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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Et latronem exaudisti

I'm glad that Casimir posted on Palm Sunday and its varied characters. How true it is that the characters in the story of the Passion are played out anew in our day. I am especially glad that Cas pointed out St. Dismas, the Good Thief. I have been thinking about him lately especially as we enter the holiest of weeks.

I was especially reminded of Dismas, in light of something that I recently learned. One of my colleagues, a graduate of Notre Dame undergrad and Notre Dame law as well as a product of Catholic schools, confided in another friend of ours that he thought that "mortal sins " could not be forgiven. Both he and his wife believed this! This was incomprehensible! Usually, in this day and age it is the other way around--nothing is a mortal sin and everything is forgiven without one having to seek forgiveness! (I am tempted to compose a commentary on the effectiveness of the US bishops in preaching the basic catechism questions, but I will resist the urge. After all, their pastoral on domestic violence was beautiful!) After a long conversation with a practicing Catholic couple, these people who for years had not practiced their faith seriously, suddenly wanted to make long-overdue confessions. Where once there was very little hope and what I would imagine to be a life lacking in integrity, there is now hope of realizing Our Lord's mercy.

This story of God's grace in one couple's life and their courage and desire to seek forgiveness is the story of St. Dismas. As he lay pressed against his cross, gasping for breath, knowing that his life was shortly to end, he heard the blasphemous utterings from the other thief towards Our Lord. One can imagine him, righteously indignant and gathering what strength he had amidst the shortness of his breath, shouting down the other thief. Though the Gospel does not record it, I'm sure a very earthy "shut the hell up you son of a bitch!" may have come from his lips. But what he says next is the most significant. First he acknowledges the justness of his punishment--he understands that he has done wrong and is willing to suffer the consequences of the disorder he created. But then he turns to his Lord and asks Him not to forget him. A deathbed confession. A heartfelt plea for forgiveness and mercy. I am confident that Our Lord turned His bruised and beaten neck and blood-drenched head--with great pain and suffering--to meet the eyes of Dismas. I am sure too that amidst the suffering, blood, and lack of breath that Our Lord managed a kindly smile as He said, "Today you shall be with me in paradise." No doubt Dismas, before he expired, wept tears of sorrow. Yet, after the absolution of Our Lord, I suspect his last tears on earth were tears of joy.

It is never too late to seek the mercy of Our Lord. No matter how many sins one has committed; no matter how long since one's last confession; no matter the content of those sins, go to Our Lord and tell Him how sorry you are. St. Mary Magdalene did this. St. Dismas did this. Countless others did this. He will always turn his Sacred Head towards you and offer you perfect absolution. I am reminded of the great verse of the Dies Irae:
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Yes, Lord, give us this hope during Holy Week.