The Penitent Thief

Father Girardey discusses an eleventh narrative, The Penitent Thief (Lk 23:39-43): “One of these robbers who were hanged (crucified) blasphemed Jesus, saying: If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing that thou art in the same condemnation. And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil. And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee: This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.”

St. Alphonsus explains this, saying: “One of them prayed, and was therefore pardoned and saved, and the other did not pray, and therefore died in sin and was lost.”

Father Girardey remarks: “This shows the power of prayer, and the fearful doom resulting from the neglect of prayer. The prayer of the penitent thief was humble, sincere, contrite and also full of confidence. It was humble, for he had upbraided his companion for his insults to Jesus, reminding him that both of them were criminals deserving of their disgraceful death. It was sincere, for he sought not to excuse or diminish his wickedness; it was contrite, for he was manifestly sorry for his crimes, especially because he contrasted his wickedness with the innocence of Jesus; and it was full of confidence, for he proclaimed Jesus as his Lord, and as having all power and being full of mercy, and besought Him to remember him when He would enter His kingdom. All these necessary dispositions entitled him to the full benefit of divine mercy. Let us not forget that the power of making such a prayer with such dispositions was a great grace God bestowed on him.”

“The evangelists tell us of the insults, mockery and blasphemies leveled at Jesus raised on the cross between heaven and earth. Both thieves heard them. They also heard the admirable prayer of Jesus praying for His enemies; . . . they witnessed His patience and meekness amid such terrible sufferings and insults. The penitent thief was at first moved to pity, then to admiration, then to consider Him as more than a mere man, as the Saviour promised to mankind; every moment new light dawned upon his mind concerning Jesus, as it were, step by step; with these graces, for graces they really were, he gradually and faithfully co-operated, and the result was his prayer to Jesus, which secured his forgiveness and salvation.”

Quotations from Ferreol Girardey, Prayer: Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1916).

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