March 6, 2002
volume 13, no. 43

One thief's soul was stolen; the other stole into Paradise
        "It was the English author Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote:
      Two men looked out through prison bars.
      One saw mud; the other stars.
    One reaciton to pain can be rebellion; the other can be resignation. Those who rebel against it see no purpose in pain; but those who see it in relation to saving the soul turn it into what is creative. When the universe is opaque and nothing is seen beyond, suffering is devoid of meaning. The universe is as transparent as a windowpane to those who see that 'all things cooperate unto God in those who are called to be saints.'

        These two attitudes toward pain were perfectly exemplified by the two theives and revolutionists crucified on either side of Our Divine Lord. Both of them suffered exactly the same torture. When they felt the impress of the nail on their hands, they blasphemed. Then they heard the First Word spoken by the One on the central cross. It was an unusual word He spoke. Generally, when men are sentenced to die, they protest their innocence, or condemn those who condemn them, or else ask for forgiveness. But here, for the first time in history of the world, the Son of God on the Cross was saying, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'

        When the thief on the left heard this cry, he asked Our Lord to prove His Power by stepping down from the Cross and by taking him down. That to him was a sign of Omnipotence - to stop that pain and suffering. Power, to that thief on the left, was to be used, not to make him better, but to enable him to go on with the dirty business of thieving. He could not assimilate pain; it came to him like foreign substance to the stomach that could not digest it. The result was that it intensified his rebellion to a point where his mouth became a crater of hate and a volcano of blasphemy. No one is better for pain; he could conceivably be worse. Unspiritualized suffering degenerates the soul. Refusing to think of pain as related to anything else intensifies the thought of self and thereby deepens egotism.

        But the thief on the right, when he heard that prayer for forgiveness, began to see a relationship between his sufferings and his guilt. Some sparks from the central cross ignited some inflammable material in his soul, and in the belfry of his conscience the bell began to toll. He spoke to his brother thief, and he said, 'Fear ye not? We suffer the just reward of our crimes, but this Man has done no wrong.' Then turning to to the Divine Savior, he prayed, 'Remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy Kingdom.' Kingdom? Did He Who apparently was a fellow criminal have a Kingdom? The thief looked at the crown of thorns and saw there a royal diadem; the nail was to him as a scepter of power and authority; His crucifixion was His installation, and His blood, the royal purple. He asked only to be remembered. The response came back, 'This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.' 'Thou' - it was the foundation of democracy; the worth of a single soul. 'Thou shalt be with Me' - I always wondered why He said 'in Paradise,' to be with Him in Paradise! And the thief died a thief! For he stole Paradise; Paradise can be stolen again. "

February 27, 2002
volume 13, no. 38
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