jesus Christ, tortured at this very moment in the body and soul of many of his brothers and sisters, continues saving. His words are repeated after the daily crucifixions. This crucifixion I could depict for you on the map of the world, not with imaginary colors but with terrifying figures, with statistics of hunger, of human rights being trampled upon, of the unfair distribution of the goods of this world, of violence and exploitation, of the potential for death and destruction buried in the ammunition dump, of the horrors of war both hot and cold.
I could point out to you the face of Christ crucified by men who do not know what they do, in one of the thousands of children without food or education, in that newly-married couple in fruitless search for a hut where to build their future, in the eyes of that girl who must have recourse to abortion for she is following her country’s family planning program subsidized by a foreign power.
But you have the reality of the Third World countries too close to you, for you to need these painful statistics. And you know only too well who are sacrificing the innocent once more, be it from among the powerful political leaders, or the executives of multinational enterprises, or those hearts that hardened by egoism treat God’s children as mere things, or the sacks of grain in their stores, or the machines of their factories.
Indeed, this world of ours does not know what it is doing. I still have deeply embedded in my imagination that terrible spectacle of the Hiroshima holocaust, that lethal mushroom of the atomic bomb. The hands of one missionary could not attend to all the wounds. It was man’s helplessness before the desolation and death sown by himself.
The years have passed, but the violence of man against man persists. Nay more; when the idea crosses our minds of building something, we build the most sophisticated space crafts to go to the moon, whilst the clamor of the poor persists and grows in intensity in our own planet. Man spends millions in astronautics, and abandons Christ, the living Christ, to be found at his doorstep alone, downtrodden, crucified…
This is, in brief, the dark side of our planet. A reality which we have tried to paint with some color, in order that it may not go unnoticed through the habit of seeing it daily so close to us. But on Calvary there is more than the negative side. True, to the eyes of the curious bystander and passerby, the typical “tourist,” on that cross there is only a man disfigured by pain. But here lies precisely the secret of his liberating and saving power.
In the Gospel texts we can discover how, little by little, the Messiah, through his self-emptying chiefly at the crucial moment of the cross, appears as the Son of God. Had Jesus been merely a human being, he would have died like one and been relegated to a corner of human history. But, as we shall see, precisely at the supreme moment of his total deprivation Jesus is going to be recognized as Son of God even by one of the soldiers who tortured him.
This is the reason why Jesus does not match violence with violence. This is why he forgives. And this attitude of the Lord will awaken the faith of some of the bystanders and of many of us who have followed him in the course of history. Even today what strikes the eye at the first sight is this immense mass of humanity nailed to a cross by gross human injustice.
In spite of this, in the Calvary of today there is also a secret force that liberates and saves. First of all it frees man of the bonds that bind him to his own selfishness, to things and persons and events. But this force liberates and saves society as well, when it works with the power of God himself. In every corner of the world we can see today with joyful hearts what St. Paul said referring to this mystery: “It is when I am weak that I am strong.”
We see thousands of men and women who burn their boats to realize the cherished dream of following Christ in the most arduous situations, identifying themselves with the poor and oppressed and sharing their daily life, with a spirit of faith that is the secret of their strength. Jesus had promised his power and his Spirit, a spring of water welling up to eternal life. And behold here this water of life that springs from the absurdity of the cross. That is why we Christians are men with a future. For this integral salvation is not just a legal reform or the restoration of material justice. The salvation emanating from the cross reaches the very heart of man, and “the other dimension” beyond time and space. In our daily life our service of the faith is transformed in love, a love which will act as a trigger making us hit realistic solutions for our brothers: But, like Jesus, we shall not measure these solutions by their apparent success, with purely human standards. Like him, we shall know that in the adventure of love what appears a failure conceals a triumph, and what at first sight seems death is a new explosion of life.
2. Give a chance to the hardened sinner
There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; hut this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
I should like to begin the commentary of this Second Word with a personal reminiscence, a pastoral experience which many priests must have had also.
