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.
âJesus 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,â the Pope told over 6,000 pilgrims attending todayâs general audience in Paul VI Hall.
The Pope urged people to pray that âthe 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.â
This attitude, he explained, is summed up in one line from the Our Father â âforgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.â
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, âwhile the soldiers are dividing his garments as sad reward of their service.â The prayer Christ uttered was: âFather, forgive them, they know not what they do.â
In his prayer of intercession, Jesus âasks forgiveness for his executioners,â and in doing so, âcarries out what he had taught in the Sermon on the Mountâ when he urged his followers to âlove your enemy,â âdo good to those who hate you,â and promised to reward those who forgive.
Crucially, said the Pope, Jesus gives âignorance, ânot knowing,â as the reason for the request for forgiveness from the Father.â This should give âconsolation for all times and for all menâ because Jesus sees ignorance âas a door that can open us up to repentance.â
The second prayer of Christ is directed towards the good thief who repents after sensing he is âbefore the Son of God, who reveals the face of God.â Once he recognized this, the thief prayed, âJesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.â
Jesus answered him: âAmen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.â In doing so, Christ is âaware of entering directly into communion with the Fatherâ and of âreopening the path for the man to Godâs paradise.â
This should give all people hope, said Pope Benedict,since it shows that âthe goodness of God can touch us even at the last moment of life.â And that âsincere prayer, even after a life of wrong, meets the open arms of the good Father who awaits the return of his son.â
The Pope then turned to Christâs final prayer on the cross â âFather, into your hands I commend my spirit.â 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.
âThe death of Jesus is explicitly characterized as a cosmic and liturgical event,â said the Pope, âit marks the beginning of a new worship in a temple not built by men.â
The prayer is also a âloud cry of extreme and total trust in God,â fully aware of ânot being abandoned.â This is signified by the use of the word âFather,â which recalls Christâs 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.
âThen he remained for three days in the temple of Jerusalem, the veil of which is now torn,â and so we see that âfrom beginning to end, what completely determines the feelings of Jesus, his words, his actions is his unique relationship with the Father.â
All in all, concluded the Pope, the three final prayers of Jesus are âtragicâ for every man but are also âpervaded by the deep calm that comes from trust in the Father and the will to abandon himself totally to him.â They are a âsupreme act of loveâ which went âto the limit and beyond the limit.â
As well as prompting us to pray for our enemies, the final prayers of Jesus should also teach Christians that âno matter how hard the trial, difficult the problem, heavy the suffering, we never fall from the hands of God,â Pope Benedict said.