The second word: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Reply

We have been accompanying Christ during his passion. As if the cruelty of that was not enough, now, suddenly, a new type of scourging begins: one of mockery and insults as vicious as the thorns, whips, and nails that have assailed him. Christ has just preached forgiveness and compassion; the answer from his audience was hatred and anger.

“And those that passed by blasphemed him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You that would destroy the temple of God and in three days build it anew, save yourself if you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!’” Our Lord remains silent.  In like manner, the chief priests mocked and derided him: “He saved others, can’t he save himself? If he be the Christ, the Son of God, let him now come down from the Cross, that we may see and believe.” One of the thieves, in pain and desperation, joins in: “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!”

The other thief remains silent. He had heard the prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They were strange words to him, but they were words of prayer. And prayer becomes a dying man. At this moment he had a conversion of heart—if only he too could go to his death praying, with some contrition on his heart and a word of hope on his lips. He asks Jesus to remember him when he enters into his Kingdom and hears the blessed response, “This day you will be with me in paradise.”

How I would like to push my way through the crowd to thank the good thief. He has given us all hope! Because of him we are reminded that Paradise is open to us, even as we suffer here during our pilgrimage in this valley of tears.  We should think of Heaven much more than we do because ultimately it is the reason for everything we do; as Legionaries, our goal is our own growth in holiness and the salvation of souls. Why else would we form ourselves for thirteen years? Why else would we make any sacrifice necessary for the salvation of even one soul?

The bad thief railed against Christ for he did not have within him the capacity to see his suffering with a supernatural spirit; the good thief, thanks to our Lord’s example, was able to embrace his cross, and was immediately filled with hope. He had learned to see his cross within the context of eternity. In a certain sense, by helping the good thief love his cross, Christ helped him come down from it. He had conquered it by keeping it within the perspective of eternal paradise.

Under the Cross, amid the confusion and insults, let us allow our hearts to be filled with gratitude to Christ for the sacrifice that he is undergoing for us. It is to open the gates of heaven for us, to redeem us from our sins, to show us the eternal value of the salvation of one soul.

During Holy Week, I will be posting a daily reflection on the 7 Last Words of Christ. 

Fr Jason Smith

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