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Christ's last words on the Cross

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 7 December 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. "It is accomplished" (Jn 19:30). According to John's Gospel Jesus spoke these words just before expiring. They were his last words. They express his awareness of having fully accomplished the work for which he had been sent into this world (cf. Jn 17:4). Note that is was not so much the awareness of having realized his own plans as having accomplished his Father's will in obedience even to the complete immolation of himself on the cross. Openly in this way does the dying Jesus appear as the model of the death of every human being, namely, the conclusion of the work assigned to each one in fulfillment of the divine plan. According to the Christian view of life and death, every person up to the moment of death is called to fulfill the Father's will. Death is the final act, that definitive and decisive act of the fulfillment of his will. Jesus teaches us this truth from the cross.

2. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46). With these words Luke makes explicit the content of Jesus' second cry shortly before he died (cf. Mk 13:37; Mt 27:50). In his first cry he exclaimed, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mk 15:34; cf. Mt 27:46). These words are completed by those others which are the fruit of interior reflection matured in prayer. If for a moment Jesus had experienced the terrible sensation of being abandoned by the Father, his soul reacted in the only way which, as he well knew, befits a man who at the same time is also the "beloved Son" of God, namely, by total abandonment into his hands.

Jesus expressed his feeling with words taken from Psalm 31, the Psalm of a suffering man who foresees his liberation and gives thanks to God for accomplishing it: "Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God" (Ps 31:6). Lucid in his agony, Jesus recalled and also muttered some verses of that psalm recited often during his life. But according to the Gospel narrative those words take on a new value on the lips of Jesus.

3. With the invocation "Father" (Abba), Jesus gives to his abandonement into the Father's hands an accent of filial trust. Jesus died as son. He died in perfect conformity with the will of the Father, for the finality of love which the Father had entrusted him and which the Son knew well.

In the Psalmist's perspective, the man, stricken by misfortune and afflicted with suffering, surrenders his spirit into the hands of God in order to escape death which threatens him. Jesus, however, accepted death and yielded up his spirit into the Father's hands to attest his obedience and to manifest to him his trust for a new life. His abandonment was therefore more complete and radical, more daring and definitive, more fraught with a sacrificial will.

4. Besides, this last cry was a completion of the first, as we noted right from the beginning. Let us take up again the two texts and see what results from a comparison between the two, first of all from the merely linguistic or, as it were, semantic aspect.

The term "God" of Psalm 22 is used, in the first cry, as an invocation which can signify the dismay of a man in his own nothingness before the experience of abandonment on the part of God, considered in his transcendence and almost experienced in a state of separation (the Holy One, the Eternal, the Immutable). In the following cry Jesus had recourse to Psalm 31, inserting into it the invocation of God as Father (Abba), a name which is habitual to him and which well expresses the familiarity of an exchange of paternal warmth and filial attitude.

Moreover, in the first cry Jesus also asked God the question "why," certainly with profound respect for his will, for his power and infinite greatness, but without concealing a sense of human dismay which such a death must certainly arouse. Now, instead, the second cry expresses trusting abandonment in the arms of the wise and kind Father who disposes and upholds everything with love. There was a moment of desolation when Jesus felt without support and defense on the part of everyone, even of God. It was a dreadful moment; but Jesus soon overcame it by entrusting himself into the hands of the Father. Jesus realized in the depths of his being the loving and immediate presence of the Father, since Jesus is in the Father as the Father is in him (cf. Jn 10:38; 14:10 f.), even on the cross!

5. The words and cries of Jesus on the cross, to be understood, must be considered in relation to what Jesus himself had announced beforehand, in the prophecies of his death and in his teaching on the destiny of man in a new life. For all, death is a passage to existence beyond the grave. For Jesus it was, rather, the preliminary of the resurrection which would take place on the third day. Death, therefore, always has the character of the dissolution of the human composite, which arouses revulsion. But after the first cry, Jesus with great serenity yielded his spirit into the hands of the Father, in view of the new life and indeed of the resurrection from the dead, which would be the crowning point of the paschal mystery. Thus, after all the agonies of his physical and moral sufferings, Jesus embraced death as an entrance into the immutable peace of the "Father's bosom" to which his whole life had been ordered.

