Last Seven Words of Christ Are Full of "Spirit and Life"

Gloria Crucis Chair Inagurates a New Year at Lateran University

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ROME, NOV. 4, 2004 ( The last words of Christ, more than the rest, are full of «spirit and life because in some way they contain and express the truth of all the others» and «put a seal on them,» explained Msgr. Piero Coda.

The professor of Trinitarian theology spoke at the inaugural session of the Gloria Crucis Chair at the Pontifical Lateran University on the last seven words of Christ from the cross.

Established in 2003 in collaboration with the Passionists, the chair is an inter-disciplinary operative structure of the different faculties and institutes of the university to show how Christ crucified and resurrected illuminates man’s life and destiny.» It organizes cycles of classes, seminars, conferences, exhibitions, symposiums and congresses in keeping with its objective.

«Glory is man’s ultimate vocation, who must daily follow the way of the cross in the certainty that Christ preceded us and has overcome the world,» explained the director of the Gloria Crucis Chair, Passionist Father Fernando Taccone, at the opening presentation.

«Reason cannot exhaust the mystery of love that the cross represents, while the latter can give reason the ultimate answer it seeks,» he stressed quoting John Paul II’s encyclical «Fides et Ratio.»

Bishop Rino Fisichella, Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, introduced the opening session of the activities.

Msgr. Coda, who is also a member of the chair’s scientific committee, began with the passage of the Passion taken from the Gospel of St. Luke, which begins with Jesus’ prayer to the Father for his executioners: «Father, forgiven them; for they know not what they do.»

It is «an invocation of forgiveness addressed to the Father» that «does not only emphasize the greatness and heroism of Jesus’ forgiveness of those who crucify him, but is the word of revelation,» of the «Son of the Most High who makes the rain fall and the sun shine on the just and the unjust,» stressed Msgr. Coda.

While the word «‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise’ is the revelation of a sure hope, open to all, in whatever condition of separation from the Father they might find themselves,» it is, at the same time, the affirmation that in Jesus lies the «future of man.»

Referring to the third word — «Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!» Msgr. Coda said that «Jesus’ life, from the beginning to the end, is but one sole act of filial obedience to the Father’s plan of love extended in time.»

«In Luke’s Gospel the experience of dying on the cross is, for Jesus, the ultimate experience of his being Son,» and «the same experience in Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts, is expressed, harshly, in the cry of abandonment: that reveals to us «the most profound meaning of Jesus’ dying in that condition, as crucified,» he stressed.

Msgr. Coda then reflected on Jesus’ exclamation «My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?»

The «cry of abandonment gives testimony […] that Jesus died with the tragic experience of God not intervening in his favor,» passing through «the atrocity of absolute, cosmic abandonment,» in the «solitude in which his very own left him,» in the «derision of his adversaries, in the confirmation of the most complete failure of his proclamation,» he said.

However, this cry of abandonment is not a «cry of despair,» but «an invocation, a prayer, the extreme testimony of fidelity and love for the Father that Jesus expresses from the depth of the abyss of trial and darkness into which he has fallen,» he continued.

Msgr. Coda explains that in the word in which Christ says to his mother, «‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he says to the disciple: ‘Behold your mother!'» that «Jesus separates his mother from himself; proof of the abandonment he must and wills to face in the most perfect solitude. But in the very act of separating himself from Mary, he invites her to live herself, in the first person, an act of faith as great as his own.»

«Mary’s yes» in this trial — which recalls the sacrifice of the son of his old age that the Lord asks of Abraham — is silent, «a dumb yes, with a naked soul that is a wound,» «it is a greater yes — if it were possible — than that pronounced at the angel’s annunciation,» he added.

According to Msgr. Coda, in this way «Mary’s plan opens up in an unexpected flowering» and «she, who was the mother of the firstborn, is given to us from the cross by Jesus as the mother of many brothers and sisters.»

For the word «I thirst,» Msgr. Coda says that he certainly was thirsty, «like any one condemned to the torture of the cross,» «but—as is typical of John — this physical thirst is the symbol of another thirst: Jesus is thirsty to fulfill the work for which the Father sent him, that of ‘giving the Spirit,’ in him, the fullness of life.»

It is in this word that the «trial» endured on the cross is reflected, it is in the «desiccation, in his innermost filial being, of the source of the Spirit that comforts him, sustains him, and gives him life,» that Jesus «can offer, from the Father, living water to men,» said Msgr. Coda.

In the seventh word — «It is finished» — «the breath of life, thanks to the Son of man, the Word of God made flesh, is definitively given in pledge to man,» he explained.

«One seems to intuit from John’s account and the tragic urgencies of our time that the moment has arrived in which the breath of life must flow into men, dwell in the flesh, become the principle of justice and fraternity in history.»

«Looking at the crucified, who in his death transmits to us the breath of life, we cannot but see Francis of Assisi,» when «in La Verna — as St. Bonaventure recounts — he received in his flesh the wounds of the Crucified: ‘The true love of Christ had transformed the lover into the very image of the beloved,'» Msgr. Coda said.

Together with the Passionists in Italy, the Gloria Crucis Chair publishes the quarterly review «La Sapientia della Croce» (The Wisdom of the Cross), launched in 1986 and dedicated to questions on the theology and spirituality of the cross, as well as the problem of human suffering.

For additional information in Italian visit the Lateran University Web site.

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