Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
This is the last catechesis on the theme of Christian hope, which has accompanied us from the beginning of this Liturgical Year. And I will conclude speaking of Paradise, as end of our hope.
“Paradise” is one of the last words spoken by Jesus on the cross, addressed to the good thief. Let us pause a moment on that scene. Jesus isn’t alone on the cross. Next to Him, on the right and on the left, are two evildoers. Perhaps, passing before those three crosses raised on Golgotha, someone sighed a sigh of relief, thinking that finally justice was done putting people like this to death.
Next to Jesus there is also a self-confessed criminal: one who recognizes he deserved that terrible torture. We call him the “good thief,” who, opposing the other <thief>, says: we are receiving the due reward for our deeds (Cf. Luke 23:41).
On Calvary, that tragic and holy Friday, Jesus reaches the extreme of His Incarnation, of His solidarity with us sinners. Realized there was what the prophet Isaiah said of the Suffering Servant: “He was numbered with the transgressors” (53:12; Cf. Luke 22:37).
It is there, on Calvary, that Jesus has the last meeting with a sinner, to open to him also the door of His Kingdom. This is interesting: it’s the only time the word “Paradise” appears in the Gospels. Jesus promises it to a “poor devil” who, on the wood of the cross, had the courage to address to Him the most humble request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). He didn’t have good works to assert, but he entrusts himself to Jesus, whom he recognizes as innocent, good, so different from himself (v. 41). That word of humble repentance was enough to touch Jesus’ heart.
The good thief reminds us of our true condition before God: that we are His children, that He has compassion for us, that He is disarmed every time we manifest to Him nostalgia for His love. In the rooms of so many hospitals or in the cells of prisons this miracle is repeated innumerable times: there is no person, no matter how badly he lived, for whom only despair remains and for whom grace is prohibited. We all present ourselves before God with empty hands, somewhat like the publican of the parable who paused to pray in the back of the Temple (Cf. Luke 18:13). And every time that a man, doing the last examination of conscience of his life, discovers that the deficits are greater compared to his good works, he must not be discouraged, but entrust himself to God’s mercy. And this gives us hope; this opens our heart!
God is Father, and He waits for our return up to the end. And to the Prodigal Son who returns, who begins to confess his faults, the father closes his mouth with an embrace (Cf. Luke 15:20). This is God: this is how He loves us!
Paradise is not a dream place or an enchanted garden. Paradise is the embrace with God, infinite Love, and we enter it thanks to Jesus, who died on the cross for us. Where Jesus is, there is mercy and happiness; without Him there is cold and darkness. In the hour of death, a Christian repeats to Jesus: “Remember me.” And if there isn’t any one who remembers us, Jesus is there, next to us. He wants to take us to the most beautiful place that exists. He wants to take us there with the little or the lot of good that was in our life, so that nothing is lost of what He already redeemed. And He will bring to the Father’s House all that is in us that still needs to be redeemed: the failures and mistakes of a whole life. This is the end of our existence: when everything is fulfilled and is transformed in love.
If we believe this, death ceases to make us afraid, and we can also hope to depart from this world serenely and with much trust. Whoever has known Jesus, no longer feels anything. And we can also repeat the words of the elderly Simeon, who was also blessed by his meeting with Christ, after a whole life consumed in waiting: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30).
And in that instant, finally, we won’t be in need of anything, we will no longer see in a confused way. We won’t cry anymore uselessly, because everything has passed, also the prophecies, also knowledge, but not love, it remains, because “love never ends” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8).[Original text: Italian] [Copyright, ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]