The content of our Lent Retreat for 2017 has been provided by Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and bestselling author who lives in New York City. His book Seven Last Words, from which these reflections are drawn, is a meditation on the last phrases Jesus uttered on the Cross. His book shows us how completely Jesus understands us, and how we can turn to Jesus in every situation in our life. Seven Last Words is used with the kind permission of HarperOne, and throughout the retreat, there will be links provided to purchase the book. It is our hope that through the extracts taken from this book, you will come to see Jesus in a new light, and enter into a deeper relationship with him.
You will find a new session of the retreat available here each week. Then, you can take the retreat at your own pace, in a place that suits you, using the text and audio to create a time of prayerful attention.
Welcome to this year’s Lent retreat. A retreat offers a chance to take a step back from the pressing concerns of daily life, to reflect prayerfully on the current state of your relationships, with God, with the people around you, and with the world. The season of Lent, during which we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter, is a great opportunity to make such a retreat.
To help and guide our prayer this year, we are reflecting on The Seven Last Words. These words are the seven last sentences, or phrases, or sayings, uttered by Jesus as he hung on the Cross on Good Friday, as recorded in the Gospels.
To introduce them, here are the seven phrases:
"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43)
"Woman, here is your son. . . . Here is your mother." (John 19:26-27)
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46)
"I am thirsty." (John 19:28)
"It is finished." (John 19:30)
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." (Luke 23:46)
We start with some practical suggestions that might help you if you haven’t made a retreat like this before, or act as reminders if you have.
The first thing to consider is: how long do you feel that you are able to devote to each session of the retreat? It’s good to decide this in advance, and try and spend the same amount of time on each reflection.
The material presented in each session lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, but you might want to take more time than this to prepare yourself, or to revisit ideas that arise from the retreat throughout the day.
The overarching theme of this retreat is the way that Jesus’ sufferings help him to understand us. The person to whom we pray, the man we hope to follow, the one who is risen from the dead, understands us – because he lived a human life, and one that, particularly in his final week, was filled with suffering.
This is not to say that suffering is the only important part of Jesus’s life. Indeed, there has been throughout Christian history an overemphasis on the sufferings of Jesus. To focus on him purely as a “Man of Sorrows” overlooks the rest of his public ministry, which was one of great joy. Jesus’s healings were the source not only of amazement, but joy. And many of his parables and sayings would have been seen not simply as wise and clever, but laugh-out-loud funny”.
Jesus, we need to remember, was a fully human person; as such, he had a fully human sense of humour, and even of fun. The Man of Sorrows was, more often, the Man of Joys. Of course, Jesus is fully human and fully divine, and so he participates in divine knowledge. But because he was fully human, to paraphrase Hebrews, we do not relate to a God who is removed from our experiences.
Thus we have a compassionate God, a sympathetic God, an empathetic God, a God who understands our lives. It is the deepest form of understanding and compassion the world has ever seen.
In this retreat we hope that you will come to know, and enter into a deeper relationship with, this God who understands us.