I had just completed my theology studies in the United States and was a new priest, when my superiors assigned to me my first pastoral ministry—a state prison: where there were over 5000 Spanish-speaking prisoners. That was like a bunker out of bounds for every priest, most of all for a young inexperienced one as I was. It was logical that surprise and mistrust was written large in the face of the inmates. They called my attention in particular to one of them, condemned for murder: “Father, here you have a tough bird to tame,” the prison warden told me. “He is one of the most rebellious.”
Later, after crossing iron gates, barriers and sentries, I approached that man who considered himself as belonging to a class by himself as he felt guilty and rejected by society. He could not believe that in God’s infinite mercy there was room for him, and when I opened before him a horizon of sincerity and concern, he opened himself to me like a child. It suddenly dawned on him that he had a heart and that the best I could do was to let him talk as long as he wanted and feel the relief of being understood and the friendly gesture of an outstretched hand. Several first soundings that morning and the days following convinced me that among those poor prison folks there was much less evil than I had imagined.
This situation repeats itself all too often; men become hardened in evil, because we have made of them a cliché so fixed, that we do not give them a chance to change. Let us see the attitude of Jesus. One of the thieves has a flash of faith. To all appearances that man of Nazareth is just another criminal condemned to death, a man dangerous to society as the other two malefactors. But one of the two sees beyond external appearances and in the noble serenity with which Jesus bears his agony, he discovers an indefinable something, the signs of a great love. There was a background of acceptance of the Father’s will, a spirit of submission which was apparent to one who had eyes to see.
The good thief infers that this man on the cross can only be the Son of God, recognizes his own guilt and has an intuition of the mystery of Jesus. And just with this he earns Paradise, a Kingdom of which he has little idea but in which he believes and hopes. That man Jesus had something different. It was worthwhile sticking to him, even if it was at the moment of dying. The good thief was given a chance and he took it by the forelock. But to how many people do we offer this opportunity, the example of an inspiring life and consoling death in which they can believe? Jesus, the Son of God, goes on offering today to men in the streets of our cities and in the countryside this marvelous chance which that prisoner of the first year of my priestly ministry had also discovered. There is no criminal, no murderer that will not feel relieved of his burden.
Christ asks only that we open our heart to him in all simplicity, an acknowledgement of our own poverty and misery, to obtain from him the gift of our conversion to him, which we all need if we are to share in the joy of his Kingdom. Saint Ignatius of Loyola explains this point saying that poverty is the first step to be taken to share in the Kingdom of Christ, by following him, imitating his style, and thus attain liberation.
For this is an enriching poverty. Paradoxical as it may sound, the poorest who have freely opted for this poverty are the richest, for they have discovered the hidden treasure, which is authentic independence from things and chiefly from their own selves. This option for Christ poor—a Christ on the cross, naked and despised, who is waiting with open arms to liberate us—snatches from us our false hopes and idolatries. Things are no longer ends, little gods, and become means, and our trust is placed in God alone, the source of peace and happiness. We adhere to that marvelous power which is at work on Calvary and contains the germ of the resurrection.
This attitude of conversion requires of us a kind of daily pruning, a continuous examination to discern where the roots of our selfishness are anchored and where we have to cut to recover our joy of free men. Only through this change, in this personal and collective conversion shall we make a start in making this planet of ours more habitable and shall learn in our humility what it is to be human and serve others, and we shall help in banishing from our midst hatred and injustice, this other type of poverty which divides and is against God’s designs. But, most of all, we shall live the great discovery of faith.
3. The Woman, the Mother
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother; and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
In every man’s life there is generally a silent figure, hardly ever visible in the background, who shares his innermost secrets, the only human being that can understand and suffer in the flesh whatever he has to go through: this is the mother.
Some would like to forget her, erase her memory if possible from their minds, because of the past dependence her figure evokes. But the mother keeps on coming to the mind and heart, because we need her care, her tenderness, even when we are group-up and self-sufficient.
