‘We Hope in You, O Jesus’
Meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ by St. Bonaventure
The Seven Last Words of Christ
By St. Bonaventure and Arnold of Bonneval
Translated by Father Robert Nixon, OSB
TAN Books, 2023
To order: The Seven Last Words of Christ (tanbooks.com)
“Every word that the Eternal Word spoke was meant for us. The seven last words of the Lord Jesus, prayed through the Seraphic Doctor of the Church, St. Bonaventure, will illumine your understanding of the Passion. His words on Christ’s last words will help you to pray and offer you insights you’ve never considered before.” — Father John Paul Mary Zeller, Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, EWTN employee chaplain
The following excerpts are meditations by St. Bonaventure:
“And when they had come to the place which is called Calvary, they crucified Him there; and the robbers, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. And Jesus said: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
— Luke 23:33–34
“Father,” He says. Why does He place the name “Father” here? Children typically use the word “Father” when asking for some affectionate favor, because by doing so they bring to mind the natural bond of paternal love which unites them with their parent. Thus Jesus, the compassionate and merciful Lord, although He knew that His voice was always heard by the Father, chooses to use this intimate form of address here, in order to make manifest to us how much sincerity and love we should feel in praying for our enemies. It is as if He says, “Father, through the paternal and filial love by which we are eternally one, I pray for these, my killers. Remember Your love for Me, and forget the sins of my foes!”
“And one of those robbers who were crucified with Jesus, blasphemed Him, saying: ‘If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us.’ But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: ‘Hast thou no fear of God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man hath done no evil.’ And he said to Jesus: ‘Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him: ‘Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.’”
— Luke 23:39–43
What person is there who should despair, if this thief dares to hope?
The divine Spouse hears him, not as a thief but as a new believer, and comforts and encourages him accordingly: “Amen, I say to thee: today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” He says “thou shalt be with Me.” Not just that he will be “in paradise,” or that he will be “in paradise with the angels,” but in paradise in the company of the One whom he recognizes as his Savior. Neither does Christ defer what He offers, but promises that it shall be “today.” Our Lord is quick to hear, quick to promise, and quick to give! Who should despair, when there is such a ready listener, who is so unhesitating in His promises, and so quick to fulfill what He has pledged?
We hope in You, O Jesus. We approach You, seated on Your glorious throne of majesty, hoping fervently to hear from You those very same words which that good thief heard, while You hung upon the throne of the cross.
“When Jesus therefore had seen His Mother and the disciple whom He loved standing there, He saith to His Mother: ‘Woman, behold thy son.’ After that, He saith to the disciple: ‘Behold thy Mother.’ And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.”
— John 19:26–27
In the Gospels, we do not frequently read of the good and kind Jesus dining or conversing with His Mother.
But the depth of His filial affection towards her is fully revealed in these few syllables which He spoke as He approached His earthly death. Even if I should refrain from speaking about the sufferings of Christ Himself in His passion, how heartbreaking and poignant were the pains experienced by His blessed Mother, whose most gentle and angelic heart was pierced by the cruelest sword of bitter pain! The woes of the Son were immeasurably increased by the sight of His beloved Mother’s anguish and grief, as her eyes flowed with torrents of tears, her voice trembled, and her whole being was concentrated upon the agonies of her crucified child.
I imagine Mary to have stood with her head covered, on account both of the immensity of her sorrow and her virginal modesty. How often she must have cried out as she wept, “Jesus, my Son! Who will grant me that I may die in place of You, my Son, or that I may now meet my own death with You?” How many times must she have raised her tear-filled eyes to His bleeding wounds, and again turned them away, overcome by sheer horror and grief? I marvel that she herself did not also succumb to death, so great were the waves of anguish which engulfed her!
While still living, she died with her Son in her heart; and, by continuing to live, she bore a sting which was more bitter than that of death!
Yet, lest she might not utterly despair, the Blessed Virgin was consoled lovingly by her Son. For, as she stood bravely by the cross, He said to her: “Woman, behold thy son.” It was as if Christ had said, “Although you will be separated from Me physically, yet I give to you the disciple whom I have loved beyond all others. In My absence, his faithful presence shall console you, and he shall protect and serve you.” And likewise, He spoke words of encouragement to Saint John, who also stood before the cross: “O John, though You shall soon lose Me, who has been like a father to you, now I bequeath to you My own most beloved Mother to be a mother to you.”
“In a like manner also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders of the people, mockingly, said: ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him now deliver Him if He will have Him; for He said: “I am the Son of God.”’ And the thieves who were crucified with Him reproached Him in the same manner. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over the whole earth, until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying: ‘Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani?’, that is, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’”
— Matthew 27:41–46
These words are spoken in the Person of Christ’s humanity. This genuine humanity was, nevertheless, absolutely and always one with His divine Sonship, as His words, “My God,” mysteriously reveal.
Why was it that He said, “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Was the Father ever able to abandon His only-begotten Son? Certainly not! But Christ speaks here on behalf of His whole body—that is, the entire Church. Wishing to affirm the value of unity and charity, He shows Himself to be united to all the suffering members of the Church, and to be united in compassion with all those who feel abandoned. He who was not able to be abandoned declares Himself to be abandoned, for He grasps the immensity of the sufferings which shall befall a multitude of the members of His Church, and who (for a time) shall seem to have been abandoned.
“Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said: ‘I thirst.’ Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar. And they, taking a sponge full of vinegar and hyssop, put it to His mouth.”
— John 19:28–29
“And they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall. And when He had tasted, He would not drink.”
— Matthew 27:34
The fifth leaf of the mystical vine, and the fifth string of our spiritual lyre, is the fifth pronouncement of the most loving Jesus upon the cross, when He said: “I thirst.” In response to this, “they gave Him wine to drink, mixed with gall.”
“I thirst.” All the members of the body of the most gentle Jesus had already been cruelly punished and had suffered; it remained now for His persecutors only to punish also His tongue. Therefore, in His thirst, they gave to him the wine of “an alien vine, filled with bitterness.” They offered Him this not that He might drink properly, but rather merely to taste. For to inflict the pain of the bitter taste of this horrendous drink, a single taste would suffice.
“Jesus therefore, when He had taken the vinegar, said: ‘It is consummated.’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
— John 19:30
In the cross is the definitive resolution and completion of all that had been shown in figures and shadows in days of the past. And in the one saving death of Christ is the true completion and perfection of all other deaths; in His holy and noble sufferings is the meaning and epitome of all other human sufferings to be found. Thus it is true to say that His sufferings exceeded all other sufferings ever endured; and that they exceed, too, the sum total of all other sufferings which shall ever be endured in this pain-filled and woebegone universe.
The reasons for this are manifold. First, the sufferings of Christ were greater in duration than any others, since they lasted not only during the time of the crucifixion itself, but were felt by Christ from the moment of His conception (and even, in a sense, for all eternity). By means of His perfect foreknowledge of all things, the sufferings of Christ were always experienced by Him in prescient anticipation. Second, the pains endured by Jesus were greater by virtue of their universality, because they encompassed and contained all other pains which had ever arisen from, and will ever arise from, the sinful and fallen condition of humanity.
Third, Christ’s sufferings were greater because of the superior nobility, intelligence, and vitality of the One who bore them. …
Since Jesus was incomparably more noble, intelligent, and vital than any other being or entity, His sensitivity to pain was correspondingly greater. …
Witness how exultantly Christ exclaims these words. He cries out like the navigator of a ship which has been on the ocean for a long voyage, who, when he first catches a glimpse of the shore, shouts, “Land ahoy!” Christ, the good commander of the ship of both the cross and the Church, perceives the promontory of salvation to be at hand, and says (as if in happy anticipation), “It is consummated!”
It is as if He declares, “Now the words of Scripture are fulfilled. Now everything that was foreshadowed and prefigured in the ancient sacrifices is brought to perfection. For in My present sacrifice, the meekness of the lamb, the strength of the bull, the obedience of the ox, the simplicity of the sheep, and the peace of the dove are all brought to perfection! The love which drew God into union with the human race in the mystery of My incarnation is consummated. The foundations of the Church are now completed. My own bitter sufferings have reached their end. The chalice of pain has been fully drained, and in its place the medicinal potion of eternal life has been prepared to full perfection. From this mystical potion mortal beings may drink deeply of the inebriating nectar of everlasting salvation and never-ending bliss. And my obedience to You, O Father, is likewise now consummated: for I have completely and unreservedly fulfilled all the decrees of Your immutable will!”
“And it was almost the sixth hour; and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And Jesus crying out with a loud voice, said: ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.’ And saying this, he gave up His spirit.”
— Luke 23:44–46
We may perhaps wonder why Christ cried out in a loud voice in these instances at the end of His life. Would it not have sufficed to have spoken quietly, and only in the depths of His heart? Let us meditate briefly upon this mystery, for it is filled with deep significance.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, Saint Paul notes that Our Lord “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” In His tears the true humanity of Christ is revealed, and the genuineness of the sufferings which He endured is made manifest.
But in the loud cries He made, His divinity is clearly shown. Other human beings, when they are in the throes of death, are typically not able to articulate loudly or clearly, because of the failure of their strength and the diminishment of their vitality. But Christ, even in the moments of death, was able to cry out in a strong and resonant voice. By this, He showed the divine nature of the strength which He possessed. For, though really dying, He did not cease, even for a moment, to be King of kings and Lord of lords, at whose command the very universe trembles!
Just as a victorious warrior cries out when He has conquered His foes or put them to flight, even so did Jesus cry out strongly when He had defeated death and sin. Just so did He exclaim forcefully and vociferously as He seized the prize of human souls from the underworld, and deprived hell of its pillage. And such was the power of His divine voice that it echoed thunderously even in the shadowy halls of hell, and overpowered the deepest recesses of the fiery abyss!
… Note that these are the very last words uttered by Christ, articulated during the final moments of His life. They are, therefore, a summa of His doctrine and discipline, revealing His perfect and pure reverence and adoration of the unseen Father. For by these words, Christ shows that all His hope is placed in the Father, and He faithfully entrusts Himself to Him completely.
In commending His own soul to the Father, it is to be understood that He commends also the souls of all the righteous. For just as He is the first of the faithful to enter into the realms of the dead, with all others to
follow afterwards, so He first entrusts His own soul to the Father, and thereby entrusts also the souls of all who will follow Him.
For it is in the loving hands of the Father that our safest refuge is to be found, and the most tranquil and secure abiding place for our souls. There, no pain or sorrow can ever touch us; and there, death and sin will no longer cast the malign shadows over our lives and hearts ...