In his newest book, Father James Martin says Jesus ‘understands our lives because he experienced our lives’
“Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus” by James Martin, SJ; HarperCollins Publishers; February 2016; $18.99; 144 pp.
Review by Ann Jonas
In April 2015, Jesuit Father James Martin was invited to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City as part of the Good Friday services to reflect on Jesus’ “seven last words,” the seven last sentences or phrases Jesus spoke as recorded in the Gospels. Those reflections make up his new book, “Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus.”
Editor at large of America magazine and a best-selling author, Father Martin writes with humor, wit and personality. His writing is inspirational and always very accessible. “Jesus: A Pilgrimage,” “Between Heaven and Mirth” and “My Life with the Saints” are three of his most popular books.
In his new book, he devotes one chapter to each of the seven statements uttered by Jesus; the Gospel passage that contains each statement begins the corresponding chapter. An introduction and conclusion complete the book.
Father Martin, in his introduction, gives readers a little background and explanation of the “seven last words,” including some comparisons of the evangelists’ Gospel writings. He ends his introduction by stating that “this book focuses mainly on how [Jesus’] sufferings on Good Friday enable him to understand us.” He asserts that because we have a God who suffered intensely, we have a God who is compassionate, sympathetic and empathetic and who “understands our lives because he experienced our lives.”
The titles of all seven chapters begin with two words: “Jesus Understands.” Father Martin then shows how the phrase for that chapter relates to us today. For example, “Jesus Understands a Parent’s Love” is the title of the chapter about “Woman, here is your son….Here is your mother.” In this chapter, Father Martin points out that “Jesus understood both the love of a parent and love for a parent.” Chapter six, “Jesus Understands Disappointment,” is paired with Jesus’ statement “It is finished” and addresses our feelings when things don’t work out.
In his conclusion, titled “The Understanding Christ,” Father Martin reiterates that the Risen Christ understands our struggles because he lived a human life. Knowing that when we pray to Jesus we are praying to someone who understands us can help us to speak to Jesus more openly in prayer.
Although this book is relatively short, it is packed with spiritual insight and wisdom. Father Martin’s writing focuses on the humanness of Jesus. He encourages us to seek a closer friendship with Jesus by regarding him as someone who lived on this earth and experienced many of the emotions and struggles that we experience.
“Seven Last Words” is a meaningful read for Lent and especially for Holy Week, offering spiritual renewal and hope to readers. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, including the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University Bookstores.
Ann Jonas is the general book buyer for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.