Our man condemned to die on a cross just outside the city walls had also a mother. She was a village woman, young and beautiful, who had uttered that historic “yes;” do you remember? In her simple home at Nazareth, she had shouldered the responsibility of being the mother of the Savior of the world. She well knew—old Simeon had forewarned her when Jesus was a babe—that her sorrow would grow with the child till the deepest gloom of this Good Friday noon, when at the foot of the cross, before her Son livid and bleeding, she would have to repeat that “yes.”
The Virgin Mother stands indissolubly bound with the work for which Christ wished to be born of her. Wherefore, Jesus, when “his hour” had come, that hour expected and dreaded, from the pulpit of the cross publicly proclaims her “woman,” the new woman and the mother of us all. From the day disciple John had her in her home, she is in everybody’s home, with a mother’s concern for all our needs and ready to help in our daily struggles.
But all this might sound as a beautiful story and no more than a series of images in our churches or processions, an interesting specimen of folklore for tourists, before which we remain personally indifferent. But this is another word, the Third Word of Jesus as he is living today, in the century of the atomic energy and space travel.
Mary, the sorrowful mother, who has suffered as nobody else in the world thus becoming our mother in the order of grace, continues standing near us, standing at the foot of the cross, while a poor innocent man falls, mercilessly mowed down by the intransigence of the powerful, or another dies a slow death of hunger or leprosy in the streets of Calcutta. Mary knows what it is to suffer, for she gave us life in pain, with a love surpassed only by God’s love. She, as the Council says, “with her motherly love cares for all the brothers and sisters of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.” She is, therefore, a sign of hope and comfort in the midst of this desolate world.
But this Morning Star and Star of the Sea has a replica, which must become alive in today’s mother and woman. Mother and woman, two names brimming with delicate memories for every man, which perhaps we are tarnishing in modern society.
What is the similarity between the Woman and Mother we have contemplated by the cross, and that image of woman, hurled before our eyes by the communication media of today? Woman’s beauty is shamelessly converted into a vulgar publicity decoy, into a commercial erotic object, into a world competition of “misses” backed by hundreds of millions, into an instrument of empty enjoyment where the marvelous experience of love and motherhood are selfishly trodden underfoot.
Powerful, however, as this ensnaring net may be, from all the corners of the world rise today new living images of Mary. Women, in whose eyes shines the fascinating ideal of consecrated life, or who accept motherhood against the dictates of modern trends, or struggle to return her dignity to woman by restoring her rights. Thus they build humanity’s future raising new homes and bearing witness to a love which does not die with death. Mary, the Virgin co-redeemer that begot us to grace and goes on watching over us her children, prolongs this her feminine presence and action in the world from a sorrow that turns into tenderness. At this very moment we can turn to her. She is the gift of Jesus to weak and suffering man.
4. Abandoned in the Poor
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
It was noonday and everything was dark. Also in Christ’s heart there was the deepest darkness. All his friends had deserted him. Even the Father with whom the Son is one, to the extent of jointly begetting the Holy Spirit of love, has now left him alone. Such a dereliction, which he had already experienced in the prayer of the Garden, was necessary in God’s plan that we might grasp the meaning of this Fourth Word of Christ, the living Christ of today.
Today some people are under the impression that God is absent from this world of ours. Not only because of the terrible scenes of injustice and violence we have just recalled, but also because of the void existing in many human hearts. It is well known that the clinics of psychiatrists are well patronized by people in search of peace of mind or of happiness never enjoyed.
But we need not go to psychiatric parlors or hospitals it is enough to visit one of our supermarkets or department stores to get a further proof of the anxiety and greediness with which people devote themselves to the mad chase of our times—the adventure of consumerism. Modern man has created for himself these miniature substitute-gods to fill the vacuum of his heart. And thus he idolizes the motor car travel and tourism, cinema stars and the heroes of sport and song. Yet, at night, when this fan returns to his apartment and removes his coat to go to bed, he feels in his lips the bitter taste of emptiness.
