The reflective content of this session has been edited based on Chapter 4 of Fr James Martin’s book, Seven Last Words. Used with permission from HarperOne.
- Do you feel the presence of God today? Is it easy, or hard to find it; to feel it? Whether you feel God as close or far, you can settle into stillness today by focusing on your breathing. This is breath given from God. Life-giving breath that allows you to live and move and have your being in God’s creation each day. Spend a few moments focusing on only your breathing, knowing that it is given by God.
Notice what most draws your attention
- In the passage we turn our focus to today, Jesus invokes Psalm 22 in its totality as the prayer of one who cried out to God and was heard. Notice what most draws your attention in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark…
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’
Have you had this experience yourself: believing in God, but not feeling that God is close?
- “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” What are we to make of these extraordinary words? For some Christians, they are almost unbearable. Can it be true that Jesus thought that God the Father had forsaken him? Is it possible that Jesus’s doubted the love of the one he called Abba, “Father”? Did Jesus give up hope when he was crucified? Did he despair when he was on the cross?
- Jesus really did feel abandoned. This is not to say that Jesus despaired. But it is not unreasonable to imagine Jesus, in this grave hour, feeling as is the Father was absent. And remember, if he’s crying out to God, he’s still in a relationship with God.
- Here we need to distinguish between a person’s believing that God is absent and feeling it. The latter is common in the spiritual life. Have you had this experience yourself: believing in God, but not feeling that God is close? You ask, “Where are you, God?” This is another important intersection between Jesus’s life and our own.
- Of all people, Jesus could be forgiven for feeling abandoned. Think of what he has gone through by this point in the Passion. The one who abandoned himself to the Father’s will in the garden of Gethsemane the night before, who had given himself entirely to what the Father had in store for him, now wonders on the cross: “Where are you?”
- These feelings were probably intensified by his having been abandoned by his followers. Until this point, if Jesus felt lonely or misunderstood by the disciples, he might have turned to the Father for comfort. Now he goes there and feels alone. It may be the loneliest any human being has ever felt.
- But on the cross, when Jesus says, “My God, my God,” he uses the Aramaic word Eloi. That’s a more formal way of speaking to God. The shift from the familiar Abba in the garden to the more formal Eloi on the cross is heartbreaking. Jesus’s feeling of distance, then, reveals itself not only in the scream and not only in the line of the psalm that he utters, but also in the word Eloi.
Talk to God
Spend a few moments imagining this moment, calling out to God if you need to for your own suffering
- In her early years, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, enjoyed several mystical experiences of intense closeness with God. But in the last fifty or so years of her life, until her death, she felt a sense of great emptiness in her prayer. At one point, she wrote to her confessor, “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss – of God not really existing”. Mother Teresa’s letters do not mean that she had abandoned God or that God had abandoned her. In fact, in continuing with her ministry to the poor, she made a radical act of fidelity based on a relationship she still believed in – even if she could not sense God’s presence. She trusted that earlier experience. In other words, she had faith. Have you gone through seasons similar to this one - where you feel God is far…distant? What was it like? Perhaps you are still going through it…
- Jesus does not despair. He is still in relationship with Abba – calling on him from the cross. Jesus understands not only our bodily suffering, but also our spiritual suffering in these feelings of abandonment. He was like us in all things, except in sin. And he experienced all that we do. Spend a few moments imagining this moment, and calling out to God if you need to for your own suffering.
- When you struggle in the spiritual life, when you wonder where God is, when you pray in doubt and darkness, and even when you are close to despair, you are praying to someone who is fully human and fully divine, someone who understands you fully. At the close of this session, pray to that God now, knowing that you are fully understood.