In one of the Via Crucis I joined at the grounds of a particular diocesan shrine, I was struck by the statue at the tenth station of the cross: Jesus and the thief, who according to tradition was named Dismas, were conversing. The statue depicts that these two were exchanging sentiments. That image led me to momentarily enter into that event of Jesus’ Passion and Death and thus moved me into a deeper prayer. While the other faithful were praying and singing hymns on the sorrows of Jesus, I was immersed in my imagination with a scene that could have possibly happened between Jesus and Dismas. I was imagining Dismas expressing to Jesus his deep sorrow for having committed such crimes in his life, telling him all the reasons he had for choosing to do such. Then it dawned on me that this conversation between Jesus and the thief was a moment of grace for the latter. Unlike the other thief on the other side of Jesus who provoked him to prove himself to be a God, Dismas exhibited that he was not just a mere criminal. He was a believer of Jesus, as the Scripture says in verse 40 of Luke rebuking the other criminal who reviled Jesus: “Have you no fear of God?” Surely, Dismas was a man who feared God in his life. He was a believer of Jesus. Deep in his heart, he recognized Jesus as God and a God of his life. He was one of the many who despite his belief in Jesus, was tempted to resort to commit crimes whatever his reasons were which the Scripture did not explicitly mentioned but our imagination could possibly explore. He was a man who knew justice and accepted that he only deserved his sentence on the cross as payment for all his crimes. He was not just a man of his wrongdoings. On the cross, he would profess his faith to Jesus in humility: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” By saying this, we can say that he was a man who was also concerned of the state of his soul. He wished that after he would have payed for his wrongdoings, he would secure his soul an eternal place, that is, to be in God's kingdom. There on the cross beside Jesus, he received the gift of salvation that Jesus offered by dying on the cross, not as a criminal but as an oblation for the forgiveness of mankind’s sin. Dismas was the first recipient of the gift of salvation as Jesus promised him with his words: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Such a relief for Dismas who was facing death, a shameful death! But it was not so anymore. Surely, Dismas suffered the torture by the soldiers and died a shameful death before the public but he died hopeful and feeling unconditionally loved. Jesus' promise of eternal life enabled him to accept all the pains of crucifixion as an offering so that he may be worthy to receive eternal life. I concluded my prayer at the tenth station filled with God’s mercy and love.
This piece of the Passion Narrative teaches us what conversation with God could bless us with. We cannot underestimate what conversation can do in order to change our perspective. It happens that when we sin, we cut off our relationship with God. We cut off our communication with Him. And so, perhaps, in here, we can learn from the humble disposition of Dismas, the penitent thief. We know too well that despite all our imperfections and sins, as long as we go back to God after our failings, we are confident that His mercy and forgiveness are never wanting. Like Dismas, we are invited to just talk and listen to God. We can pour our sentiments to him, our regrets, our contrition. We can tell to him how despite our love for him, we still managed to betray him by choosing that which is not good for us, and worst, that which ruins our souls. We can tell him all we want about the shame and guilt that eats us up, those feeling of abandonment while hopelessly seeking for someone to help us get out of the dark tunnel. He listens to us. He understands us. He forgives us. Only if we talk to Him. Only if we humbly admit our sins to Him.
In conversing with God, something mysterious and deep is unfolded to our souls that are wounded with sin. We receive the grace of mercy and love of God when, after closing in our selves in sin, we open the communication line with him.
Yes, we may feel shame and guilt because of our offenses to God but talking and listening to Him in prayer can give us so much consolation. Our conversation with Him would be healing avenues that will help us reintegrate and reconcile with God and our very selves. Conversation with God after a great fall can lead us to a humble admittance of our weaknesses and sinfulness, and subsequently, bring us to healing and wholeness in Him. Conversation with God opens us up to the grace of hope, infusing into our souls a deep confidence in God’s mercy and compassion. It makes us not lose hope in his promise of eternal life. Indeed, we are not doomed to death.
On the cross, Jesus offered himself and won for us the gift of salvation. By his death on the cross, Jesus prepared for us our eternal home, heaven, paradise. Each one of us is entitled of that piece of Paradise, only if like Dismas, we change our perspectives and begin to admit our need of mercy and forgiveness so that Jesus can say to us: From today, you will be with me in Paradise. This Holy Friday, we are once more invited to place our confidence and trust in Jesus’ love. May we benefit from the good that we celebrate today and receive the gift of eternal life Jesus has won for us by his passion, death and resurrection. May we not lose grip of this Paradise that awaits us. We may stumble down many times, backslide to sin after many attempts of reconciliation with the Lord but may we not get tired of coming back to him, talking and listening to him, wanting to hear again and again his words of hope: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Sharer: Sr. Niña Lorilla, FSP