As my wife, Dianne was facing her illness and impending death, she made a point of studying several reflections on suffering, death, and dying. One of the books she began, but was unable to finish was The Last Words of Jesus, A Meditation on Love and Suffering by the Franciscan friar Daniel P. Horan. Though she didn’t complete the reading, I have made it a point to read it.
Father Horan’s reflections on the seven phrases of Jesus from the cross are thought-provoking and an excellent study. The Franciscan flavour is clear, but it is in Horan’s focus on the area of social action in Jesus’ words makes for some interesting insights. In fact, this focus is a challenge each of us will need to examine for ourselves.
Horan’s work has several quotes from thinkers and theologians that focus the study, and the prayers at the end of each section helps bring the reader into such a self-examination, not just on the social aspects but on the words of Jesus as a whole. While the seven phrases from the cross have a very Lenten feel, Horan’s closing of the work with a call to compare Jesus’ first gospel quotes to those of the Passion is powerful. In so doing it Horan gives a fresh prism to look at the “last words” through. These include Jesus’ use of the term “Father” for God in Luke’s account reminds us of relationship. Horan also notes that Jesus when in the desert (among the first words) uses scripture as retorts to the devil’s temptations, this sufficiency of the Bible is seen on the cross as well. This is seen in the quoting of Psalm 22 and the statement “I thirst” that the scriptures might be fulfilled.
The section on the words “I thirst,” was especially challenging. In it, he notes a story of an American friar being asked by a woman in South America is it is true that people use fresh water to flush their toilets in the USA. The idea was inconceivable to a person living in the poverty and sparse infrastructure in which she did. The priest could not bring himself to admit the wasteful truth of the Western world’s practices. Practices to which most of us don’t even give a second thought.
I very much Like Horan’s work, and even as a “low church Protestant” find much to consider from its pages.