The final words of Jesus Christ as he died on the cross should prompt Christians to pray for those who have hurt them, Pope Benedict XVI said on Feb. 15.
“Jesus by asking the Father to forgive those who are crucifying him, invites us to the difficult act of praying for those who do us wrong, who have damaged us, knowing always how to forgive,” the Pope told over 6,000 pilgrims attending today’s general audience in Paul VI Hall.
The Pope urged people to pray that “the light of God may illuminate their hearts, inviting us, that is, to live in our prayers, the same attitude of mercy and love that God has towards us.”
This attitude, he explained, is summed up in one line from the Our Father – “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Over the past several months, the Pope has used his weekly general audiences to explore the issue of prayer. This week he focused on the three last prayers of Jesus from the cross.
The first prayer was pronounced by Jesus immediately after he was nailed to the cross, “while the soldiers are dividing his garments as sad reward of their service.” The prayer Christ uttered was: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
In his prayer of intercession, Jesus “asks forgiveness for his executioners,” and in doing so, “carries out what he had taught in the Sermon on the Mount” when he urged his followers to “love your enemy,” “do good to those who hate you,” and promised to reward those who forgive.
Crucially, said the Pope, Jesus gives “ignorance, ‘not knowing,’ as the reason for the request for forgiveness from the Father.” This should give “consolation for all times and for all men” because Jesus sees ignorance “as a door that can open us up to repentance.”
The second prayer of Christ is directed towards the good thief who repents after sensing he is “before the Son of God, who reveals the face of God.” Once he recognized this, the thief prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” In doing so, Christ is “aware of entering directly into communion with the Father” and of “reopening the path for the man to God’s paradise.”
This should give all people hope, said Pope Benedict,since it shows that “the goodness of God can touch us even at the last moment of life.” And that “sincere prayer, even after a life of wrong, meets the open arms of the good Father who awaits the return of his son.”
The Pope then turned to Christ’s final prayer on the cross – “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” He noted how each of the Gospel writers describes different aspects of this moment in history, including the veil of the temple being torn down the middle, three hours of darkness over the land and earthquakes.
“The death of Jesus is explicitly characterized as a cosmic and liturgical event,” said the Pope, “it marks the beginning of a new worship in a temple not built by men.”
The prayer is also a “loud cry of extreme and total trust in God,” fully aware of “not being abandoned.” This is signified by the use of the word “Father,” which recalls Christ’s first declaration that he is the son of God when he was a 12-year-old boy and was found in the temple by his parents.
“Then he remained for three days in the temple of Jerusalem, the veil of which is now torn,” and so we see that “from beginning to end, what completely determines the feelings of Jesus, his words, his actions is his unique relationship with the Father.”
All in all, concluded the Pope, the three final prayers of Jesus are “tragic” for every man but are also “pervaded by the deep calm that comes from trust in the Father and the will to abandon himself totally to him.” They are a “supreme act of love” which went “to the limit and beyond the limit.”
As well as prompting us to pray for our enemies, the final prayers of Jesus should also teach Christians that “no matter how hard the trial, difficult the problem, heavy the suffering, we never fall from the hands of God,” Pope Benedict said.