6. With his death Jesus reveals that at the end of life man is not doomed to immersion in obscurity, in the existential void, in the abyss of nothingness. But man is invited to meet the Father toward whom he moved in the journey of faith and love during life, and into whose arms he threw himself with holy abandonment at the hour of death. It is an abandonment which, like that of Jesus, implies a total gift of self on the part of a soul which accepts to be despoiled of the body and of earthly life, but in the knowledge that it will find in the arms and heart of the Father the new life, a participation in the very life of God in the trinitarian mystery.

Through the ineffable mystery of death the soul of the Son came to enjoy the glory of the Father in the communion of the Spirit (the Love of the Father and of the Son). This is "eternal life," made up of knowledge, love, joy and infinite peace.

The evangelist John says that Jesus "gave up his spirit" (Jn 19:30). Matthew says "he gave up the spirit" (Mt 27:50). Mark and Luke say that "he breathed his last" (Mk 15:37; Lk 23:46). Jesus' soul entered into the beatific vision in the bosom of the Trinity. In this light of eternity one can grasp something of the mysterious relationship between Christ's humanity and the Trinity. The Letter to the Hebrews touches on this when, speaking of the salvific efficacy of the blood of Christ, far superior to that of the blood of animals offered in the sacrifices of the old covenant, it states that in his death Christ "through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God" (Heb 9:14).


After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

JE SALUE CORDIALEMENT les visiteurs et les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. A la veille de la fête de l’Immaculée Conception, je les recommande à la médiation maternelle de la Vierge Marie. En leur offrant mes meilleurs voeux, je les bénis de tour cœur.

Ai numerosi pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I EXPRESS A WARM welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present here today. In particular I greet the American Bishops who have come to Rome at this time for their ad Limina visits. May the Prince of Peace, whose coming in the flesh is the theme of our Advent meditation, fill your hearts with his love and mercy. God bless you all.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schestern!

HERZLICH GRÜßE ich nach dieser kurzen Zusammenfassung meiner heutigen Ansprache alle Pilger und Besucher aus Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz; ebenso auch alle, die über das Radio meine Worte vernehmen. Wie unsere Betrachtung über den Tod Jesu, so lenkt auch die jetzige Adventszeit unsere Gedanken auf das Kommen des Reiches Gottes. Wir sind aufgerufen, uns darauf ernsthaft vorzubereiten. Erneuern wir uns in Glaube und Hoffnung, denn wir kennen weder den Tag noch die Stunde, wann der Herr kommt. Mit besten adventlichen Wünschen segne ich euch alle von Herzen.

Ai numerosi fedeli provenienti dalla Spagna e dall’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

DESEO AHORA presentar mi más cordial saludo de bienvenida a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, en particular a los sacerdotes, religiosos, religiosas y demás almas consagradas.

Saludo también a las peregrinaciones venidas de las diócesis de Sevilla, Madrid y Alicante.

Con particular afecto imparto a todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi

SERDECZNE WITAM wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, w szczególności Księży Biskupów z Płocka, z Włocławka i z Lublina; reprezentację Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego z Biskupem Rektorem i Prorektorami. Korzystam z okazji, ażeby za ich pośrednictwem pozdrowić całe środowisko uniwersytetu, z którym byłem przez wiele lat związany. Prócz tego witam pielgrzymów z parafii Najświętszego Salwatora w Krakowie; z diecezji włocławskiej - katechetów i katechetki z księdzem biskupem Andrzejewskim; przedstawicieli Polonii amerykańskiej; kolejarzy z Katowic, jako też uczestników grup turystycznych . . . Wszystkim w naszej Oiczyźnie przekazuję serdeczue życzenia na Boże Narodzenie, które się zbliża.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

