Seven Last Words

Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor 

Seven Last Words by Timothy Radcliffe, OP; Published by Continuum Publishing, 2007; 102pp

Timothy Radcliffe, OP, is a Dominican priest and a member of the Black Friars of Oxford, England. He was Master General of the Dominican Order--the Order of Preachers (OP) from 1992 to 2001. While holding this position, Radcliffe traveled extensively, visiting the Dominicans in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. His travels gave him a sense of what the universal Catholic Church looks like.

Radcliffe has written a number of books, including Seven Last Words, published in 2004, and reprinted in 2007. The book focuses on the seven last phrases or words from Jesus on the cross. The foreward of Seven Last Words is titled "In the beginning was the Word" and is more than a foreward--it is really a substantial chapter in the book. Radcliffe explains that in this little book we are not just concerned with the last words of Jesus on the cross, but also with the meaning of Jesus' life and, truly, every life. He goes on to state that he was astonished that the seven phrases had their own "beautiful structure." The first words are addressed to the Father, the middle words lament the absence of that Father, and the ending words again address the Father.

The mid-section of Seven Last Words contains seven chapters--one for each of the phrases, from "Forgive them, for they know not what they do" to "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."  Each chapter consists of a meditation on the phrase and is accompanied by an image of a cross from Radcliffe's collection. A short, but interesting explanation of each cross ends each of the seven chapters. Radcliffe's meditations include personal reflections and autobiographical sketches to emphasize his thoughts.

The book's afterword is titled "Beyond Silence" and speaks not just of silence, but also of waiting: "We must wait for the resurrection to break the silence of the tomb." Radcliffe also writes of speaking up when it is deemed necessary, and states that the courage to speak is "ultimately founded upon the courage to listen."

The final section of the book has the heading "Our Word." This chapter focuses on violence and "otherness" with brief sections on the conquest of the Americas, the Holocaust and September 11. Radcliffe briefly addresses how each of these events provokes a retelling of the death and resurrection of Christ. The book is summed up on the last page: "We have listened together to the Seven Last Words of Christ on the cross. They promise us forgiveness for the violence that we have committed, Paradise when all seems lost, communion when it has been broken."

Seven Last Words is not an easy book to read, even though it is relatively short. Radcliffe offers some deep and meaningful thoughts that beg to be pondered and reread. The book is a fine contemplative book, especially for Lent and Holy Week.

Radcliffe spends the majority of his time preaching and lecturing all over the world. Other books written by Radcliffe include Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist; Christians and Sexuality in the Time of AIDS; Just One Year: A Global Treasury of Prayer and Worship; What is the Point of Being a Christian? and I Call You Friends.


Seven Last Words