Slowly, with supreme effort, using the nails in his feet as a fulcrum, he lifts himself up.
Why does he make such a painful effort? He does so in order to speak to us.
Every one stops; the soldiers stop laughing, the thieves stop bickering—these are the first words he has said since his condemnation, and they are both striking and telling: “Father, forgive them!” The soldiers are astonished; they are accustomed to curses and screams from their crucified victims, but never has anyone forgiven them. But we are not surprised; we have found and experienced Christ’s forgiveness many times over in confession.
These brief words should make us pause; let us repeat them over and over again. We are forgiven. We are truly forgiven. Do we believe it?
Of course we do. But still, subtly, there can remain a doubt—sure, I’m forgiven, but that one sin….that was too much. Under the cross, seeing our Lord endure the greatest of suffering, there is no room for doubt. We are truly forgiven after confession; our soul is truly reconciled with God. Reflecting on these words of Christ warms our heart; here we learn from Christ that we truly are forgiven, but also that we should also forgive others.
As I hear these words, “Father forgive them,” I feel the urge to put aside my anger towards Judas for his betrayal and run back down the hill of Calvary and into the streets and market places of Jerusalem yelling out, “Judas, Judas, where are you; it’s true, the Lord forgives, he has forgiven you, don’t despair; don’t think that because you sold the Lord he won’t have you back; there is nothing to great for him to forgive!” What a pity his heart was too hardened to come to Calvary; that is, to draw close to confession. What a pity, because there would have never been a greater preacher or apostle of the forgiveness of Christ than Judas—had he returned to hear those words, “Father, forgive them.”
One last brief reflection—Christ preached forgiveness often, emphasizing this lesson over and over, “Forgive and you will be forgiven; forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others; Seven times, nay seventy seven times seven times; I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” This was not just lip service. Now, at his greatest moment of suffering, he backs it up with action. We need to take this to heart.
All of us, at one time or another, will find ourselves in a situation that calls for forgiveness. It can be a small misunderstanding, or it can be a moment of true crucifixion—it doesn’t matter. When the situation presents itself, remember your time spent under the cross of Christ; remember that you are an apostle of forgiveness, one who administers it through the Sacraments (or will do so one day) and one who must live it when offended. We should repeat with Christ always, “Father, forgive them.”
Thank you for forgiving me, Lord.
During Holy Week, I will be posting a daily reflection on the 7 Last Words of Christ.
- Saturday: Prelude to the Passion
- Sunday: Father! forgive them!
- Monday: You will be with me in paradise!
- Tuesday: Behold your mother! Behold your son!
- Wednesday: Why have you forsaken me?
- Thursday: I thirst!
- Friday: It is finished!
- Saturday: Into your hands I commend my spirit!
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