DESIDERO ORA rivolgere un saluto particolare al numeroso gruppo della Diocesi di Avezzano, il quale, guidato dal Vescovo Monsignor Vittorio Terrinoni, si è recato in pellegrinaggio alle tombe degli Apostoli, in occasione della chiusura dell’Anno Mariano. A voi tutti, cari fratelli, auguro che la Vergine Santa sia sempre la luce della vostra vita e del vostro cammino di fede.

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SALUTO POI cordialmente le Associazioni Cattoliche Operaie della Madonna dell’Arco di Napoli. Questo gruppo ci allieterà con l’esibizione di una “tarantella” in costume, il ballo popolare napoletano.

UN VIVISSIMO AUGURIO anche al diacono Davide Giugia, della diocesi suburbicaria di Porto-Santa Rufina, che oggi verrà ordinato sacerdote. Proviene da una parrocchia in Kosovo in Jugoslavia, e da là è giunto un gruppo di familiari ed amici per festeggiare questo giorno memorabile.

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UN SALUTO ANCHE al giovane Dario Merlino, dell’Istituto Tecnico Commerciale “Carlo Gemellaro” di Catania, premiato come “Alunno più buono d’Italia” dall’Associazione Ex-Alunni Nazareno di Roma, la quale è presente con molti suoi membri. Questa premiazione sia uno stimolo ad amare e praticare le virtù umane e cristiane.

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SALUTO POI con viva cordialità il gruppo di editori di giornali del Canton Ticino, in Svizzera: vi ringrazio, per la vostra presenza ed esprimo il mio apprezzamento per il compito che svolgete al servizio della verità e del bene comune. Mi auguro che il vostro impegno favorisca sempre la causa della giustizia e della dignità dell’uomo.

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DESIDERO SALUTARE cordialmente anche il gruppo dei Soci del Rotary Club di Napoli, accompagnati dai familiari. A voi, il mio augurio per un impegno sempre solerte e fruttuoso a servizio della promozione umana, civile e culturale del Paese.

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UN SALUTO alla Presidenza dell’Associazione Nazionale Bande Italiane Musicali Autonome (ANBIMA), qui presente insieme con le Bande di Prata di Pordenone e di Norcia e col Coro Val Biois di Canale d’Agordo, e con numerosi accompagnatori: essi ci allieteranno con musiche e canti, li ringrazio fin d’ora.

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UN’ESIBIZIONE di musiche e danze ci verrà anche dal gruppo folkloristico “Promessi Sposi” di Oggiono, in provincia di Como. Suoneranno in costumi secenteschi ed useranno caratteristici strumenti musicali.

Siano sempre le vostre manifestazioni artistiche improntate a quella bellezza che eleva lo spirito a Dio!

A tutti la mia benedizione.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati, agli sposi novelli

È CON PARTICOLARE gioia che ora rivolgo, insieme con il mio benvenuto affettuoso, la mia parola di saluto a voi, giovani, a voi, ammalati, ed a voi, sposi novelli

In questa vigilia della solennità dell’Immacolata Concezione, mi è caro esortarvi a rivolgere - con filiale confidenza - la vostra preghiera a Maria, che l’onnipotenza di Dio preservò da ogni macchia di peccato fin dall’inizio della sua esistenza. Carissimi, domandate alla Beata Vergine Maria di ottenervi il dono della fortezza matura e la grazia di un sereno, fiducioso atteggiamento di abbandono alla Provvidenza. Il “sì” quotidiano a Gesù Redentore, che ha assunto quanto è nostro per donarci quanto è suo, vi renderà suoi generosi collaboratori in ogni circostanza della vita.

Di vero cuore benedico tutti, perché Cristo vi conceda quello che il vostro cuore desidera.

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