Why should we meditate on the final words of Jesus from the cross?
As Venerable Fulton J. Sheen explained:
“There was never a preacher like the dying Christ. There was never a congregation like that which gathered about the pulpit of the Cross. There was never a sermon like the Seven Last Words.”
Father Raymond J. de Souza also shared this spiritual practice in the National Catholic Register:
“There is another Good Friday custom, that of the ‘Seven Last Words,’ made most famous in recent times by the Ven. Fulton Sheen, who preached the Seven Last Words every Good Friday for 58 years.”
Below you will find the final words of Jesus, alongside the corresponding scripture verse and prayer written by Ven. Fulton Sheen himself.
1) “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” (Lk. 23:34)
Dear Jesus, I do not want to know the wisdom of the world;
I do not want to know on whose anvil snowflakes are hammered,
or the hiding place of darkness,
or from whose womb came the ice,
or why the gold falls to the earth, earthly,
and fire climbs to the heavens, heavenly;
I do not want to know literature and science,
nor the four dimensional universe in which we live;
I do not want to know the length of the universe in terms of light years;
I do not want to know the breadth of the earth as it dances about the chariot of the sun;
I do not want to know the heights of the stars, chaste candles of the night;
I do not want to know the depth of the sea, nor the secrets of its watery palace.
I want to be ignorant of all these things.
I want only to know the length, the breadth,
and the height and the depth of Thy redeeming Love on the Cross,
Sweet Savior of Men.
I want to be ignorant of everything in the world – everything but You, dear Jesus.
And then, by the strangest of strange paradoxes, I shall be wise!
2) “This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.” (Lk. 23:43)
Dear Jesus! Your kindness to the penitent thief recalls the prophetic words of the Old Testament, “If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow: and if they be as red as crimson, they shall be white as wool.” In your words of forgiveness to the penitent thief, I understand now the meaning of your words, “I am not come to call the just, but sinners. . . They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill.” “There shall be joy in Heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.” I see now why Peter was not made Thy first vicar on earth until after he had fallen three times, in order that the Church of which he was the head might forever understand forgiveness and pardon. Jesus, I begin to see that if I had never sinned, I never could call You “Savior.” The thief is not the only sinner. Here am I! But Thou art the only Savior.
3) “Woman, behold thy Son.” (Jn. 19:26-27)
O Mary! As Jesus was born to thee in thy first Nativity of the flesh,
so we have been born of thee in thy second Nativity of the spirit.
Thus thou didst beget us into a new world of spiritual relationship
with God as our Father, Jesus as our Brother, and thou as our Mother!
If a Mother can never forget the child of her womb, then, Mary,
thou shalt never forget us.
As thou wert Co-Redemptrix in the acquisition of the graces of eternal life,
be thou also our Co-Mediatrix in their dispensation.
Nothing is impossible for thee,
because thou art the Mother of Him Who can do all things.
If thy Son did not refuse thy request at the banquet of Cana,
He will not refuse it at the celestial banquet where thou art crowned as Queen of Angels and Saints.
Intercede, therefore, to thy Divine Son
that He may change the waters of my weakness into the wine of thy strength.
Mary, thou art the Refuge of Sinners!
Pray for us now prostrate at the foot of the Cross.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
4) “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
Jesus, Thou art now atoning for those moments
when we are neither hot nor cold,
members neither of heaven nor of earth,
for now Thou art suffering between the two:
rejected by the one, abandoned by the other.
Because Thou wouldst not give up sinful humanity,
Thy Heavenly Father hid His Face from Thee.
Because Thou wouldst not give up The Heavenly Father,
sinful humanity turned its back to Thee.
And thus in holy fellowship Thou didst unite us both.
No longer can men say that God does not know
what a heart suffers in abandonment, for now Thou art abandoned.
No longer can men complain that God does not know the wounds
of an inquiring heart which feels not the Divine Presence,
for now that sweet Presence is seemingly hid from Thee.
Jesus, now I understand pain, abandonment, and suffering,
for I see that even the sun has its eclipse.
But Jesus, why do I not learn?
