"He was crucified." Creed.
Surely, you have all read the tragic tale of Evangline, especially as told by the poet Longfellow. The people of Acadia were being driven from their homes on orders, from the king of England. By some deceit the men had been lured into the church, there to learn that the entire village was to be exiled. Feelings ran high; bitter resentment and open defiance were evident. They were helpless to resist. When the tension was at its height, the village priest, Father Felician, took his place before them. He counselled patience and resignation and forgivness. He reminded them of the innocent Christ and His sufferings. Then pointing to the crucifix, he went on:
"Lo! where the crucified Christ from His cross is gazing upon you!The men took to heart the advice and request of their shepherd. What happened to those innocent folk makes one of the most pitiful and poignant passages in history. The words of Christ from the cross gave them courage to endure it.
"See! in those sorrowful eyes what meekness and holy compassion.
"Hark! how those lips still repeat the prayer, '0 Father forgive them'!
"Let us repeat that prayer in the hour when the wicked assail us. Let us repeat it now, and say, '0 Father, forgive them.'"
Today we hear Christ's dying words again. Today we gather beneath the greatest pulpit of all time to hear the greatest Preacher of all time, deliver the greatest sermon of all time. It is truly Christ who comes in the name of the Lord.
1. His first word was: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." No injustice surpassed the execution of the Son of God. Jesus certainly had cause to complain, to condemn. Instead, He begged His Father to forgive. What an example for us! In big things and little things, generally in little things, we suffer injustice. We want to strike back; we want to punish; we want to fight for our rights. Look up and hear His word: "Forgive." To forgive injuries, I maintain, is one of the most difficult tasks of the Christian. Yet it is absolutely necessary if we wish to be forgiven. We even pray on that condition: "Forgive us, as we forgive."
2. The second utterance of Christ on the cross was addressed to a thief: "This day thou shalt be with me in paradise." Two thieves were crucified with Christ. The one at his left complained: "If thou be the Son of God, save thyself and us." The thief on the right rebuked him: "We suffer justly, but this man unjustly." Then, turning to Christ, he prayed: "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." And Jesus assured him: "This day thou shalt be with me in paradise."
Two lines formed there on Calvary, lines that have marched down to our time. The first line behind the bad thief includes those who complain, those who refuse to ask Christ to help them. The other line, behind the good thief, numbers those who call out to Christ for His help. In what line are you?
3. When Jesus spoke the third time, it was to His Blessed Mother and St. John: "Woman, behold thy son." "Behold thy mother." Into St. John's keeping Christ entrusted His mother. He gave St. John to Mary as a son. Those words are of extreme interest to us because at that moment Mary became the mother of us all, and you and I became the sons and daughters of Mary. What kind of son or daughter are you?
4. "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me." This fourth word of Christ reminds us, should we ever be able to forget it, of the agony of soul and body experienced by our Lord. He seemed to be abandoned even by His heavenly Father. Sometimes you and I feel the same way. At such moments look to the crucifix and repeat our Lord's words.
5. His fifth word was brief: "I thirst." Physical thirst, they say, was one of the most terrible tortures of crucifixion. Loss of blood, toil and torture has made the thirst of Christ's body insufferable. But His thirst was especially spiritual. He thirsted for souls; He thirsted for love. What have you ever done, what are you doing this Lent, what will you do this Holy Week to satisfy that thirst of Christ?
6. "It is finished," Christ called out, when He realized that the work of redemption was coming to an end. He had done everything; He had given everything; He had finished the work which the Father had given Him to do. Would that we could say the same in the smaller tasks of daily life, and in the most important task of all, the saving of our souls. Ask Christ today to help you accomplish the work He wants of you. Ask Him to help you say: "It is finished."
7. As His last moment approached, Jesus raised His heart to His Father and prayed: "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit." It was the night prayer of Christ; it is still the official night prayer of Christ's Church. It is the night prayer of every loyal, Christian soul who has faithfully followed our Lord. May it be your night prayer and mine as we lie down in the sleep of death.
With the men of Acadia in the story of Evangeline, with the loving, loyal souls of all Christians of all times who have stood beneath the cross and have taken to heart the greatest sermon ever preached, you and I today will remember these dying words of our Savior --- As we treasure the last words of a loved one, may we treasure above all the dying words of the One who loved us most of all.
Adapted from Talks on the Creed
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1946)