Continuing with Lenten meditations on the Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues, by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.
The Second Word:
"This Day Thou Shalt Be With Me In Paradise."
The Corresponding Virtue:
Excerpts from Sheen's February 18, 1940 address:
[W]e speak of the virtue of Hope to differentiate it from the emotion of Hope. The emotion centers in the body and is a kind of dreamy desire that we can be saved without much effort. The virtue of Hope, however, is centered in the will and may be defined as a divinely infused disposition of the will by which with sure confidence, thanks to the powerful help of Almighty God, we expect to pursue eternal happiness, using all the means necessary for attaining it. The virtue of Hope lies not in the future of time, but beyond the tomb in eternity; its object is not the abundant life of earth, but the eternal love of God.
[Jesus was crucified between two thieves.]
As one gazes on that spectacle of three crosses silhouetted against a black and frightened sky, one sees in prospect the future judgment of the world; the Judge in the center and the two division of humanity on either side: The Sheep and the goats; the blessed and the lost; those who love and those who hate; for the end shall be as the beginning, except that Christ shall appear for the final judgment not on the cross of ignominy but in glory in the clouds of heaven.
In a single moment a soul with a genuine fear of God can come to a greater understanding of the purpose of life than in a life-time spent in the study of the ephemeral philosophies of men. That is why death-bed conversions may be sincere conversions. The hardened soul disbelieves in God until that awful moment when he has no one to deceive but himself. Once the spark of salutary fear of God had jumped into the soul of the thief from the flaming furnace of that central Cross, fear gave way to faith.
Two thieves there were: One who loved and one who hated. Each was on a cross. Neither the good nor the bad can ever escape the cross. One thief was saved; therefore let no one despair. One thief was lost; therefore let no one presume. The two extremes to be avoided then are presumption and despair. Presumption is an excess of hope and despair is a defect of hope.
What we all have to realize is that when we sin we turn our back on God. He does not turn His back on us. If we are ever to see His face again we must turn around, that is, turn from sin. That is what is meant by conversion…. God cannot save us without that conversion; if we die in our unrepentant sin we are forever turned away from God. Where the tree falleth, there it lies. There is no reversal of values after death. We cannot love sin during life and begin to love virtue at death. The joys of heaven are the continuance of the Christ-like joys of earth. We do not develop a new set of loves with our last breath.
If He forgave the thief and Magdalene and Peter, why not you? What makes many in old age sad is not that their joys are gone, but that their hopes are gone. Your earthly hopes may decrease with the years, but not heavenly hope. Regardless of the sinful burden of the years, God's mercy is greater than your faults. Only when God ceases to be infinitely merciful and only when you begin to be infinitely evil, will there be reason for despair; and that will be never.
If you insist that you are disgusted with yourself, may I say that you can come to God even by a succession of disgusts? What does your disgust mean except that everything earthly has failed you? That is one of the ways God makes you feel hunger for the Divine. Do you not crave food most when you are hungry? Do you not want water most when you are thirsty? Your own disgust, if you knew it, is the distant call of Divine Mercy. If then the poverty of your merits makes you shrink from the Divine Presence, then let your needs draw you to it. And that, incidentally, is why we Catholics find comfort and solace in the Sacrament of Penance. When we are disgusted with our sins we can go into a little booth called a confessional box, unload our misery, have our sins washed away, and start life all over again. I know a thousand psycho-analysts who will explain sins away, but that is not what we want. We want them forgiven.
|The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen|