Today you will be with me in Paradise.
TODAY WAS A BIT of a rough one for me: it began at 4AM with the news that my mom was in the hospital (but somewhat ok as compared to last night). Getting to work I was alerted to the news that one of seven speakers I had arranged for Good Friday might not be there for their own family emergency and a parent in the hospital. So with two hours to go I locked myself in my office with a double espresso and composed a backup essay which, thankfully, I didn’t need to deliver. It follows:
In her writings, Saint Catherine of Siena teaches, “All the way to heaven is heaven because Jesus says I am the way.”
Jesus says to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The thief is on a cross… Jesus is on a cross. What can this mean in Paradise? Today.
My road to the fullness of the Catholic Faith is broken. I made choices early in my life to prioritize certain aspects of my experience over my religious faith and, as a result, my faith started to fall apart.
For a long time I doubted things like the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth, the sacraments, the Bible, the Church, but – at the same time – I struggled knowing I was making moral choices contrary to the historic teachings of the faith.
At the point (sometime in college) where I realized the only part of the Nicene Creed I could say was the first word – “I” – I left my Episcopal Congregation. Then I journeyed outside of the church denying the faith entirely.
After about ten years something was still missing from my “spiritual but not religious” life.
I returned to a liberal Mainline congregation – where I could still live by my choices. But something was still off and so I went first to Eastern Orthodoxy, finally to the Catholic Church. I walked into this building and this community five years ago.
Leaving liberal, progressive Christianity for the traditional faith, I knew I was making new choices that were contrary to my earlier life. There could be no compromise if my faith was to take priority. Something had to change: I would have to let go of those earlier choices.
This new struggle began, seeking healing from the wounds caused by those earlier choices. Wounds leave scars, tearing muscles, and making one week in certain areas. Moral choices, as Saint Paul says, can sear the conscience so that it becomes nearly impossible to make the right choice again in the future without God’s grace.
When Saint Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ” he means that this life, the choices we’ve made, the choices I’ve made become the cross upon which we nail ourselves; hanging there like the thief begging Christ to remember me in his kingdom.
When walking away from former choices toward Christ becomes our whole way of life he says “today you will be with me in Paradise”.
The former choices, these ways of life that were contrary to the faith, that were actually ways of death become the sacrifice made Thanksgiving.
Eventually, Jesus called me back. My Mom said, “No matter where you went, he never let go of your hand, did he?”
I discovered that she was right: all the time that I was walking – even when I was walking away in pride – I was actually walking towards Jesus.
My Sacrifice, once nailed to the cross, he takes and blesses.
All of the broken road turns it into my path to him.
Jesus is our Paradise hanging on the cross and when we hang on the cross with him we are in Paradise today.
All the way to heaven is heaven because Jesus says I am the way.