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How would you like to steal heaven?
A prison chaplain asked a group of prisoners who their favorite saint was. Immediately, one of the prisoners raised his hand to answer. “Yes, Luke?” said the chaplain. “Who is your favorite saint?” The prisoner replied, “It’s St. Dismas, of course!” “Why?”, asked the priest. “Well, he was the greatest thief of all. He was so good that on Good Friday he stole his way into heaven. All he had to do was admit Jesus was Lord and then ask Him to remember him when He came into His Kingdom.” And Jesus said to Dismas, “I assure you: this day you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Dismas, as the Good Thief is traditionally known, did not really steal heaven. Rather, because, on his cross, he admitted his own sinfulness and affirmed his own faith in Jesus as the innocent King, he came to be known also as the Penitent Thief. Jesus rewarded Dismas’ penitence and his faith in the Crucified Lord beside Him with the assurance of entering that very same day into the Kingdom of heaven.
Today we celebrate the great center of Faith and Hope for all Christians, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead. You and I do not have to try and steal our way into heaven. For, on this day that the Lord has made, the same Jesus who died on the Cross on Good Friday and who lay in the tomb on Holy Saturday, has been raised from there as the First Born from among the dead. And so what Jesus promised to all who live and believe in Him is now confirmed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit brought Jesus to life in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so the same Spirit brings Him to new life by bringing Him out from the tomb.
The Good News is that what happened to Jesus three days after His death can, if we faithfully follow Him, happen to us after we die. St. Paul tells us how. “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also, through His Spirit dwelling in you.” The key for entering Paradise for each one of us is to follow the example of Jesus who always let the Spirit guide Him to do the Father’s will throughout His life.
But, the Spirit’s lead may not always be an easy one. It led Jesus into the desert to be tempted, into the synagogue to boldly proclaim God’s mission for Him; into the Garden of Gethsemane and ultimately to Calvary Hill. That direction by the Holy Spirit was often a hard road for Jesus, but it was a sure one . For it allowed Him to accomplish the mission that the Father had for Jesus—of sacrificing Himself to save us from sin and death. And that divine self-sacrifice assures us, if we courageously follow Him, the possibility of entering into Paradise on the Day of Resurrection.
Now, on this Easter Sunday, after 40 days of Lenten penitential preparation, we have 50 days to celebrate the victory of the Risen Lord. May we rejoice and be glad! But, most of all, may we resolve to do as Jesus did, to follow the Holy Spirit who will lead us onward to the House of the Father. For, if we do, we will rejoice to hear Him say to us what He said to St. Dismas, “I assure you: this day you shall be with me in Paradise.” Happy Easter, everyone!