The Second Word - This day you will be with me in paradise
The Second Word - This day you will be with me in paradise
There is a legend to the effect that when, to escape the wrath of Herod, Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin were fleeing into Egypt with the Divine Child, they stopped at a desert inn. The Blessed Mother asked the lady of the inn for water in which to bathe the babe. The lady then asked if she might bathe her own child, who was suffering from leprosy, in the same waters in which the Divine Child had been immersed. Immediately upon touching those waters baptized with the Divine Presence, the child became whole. Her child advanced in age and grew to be a thief. He is Dismas, now hanging on the Cross at the right hand of Christ! Whether the memory of the story his mother told him now came back to the thief and made him look kindly on Christ, we dont know.
It might have been that his first meeting with the Saviour was on the day when his heart was filled with compunction on hearing the story of a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers. Perhaps, too, his first intimation that he was with the Redeemer came to him as he turned his tortured head and read the inscription which bore His name, "Jesus"; His city, "Nazareth";His crime, "King of the Jews: At any rate, enough dry fuel of the right kind gathers on the altar of his soul, and now a spark from the central Cross fall upon it, creating in it a glorious illumination of faith. He sees a Cross and adores a Throne; he sees a condemned man, and invokes a King: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Our Blessed Lord was owned at last! Amidst the clamour of the raving crowd and the dismal universal hiss of sin, in all that delirium of man's revolt against God, no voice was lifted in praise and recognition except the voice of a man condemned. It was a cry of faith in Him whom every one else had forsaken, and it was only the testimony of a thief. If the son of the widow of Nain, who had been raised from the dead, had cried out a word of faith in the Kingdom of One who was seemingly losing His Kingdom; if Peter, who on the Mount of Transfiguration had seen His face shine like the sun and His garments whiten like snow, had acknowledged Him; if the blind man of Jericho whose eyes were opened to the light of God's sunshine had been opened anew to proclaim His Divinity, we should not have been surprised. Why, if any of these had cried out, perhaps the timid disciples and friends would have rallied, perhaps the scribes and pharisees would have believed! But at the moment when death was upon Him, when defeat stared Him in the face, the only one outside the small group at the foot of the Cross to acknowledge Him as Lord of a Kingdom, as the Captain of Souls, was a thief at the right hand of Christ.
At the very moment when the testimony of a thief was given, Our Blessed Lord was winning a greater victory than any life can win, and was exerting a greater energy than that which harnesses waterfalls; He was losing His life and saving a soul. And on that day when Herod and his whole court could not make Him speak, nor all the power of Jerusalem make Him step down from the Cross, nor the unjust accusations of a court-room force Him to break silence, nor a mob crying, " He saved others; Himself He cannot save," bring from His burning lips a retort, He turns to a quivering life beside Him, speaks, and saves a thief: "This day you will be with Me in Paradise." No one before was ever the object of such a promise, not even Moses nor John, not even Magdalene or Mary!
It was the thief's last prayer, perhaps also his first. He knocked once, sought once, asked once, dared everything and found everything. When our spirits stand with John on Patmos, we can see the white-stoled army in heaven riding after the conquering Christ; when we stand with Luke on Calvary, we see the one who rode first in that procession. Christ, who was poor, died rich. His hands were nailed to a Cross and yet He unlocked the keys of Paradise and won a soul. His escort into Heaven was a thief. May we not say that the thief died a thief, for he stole Paradise?
Oh, what greater assurance is there in all the world of the mercy of God? Lost sheep, prodigal sons, broken Magdalenes, penitent Peters, forgiven thieves! Such is the rosary of Divine forgiveness. God is more anxious to save us than we are to save ourselves. There is a story told to the effect that one day Our Blessed Lord appeared to Saint Jerome, saying to him, "Jerome, what will you give Me?" Jerome answered, " I will give You my writings," to which Our Lord replied that it was not enough. "Then," said Jerome, "What shall I give You? My life of penance and mortification?" But the answer was, "Even that is not enough!" What have I left to give You?" cried Jerome. Our Blessed Lord answered, " Jerome, you can give Me your sins."
Dear Jesus! Your kindness to the penitent thief recalls the prophetic words of the Old Testament: "If yours sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow: and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool."In Your words of forgiveness to the penitent thief, I understand now the meaning of Your words: "I have not come to call the just, but sinners... Those who are healthy do not need a doctor; but sick people do." "There will be more joy in Heaven at the repentance of one sinner than at ninety-nine of the righteous who had no need of repentance."I see now why Peter was not made Your first vicar on earth until after he had fallen three times, in order that the Church of which he was the head might forever understand forgiveness and pardon. Jesus, I begin to see that if I had never sinned, I never could call You "Saviour".The thief is not the only sinner. Here am I! But You are the only Saviour.