‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Lk. 23:43).
From the moment that Our Lord spoke these words, the Church has lived in this present time frame. Although the chronology of time progresses and unfolds, the eternal today of God’s time reaches across and underlies all history. This today of the living God that we are called to enter is ‘the hour’ of Jesus’ Passover which reaches across and underlies all history (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1165). St. Hyppolytus further explains it in this manner: A day of long eternal light is ushered in for us who believe in Him, a day which is never blotted out: the mystical Passover (Ibid. 1165).
The eternal today is the Mass and our life in union with the Mass; for the Mass is the celebration of Our Lord’s Passover. This unending Sacrifice which Our Lord commanded us to offer and to celebrate is the eternal Mass. Through the ages this sacrificial Offering has been the very life of the Church and it is in the strength derived from this Sacrifice and only in this strength that Our Lord’s Kingdom is established, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace (Preface, Solemnity of Christ the King, The Roman Missal).
Our Gospel reading today however, gives no indication of such a kingdom. Our text records the dialogue of three dying men, condemned to a cruel and slow death. The King between the two criminals has been rejected by His people. He hangs on the Cross alone. Betrayed by one of His friends, indicted on false charges, condemned by public opinion, tried before a prejudiced jury, convicted by a cowardly judge, He waits for death. He nevertheless makes an astonishing promise in response to the request of a dying man: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. He replied, ‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Lk. 23:42-43).
In the course of His ministry Our Lord had spoken of His kingdom; and by signs and wonders and above all by the power of His word had sought to establish it. St. Luke tells us that once, being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, Our Lord answered: ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed …for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you’ (Lk. 17: 20-21). These few words express the essential and complete truth of the human person in relation to God. The disciple of Christ who has accepted Our Lord’s invitation to belong to God’s kingdom, produces its fruits by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit, says St. Paul, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22).
Our Lord affirms the presence of this kingdom in our midst, indeed, within us as a reality that we endeavour to establish, foster and share. The true disciple of Christ the King seeks the reign of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart first and foremost in his own heart. Among other things, Our Lord’s ministry of preaching and healing was an effort to bring His listeners to understand this truth: the kingdom of God is within you. It is within our reach. In other words, we have the power to establish this kingdom not by force, not by persuasion, but by humble charity – the most powerful force on earth. This is the power Our Lord used and only in this power is Our Lord’s firmly kingdom established. It is a power that imposes nothing and proposes everything; for what one is able to accomplish through supernatural grace is endless.
We might practically define this power as humble charity; which enables us to realise that in our lifetime we accomplish only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s kingdom. One person plants a seed; another waters it. We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. This is humble charity at work in an enterprise that is eternal and universal. And this is our privilege as disciples of Christ; called as we are to holiness, to the perfection of charity. This is our privilege as Our Lord’s disciples, as God’s fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9). St. Paul uses this expression, a phrase that expresses more than simply cooperation with God’s grace. As God’s kingdom becomes a reality in us, His indwelling through grace transforms our hearts and minds and the Sacred Heart of Our Lord truly becomes the King and centre of our hearts.
St. John Eudes, a French priest who fostered devotion to both Our Lord’s Sacred Heart and Our Lady’ Immaculate Heart, explains how this transformation of our minds and hearts is brought about through our conscious and active participation in our sacred worship and a life of genuine piety. The mysteries of Jesus are not yet completely perfected and fulfilled. They are complete, indeed, in the person of Jesus, but not in us, who are his members, nor in the Church, which is his mystical body….This is the plan by which the Son of God completes and fulfills in us all the various stages and mysteries. He desires to perfect the mystery of his incarnation and birth by forming himself in us and being reborn in our souls through the blessed sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist….He intends to perfect the mysteries of his passion, death and resurrection, by causing us to suffer, die and rise again with him and in him. Finally, he wishes to fulfill in us the state of his glorious and immortal life, when he will cause us to live a glorious, eternal life with him and in him in heaven…So it is that the mysteries of Christ will not be completed until the end of time, because he has arranged that the completion of his mysteries in us and in the Church will only be achieved at the end of time (From a treatise on the Kingdom of Jesus).
Our Lord wishes to be King of our hearts and when we welcome Him in our midst, in the very intimacy of our own individual soul, only then do we experience and already begin to participate in His kingdom of truth and life. When Our Lord asks us to conform ourselves to His sacred passion, let us make our own the words of the dying thief: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. ‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’.
May we never despair of His presence and help. His eternal today embraces all history including our own individual history, with its lights and shadows, its successes and failures, its challenges and trials. Everything is illumined by the healing truth and light of Christ Our Messiah and King. As we approach the Altar to receive the Sacrament of the Cross, let us repeat the words of the dying thief: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. The Eucharist, His very Body and Blood, is the pledge of His eternal today, the assurance of His presence and therefore a partaking of His kingdom, and the pledge of our future glory (pignus futurae gloriae). +