Teach me that just as Thou didst not make Thy own Cross,
neither shall I make my own,
but accept the one Thou makest for me.
Tell me, how long, how long, O Lord,
will I keep Thee writhing on the Cross?
5) “I thirst.” (John 19:28-29)
Dear Jesus, Thou hast given all for me, and yet I give nothing in return. How often Thou hast come to gather vintage in the vineyard of my soul, and hast found only a few clusters! How often thou soughtest, and found nothing; knocked and the door of my soul was closed to Thee! How often Thou didst ask for a drink, and I gave Thee only vinegar and gall!
How often, dear Jesus, I feared lest having Thee, I must have naught beside. I forget that if I had the flame, I would forget the spark; if I had the sun of Thy love, I could forget the candle of a human heart; if I had the perfect round of Thy happiness, I could forget the broken arc of earth. Oh, Jesus, my story is the sad story of a refusal to return heart for heart, love for love. Give me, above all human gifts, the sweet gift of sympathy for Thee.
6) “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
Dear Jesus, redemption is Thy work; atonement is mine, for atonement means at-one-ment with Thy life. Thy truth and Thy love. Thy work on the Cross is finished, but my work is to take you down. Thou hast been hanging there long enough! Through Thy Apostle, Paul, Thou hast told us that those who are Thine crucify their flesh and its concupiscences. My work, then, is not finished until I take Thy place upon the Cross, for unless there is a Good Friday in my life, there will never be an Easter Sunday; unless there is a garment of a fool, there will never be the white robes of wisdom; unless there is the crown of thorns, there will never be the glorified body; unless there is the battle, there will never be the victory; unless there is the thirst, there will hever be the Heavenly Refreshment unless there is the Cross, there will never be the empty tomb. Teach me, Jesus, to finish this task, for it is fitting that the sons of men should suffer and enter into their glory.
7) “Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
No, Mary! Bethlehem is not come back.
This is not the crib, but the Cross;
not birth, but death;
not the day of companionship with Shepherds and Kings,
but the hour of a common death with thieves;
not Bethlehem, but Calvary.
Bethlehem is Jesus, as thou.
His sinless mother, gave Him to man;
Calvary is Jesus, as sinful man gave Him back to thee.
Something intervened between Thy giving at the manger,
and thy receiving at the Cross,
and that which intervened is my sins.
Mary, this is not thy hour;
it is my hour – my hour of wickedness and sin.
If I had not sinned, death would not now hover
its black wings about His crimsoned body;
if I had not been proud,
the atoning crown of thorns would never have been woven;
if I had been less rebellious in treading
the broad way which leads to destruction,
the feet never would have been dug with nails;
if I had been more responsive to His shepherding calls
from the thorns and thistles,
His lips would have never been on fire;
if I had been more faithful, His cheeks would never
have been blistered with the kiss of Judas.
Mary, it is I who stand between His birth and His approaching redemptive death!
I warn thee, Mary, think not when thy arms come to clasp Him,
that He is white as He came from the Father, but red as He came from me.
In a few short seconds thy Son shall have surrendered His soul to His Heavenly Father,
and His body to thy caressing hands.
The last few drops of blood are falling from that great Chalice of Redemption,
staining the wood of the Cross and crimsoning the rocks
soon to be rent in horror – and a single drop of it would be sufficient to redeem ten thousand worlds.
Mary, my mother, intercede to thy Divine Son for forgiveness
of the sin of changing thy Bethlehem into Calvary.
Beg Him, Mary, in these last remaining seconds
the grace of never crucifying Him again
nor piercing thy own heart with seven swords.
Mary, plead to thy dying Son that as long as I live. . . Mary! Jesus is dead. . . Mary!
Prayers are excerpts from The Seven Last Words, by Venerable Fulton John Sheen, 1933, published by Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Indiana, Imprimatur of Bishop John Francis Noll, D.D., Diocese of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
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[See also: Visiting 7 Churches on Holy Thursday? The Origins Behind This Ancient Catholic Tradition]
[See also: 5 Essential Facts About Holy Thursday Every Catholic Should Know]