This reflection was taken from the Sunday Mass Readings of Nov. 24, 2013:
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Wow. What a nice thing to hear.
Picture it: you’re hanging on a cross and dying, for good reason. Because you repented of your sins, however, you have just been assured of an eternity in Paradise. How do you think that would make you–or anyone–feel?
You don’t even have to imagine the dying-on-the-cross part to see the joy that such words–from such a mouth–would give a person. The instant that the crucified criminal heard them, he knew–through faith–that his life would not end in death, that his existence here on earth had not been in pointless vain, that he would indeed live forever with the Lord Jesus in Heaven. All because he had asked Jesus to “remember him;” all because he had asked for forgiveness.
This man obviously sincerely repented of his sins–including whatever it was that got him hung on that cross in the first place. We know this because we know that sins aren’t forgiven without sincere repentance; and Jesus is granting this man a heck of a lot more forgiveness than if the man had just uttered a few meaningless words. Don’t get me wrong–Jesus wanted to forgive the guy either way. According to the Lord’s own rules, however, he “couldn’t” really forgive the criminal if he didn’t sincerely repent. It wouldn’t even make sense.
Ask yourself this question: Which would be worse to hear–that you were going to die tomorrow, and live from there on with Jesus in Paradise, or that you were going to live for a long, long time, and be uncertain as to whether you would go to Heaven–as uncertain as we all are? Which would you choose–to give up all the material things that you have so soon, to ensure a spot in the Lord’s Kingdom? Or to go on living for years to come, with no absolute certainty as to where you would spend eternity?
We all take our “possessions” very personally. Many of us take them too personally. I can be like that sometimes. For example, I possess a certain item which cost me eighty dollars (those who have been following this blog may remember it from a previous reflection). Do you think that I would sooner watch that get destroyed by a hammer, or, say, tell a lie to make sure it didn’t? I get the feeling that I…might be feeling rather bad for intentionally disobeying a Commandment as I tried to get to sleep that night.
St. Dominic Savio’s motto (yes, I did have to look it up online to remember which saint it was that said this) was “Death rather than sin!” In other words, in the scenario provided above, he would choose to see his possession demolished rather than displease his Lord. Rather than making him a spiritual snot in our eyes, that should make him a role model. If we could all try to be like him, and be willing to obey the Lord’s will despite the apparent cost, we would live in a much better world.
We can actually come close to ensuring the Kingdom of Heaven for ourselves, by following the Commandments, repenting of our sins, and keeping God’s will at the forefront of our minds at all times (and obeying it). I’m not trying to say that we can really know where we’ll end up–we can’t–but our conscience can and will let us know when we’ve done something wrong. The key is to not brush our conscience off and try to convince ourselves that we haven’t actually sinned. If we’re worried that we’ve sinned, then chances are as good as not (and probably better than not) that we did sin.
We must always keep in mind, however, that we aren’t worthy of the Kingdom of God. The only way that we can get there is through God’s divine mercy. Presuming that we can get ourselves there, through our good works here on earth, is folly. Folly of that sort can lead to pride, and pride of that sort can lead to, well, a straight-downward shot to Hell. Because pride is love of self, and if that loves grows into the belief that we can do things that only God can do, then we lead ourselves to disobeyment of the first and most important Commandment–“Love the Lord your God above all things.” We may not intend to, but we end up making us the standards to which we aspire, which essentially makes us our idols and gods.
What we need to gain salvation is God. We don’t need our things. We certainly don’t need our fallible wills. In the long (meaning eternal) run, we don’t really even need any part of ourselves, aside from our love for God and our willingness to do what he asks of us. And what we need to get rid of to have hope of salvation…is our pride.
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”–Jesus, Jn 14:21
by Cameron Daly