On the other hand, the man of today is in search of strong experiences to fill this void. And thus arises another form of consumerism of today’s society, which is still more frustrating—the sorrow and grotesque idol of erotism. For sexuality, this beautiful dimension which God has given to man loses its meaning when it is sought for its own sake and not as a vehicle of a great human love. What happens then? You see it every day. The hunger for love and mystery existing within man’s heart ventures into insignificant spiritual escapades. Hence arises the present craze for horror spectacles, the horoscopes, magic and witchcraft, the devil, exorcisms, the superficial knowledge of eastern religious practices.
Meanwhile, the vast majority will not question the situation and think only of living from minute to minute and enjoy as much as possible, with no thought for the meaning of things. With our present enjoyment of life we expect to drug ourselves against our thirst for God.
Jesus, however, in this utter loneliness of his death does not despair in spite of the sense of rejection which he has accepted for our sake and raises his eyes to the Father. He calls him, as he had done in the Garden, when in his anguish he accepted the Father’s will.
Today’s world too, in .the midst of gloom and obscurity, offers signs to men of faith. Despite the false Messiahs, we witness a serious concern for human rights. And when a man devotes himself to the disinterested service of his brothers he begins to discover God. We see those who with a great sense of responsibility set out to seek more just structures, share the life of the poor, and struggle for progress which is not only material.
God is alive and more present than many imagine. The abandonment, the total solitude of Christ on the cross has yielded its fruit. It looks as though our eyes could see only what is negative. But the power of the one crucified has set the earth on fire and the Spirit is doing his work in each man’s heart. We must cleanse our sleepy eyes and learn how to see. We shall be surprised and we shall burst into an irrepressible shout of praise.
We perceive God’s action today in many aspects of life; for example, in the present search for liberty, in the new movements of the charismatic renewal, in the transformation of a young Church that will not resign itself to live on formulas of the past, in the youthful currents around the person of Jesus, in those who in the midst of this world in turmoil continue dedicating their lives to the priestly and religious state, breaking loose from all fetters and pulling out all earthly roots and bonds.
We witness a revival of monasticism and the contemplative orders, and lay people leave all to follow Christ. Thus, both in the rough-and-tumble of the world and in the quiet of solitude, but always with the trust placed in the Father, we attain and maintain the faith in the face of a thousand forms of unbelief. Thus in the beauty of this world and in the eyes of all who long for a flash of happiness we find a God, present and living, who truly fills the human heart.
5. Man’s Integral Liberation
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said, “I thirst.”
There is nothing more real and touching than the Fifth Word of Jesus before dying. From the Lord’s dry throat, who had lost all his blood for our sake, comes a harsh cry that continues making today’s world shudder: “I thirst.”
Much has been said of the spiritual thirst of Christ at this dying moment, when he prayed for the conversion of humanity from the cross. I would say that this is an integral thirst that reveals a man’s dried up bodily frame terribly tortured, and an infinite yearning of a God who is mysteriously dying.
Few things are clearer to us than this real thirst of Jesus. In the First Word we have spoken of this sin that tarnishes our times—injustice.
Jesus had said it and his words will not pass away. “Whatever you do to one of the least of my brethren, the poor and powerless, you do it to me.” These are words strikingly clear and unmistakable. Jesus identifies himself with the poor. The thirst in the throat of Jesus is a real thirst that cries to heaven now as it did then on Calvary. And that cry of Jesus at the point of dying is repeated by thousands of throats that today are clamoring for justice and fair play, when they beg for bread, for respect to the color of their skin, for a minimal medical assistance, for shelter, education and freedom.
Man’s integral salvation through Christ’s grace begins already now in this world to reach its consummation in the communitarian participation in the glory of the risen Christ. And if the destination of mankind to the joint participation in the future salvation starts right now here on earth, this participation has to be put into practice here and now in all the dimensions of human existence.
The Christian salvation of man is not merely a promise of a blissful beyond, but a reality of the true brotherhood perfected in justice as a real anticipation of the life to come. Christ died and rose that love may reign supreme in the world, and consequently also justice, thus condemning egoism and injustice; in a word, that God be in fact the Father of all in a universal brotherhood.
