Perfection, Redemption, and Perdition
On the summit of Golgotha are the essence of man's direction. That is why it is best to stay on the straight and narrow road that leads to the True Cross.
"The Three Crosses give us all the information we need to find eternal salvation. We can aspire to Christ and follow the Good Thief in humble, sincere contrition or we can stubbornly wrap the image of the Bad Thief around ourselves as we spiral downward toward perdition. We can humbly ask for forgiveness and defend our Lord or we can stubbornly and arrogantly demand help on our terms and mock Him. Like it or not, we will all hang from at least one and maybe many crosses. How we deal with our ordeal will determine if we will hang in vain or rise to the occasion."
We have all read the accounts of the three crosses on Calvary from Luke 23. We know that at the center stood Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ hanging from the cross that He both physically and symbolically embraced earlier that day. To one side stood the cross of the the so-called Good Thief, a guilty but repentant sinner, recognizing both his weakness and the injustice inflicted on Our Lord. To the other side was the wood of the so-called Bad Thief, a likewise guilty but quite arrogant, selfish, and unrepentant sinner, representing the blind stubbornness of pure sin and certain perdition. In these three crosses we find the ideal, the heal, and the real seal of perdition.
It is obvious that Christ represents the perfect response to God's Will. Despite the fears and trepidations of His Humanity, Our Lord mustered His strength, courage, and obedience to follow through with His mission. Faced with a pending onslaught of pain, torture, suffering, and hardship, Christ buckled down and moved headlong into His purpose designed by His Father. This was the pure and perfect conclusion to His ministry and the temptations He faced both at the beginning and throughout. Our Lord confronted these obstacles, temptations, and His mission with resolute loyalty, submission, and humility to the Will of His Father. Not content to merely accept His cross, Christ embraced it even as He fell under its weight only to rise again. In fact, "rise" is what Jesus did throughout that day. First after crashing to the ground beneath the heavy cross, and then after dying while hanging from that Sacred Instrument of Salvation.
Through His transcendent and ultimate sacrifice, Our Lord transformed an instrument of torture into an altar from which to honor His Father and defeat sin and death.
We have seen how the magnitude of this act will either capture us or scatter us, depending on our love, trust, respect, obedience, sincerity, and perception of our God and the total sacrifice of His only Son for us. If we are to truly follow Christ, we must accept and even embrace our crosses as He did. Only our faith, love, trust, loyalty, and commitment to Our Lord will drag us from the curious crowds to the spots behind Christ on that path to suffering and sacrifice for Him. If our humanity likewise pulls us away from that caravan and back to the safety amid the shadows of sin, then we must still unfailingly aspire to once again follow our Divine Mentor as best we can.
Since we are all obviously repetitive sinners more likely to fall again than to somehow sin no more, we must look to the Good Thief Dismas as an assistant on our journey through life and toward salvation. Saint Luke in chapter 23 tells us that this man was surely guilty, but he humbly recognized his guilt and responsibility for his sins and Our Lord's innocence. He was likewise ready to defend Christ, as well as being quite capable of contrition and seeking forgiveness. Recognizing our inability as sinners to prevent or completely eliminate the wounds of sin, this man stands as our next best hope. He shows us that God's love extends to those who humbly, sincerely return in contrition as The Prodigal Son did. While we should always strive to "sin no more", we must realistically accept that it could well be how well we rise from our sins more than how effectively we avoid them that determines our ultimate salvation. Do not get me wrong; certainly we must always try to avoid sin and free ourselves from its clutches and chains. However, we must have a very solid Plan B because otherwise we will see our fall as final leaving no hope, as Judas did. In a real sense we must love Our Lord so much that we are willing to return to Him when earthly measures would deem our return the height of gall and audacity, the complete absence of integrity and honor, and the ultimate hypocrisy.
That return must not be made as some magical Houdini act intended as a narrow, last-second escape from sin and perdition. It must be sincere and based on a passionate hunger and thirst for the love, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation offered to us by Christ.
In a sense, we must see the ideal of Christ as the meal which nourishes our soul. Unable to completely avoid injury, we must always look to the Divine Doctor Who can heal our wounds and guide us to better moral health if we follow His prescriptions. In order to do this we must have complete, uninterested, child-like love, faith, and trust in God. The Good Thief did not defend Christ or speak to Him with the ulterior motive of merely seeking a way out. He did so out of total, sincere, contrite humility and in so doing uttered the most touching of prayers to His Lord. He obviously did wrong to end up as he did, and he very likely detested the cross he was dealt at first. However, through his humble and sincere love and contrition he came to accept his cross and embrace God's Will. His reward is uttered by The Master when Christ promises "Amen, I say to thee this very day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
The Real Seal of Perdition
The so-called Bad Thief had the same guilty origin as The Good Thief, but he took a far more destructive, useless, and selfish path. While the Good Thief accepted his lot and merely asked for forgiveness and mercy, The Bad Thief rejected and cursed what had happened to him and spewed forth mockery, disrespect, ridicule, arrogance, and hatred.
Likewise the same passage of Luke shows us a man who was not humble, had no faith, no hope, no regrets, no respect, and no charity while he stewed in his own soup of sin. Rather than accept his errors and ask for forgiveness, this man mocked the One Who could have saved his soul.
In a sense, while the Good Thief answered his earlier sin with humble contrition and respect, this man compounded his earlier sin with shocking arrogance, resentment, and rejection of the saving power of his suffering. While Christ embraced and the Good Thief accepted their crosses, this Bad Thief rejected his and ironically enough bound himself to it for all eternity.
The Divine Irony of the three crosses is that He who embraced His cross released us to the opportunity to escape sin and death, he who accepted it released his soul if not his body from that death, and he who rejected it forever chained himself to the very cross that he was pushing away. The Lesson of The Three Crosses is found in the fact that our crosses are the doors to salvation and so in avoiding or rejecting them, we refuse to open those doors to eternal happiness. Christ is the perfect example of embracing a cross. The Good Thief is a good example of accepting a cross even at the end, and The Bad Thief is the classic case of rejecting and condemning ourselves to eternal sin and death precisely by avoiding our crosses.
The Three Crosses give us all the information we need to find eternal salvation. We can aspire to Christ and follow the Good Thief in humble, sincere contrition or we can stubbornly wrap the image of the Bad Thief around ourselves as we spiral downward toward perdition. We can humbly ask for forgiveness and defend our Lord or we can stubbornly and arrogantly demand help on our terms and mock Him. Like it or not, we will all hang from at least one and maybe many crosses. How we deal with our ordeal will determine if we will hang in vain or rise to the occasion.
Editor's Note: Heaven is once again under attack by those who would seek to ignore and overthrow God's majesty and authority. Gabriel Garnica, educator and attorney, submits regular insights and commentaries to remind and help guide readers toward a deeper and more assertive faith. Touching on topics and issues ranging from personal faith, doctrine, education, scripture, the media, family life, morality, and values, Gabriel's notes are music to traditional ears but unpleasant tones to those who have bought into the misguided notions so prevalent and spreading in today's Catholic world.