And to speak still in more plain terms. He is not a genuine Christian who contents himself with looking at the crucified from a distance and exclaiming: How he suffers! He is a true Christian who actually gets closer and tries his best to relieve that thirst. The love of the neighbor and the commitment to his liberation from oppression are evangelical testimonies taking the word “testimony” in its strongest meaning, i.e., not only as a mere expression of the Christian faith but as its real and effective fulfillment.
It would, however, be an error to believe that the justice we are after is motivated by socio-economic principles or philanthropic ideals. It is simply a matter of an actual option that springs from faith in the spirit of reconciliation. It comes clearly under a liberation much deeper and wider, which the Son of God won for us from his total dereliction on the cross.
We Christians wish to liberate the world, but after all, even if we bring into play all human means and resources, it is only Christ that liberates. The thirst of Jesus, therefore, is, as we have said, an integral thirst that demands the total surrender of man, a surrender that is, above all, a service of the faith in the Father, who reveals himself in his suffering Son and obtains for us the gift of the Spirit.
God’s Spirit is the one at work today in the world and offers us the grace and power of the Crucified to live our faith and proclaim it with our words and deeds. All said and done, it is the thirst of Jesus that impels us to evangelization. Let us say it with the very words of Pope Paul VI in his recent apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi:
Evangelization will always also contain—as the foundation, center at the same time and summit of its dynamism—a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy. And not an immanent salvation, meeting material or even spiritual needs, restricted to the framework of temporal existence and completely identified with temporal desires, hopes, 4ffairs and struggles, but a salvation which exceeds all these limits in order to reach fulfilment in a communion with the one and only divine Absolute: a transcendent and eschatological salvation, which indeed has its beginning in this life but which is fulfilled in eternity.
This is the integral thirst with which Christ challenges us to do something and soon.
6. Who is afraid of Death?
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”
Let us gaze on Jesus once more. The moment has come. Priests, doctors and nurses who are listening to me know what this moment is. “Do you know? So-and-so has died.” We find the obituary in the morning paper or they give us the news in the street. Dead. It is always a chilling news which we can hardly believe. Deep down in our heart it smarts, because implicitly it is as if they told us: see what sooner or later is going to happen to you too.
The fact is that many people are mortally afraid of death. The man of faith accepts this fact with equanimity. Why fear if death is liberation from all and meeting Jesus? And this, which should be normal for the Christian, becomes something new that takes them unawares. Why? Simply because the majority of people try to drug themselves the truth of their own death on the basis of frantic draughts of life, of action, of enjoyment to forget that they are to die, or to misuse the numbered minutes of their life.
On the other hand, the persons who have learned the science of living, those namely who have attained some maturity, have accepted the fact of their death with peace and even joy. The death of Jesus was not an easy one. He did not die in bed, surrounded by the company of his disciples, quietly, as it became a great teacher. Jesus dies alone, to all indications a failure, even without the inner comfort from his Father who has left him for a time that he may die a man’s death to the full. And in these moments, to teach us an object lesson of faith, Jesus consciously accepts death and throws himself into the only thing he knows is left to him, his Father’s arms.
We know that our death too, mine and yours, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, in which no one can take our place. We shall die in complete solitude, even if exteriorly we are well accompanied. We have gone through a pale experience of this when we lost one of our dear ones; our very bones seem to shudder. At that time only faith brings comfort to the heart, that instinctively shrinks from the privation of life.
But to obtain this faith at least a moment of interior conversion is required that may restore our consciousness of being creatures. It is only the little ones that know how to die well, those who like Jesus put all their trust in the Father, into whose embrace they are going to fall after the bitter draught of death.
Today in certain parts of our planet, we have attained a standard of life and comfort, a mastery of the forces of nature, which unfortunately many use as a pedestal on which to stand in the belief that they are something. But there is no book of knowledge, no research scholar or inventor, computer or other machine that has succeeded in doing away from earth what for many is a dread phantom, death. Neither the earthly paradise promised by various brands of Marxism, nor our presence and action in the matter we have transformed, nor even what we have done for man as philanthropists satisfies the human heart, made for the fullness of God.
Therefore we must keep on working with optimism and redoubled energy, in the belief that we are in fact preparing a new society for the future, where neither moth nor rust consumes, out of reach of all corruption and death—around Jesus, the glorious Christ.
7. The Secret of Christian Optimism
A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished;” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Japan is a country of great sensitivity and rich cultural traditions. But it is also a busy crossroads of ideologies, and to the reserved personality of the Japanese accepting the faith is a laborious process, extending at times over many years.
I can’t forget the face of a young Japanese woman, who had been baptized after a long and difficult struggle. Not long after her baptism, death overtook her. I rushed to her death bed-side. With deep sadness in her eyes, she was showing me her two hands and saying: karades, karades! (empty, empty!) It was not long that she had discovered the wonder of her faith and she was convinced that believing was setting out and working with dedication, to do something for others.
Jesus dies with his hands full, and thus he exclaims: “Consummatum est.” All my work is done. I have accomplished my mission. He can then bow his head and in full self-possession accept death.
Don’t you think that this final moment fills with Easter joy even this sadness of the cross? Jesus has spent every moment of his life in an uninterrupted act of service. This is the secret of his triumph. From his death resurrection will at once sprout. This total surrender is the source of Christian optimism.
Today many people go about with dejected faces and heavy hearts, in anguish with the international crisis and the many problems that beset society, the Church and individuals. True, we should do everything in our hands to help solve these problems, almost as if all depended on our efforts and interest. But then why be sad? The man of faith who lives his commitment and his daily service to his brothers, possesses within himself the secret of Easter joy.
What is the secret of optimism? I should say that it is simply a problem of faith: I believe in God; I believe in Christ. What else do you need for a great optimism? What can happen to me to snatch away this joy of mine of having been saved by Christ and of committing my life to the service of others? This was, I think, the secret of the saints, the same secret that brought Christ back to life: living our daily commitment, without fear, with a humble and trustful heart but giving ourselves truly to our brothers. Thus in the background even of the disquieting contemporary events, the light of hope will keep on shining bright.
But in this last word, besides the fact of the “full hands” of Jesus, there is another point of interest for us. Yes, everything has been accomplished. But how has it been accomplished? There is at this point a sign which I think is a key event, which we should learn to read well. Jesus bows his head, the curtain of the temple sanctuary is torn in two, and the captain—St. Mark tells us—the captain who was keeping watch over Jesus as he thus breathed his last, said, “Truly this man was a son of God!”
This is the moment when grace floods our souls. Here we have the patent proof we ask for. This captain, the Roman centurion, accustomed no doubt to public executions, has understood and gives his assent. In a word, he believes. On Calvary summit Jesus has accomplished his mission, and at once emerges the new man, touched by the Spirit, who cannot keep the truth to himself. In weakness and pain lay hidden the joy of the resurrection. In the very center of death life was born. Through the progressive self-emptying of Jesus bursts his saving power.
But this power of the Christ who forgives, who receives the good thief, who thirsts and lies in solitude, who leads us to the Father, is not merely the story of something printed in ink in a book we know. All of us who believe are in possession of this marvelous force, provided we know how to repeat as far as possible in our own lives the life of Jesus. He is with us ready to help. In our hands we have the spark to illumine our paths, the most powerful and inexhaustible source of energy we could dream of, the motive of our joy and hope. From the heart of Jesus has gushed forth blood and water that wells up to eternal life. As new men we can rise again. It is the glory of Christ. We are well provided for the future.
This is our commentary on the last words of Jesus. I would be happy if this chat from friend to friend was of some help to each one of you. May you treasure these words of eternal life in your hearts, not only in the hours of doubt and obscurity but also in the distractions and merriment of life.
For, as we have seen, this is not an old tale. Today’s events and situations have spoken to us of the living Christ and will continue to do so if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. For Christ is right here with us. He is the saving power of God. Christ lives on.
Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “The Seven Words of the Living Christ,” pg. 209–225.