Friday, November 12, 2010
“One of the criminals said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43)
November 21, 2010
Christ the King
Luke 23:35-43 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
A summer article discovered in our local newspaper sets the stage for the gospel reflection on this Solemnity of Christ the King. The article reads:
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“Imagine a coating on a hospital doorknob that safely kills deadly drug-resistant bacteria on contact. Well, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute believe they have invented just that. Their discovery may lead to commercial products for walls, furniture, medical equipment and hospital gowns to destroy methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and other dangerous microbes that circulate in hospitals. The technique could also be applied on food-processing equipment or boat hulls to protect from barnacles and algae.
“Scientists at RPI took natural bacteria-killing enzymes and placed them in tiny structures that lock the enzymes in place. Then, they added those to latex paint. The team's experiments showed 100 percent of MRSA that touched the paint was destroyed, according to an article that appeared in the July edition of a journal published by the American Chemical Society.” (Albany, NY, Times-Union, August 17, 2010)
Protection from deadly germs: what a blessing! For some time now, it’s been mandated policy at the hospital where I serve that hands must be washed both before and after every occurrence of human contact. Well, I’ve calculated that each day I have physical contact with about 50 people, including patients, families and staff members, mostly in the form of handshakes, anointing the sick and distributing Holy Communion. That’s 100 hand washings a day with the anti-bacterial goop available in wall-mounted dispensers outside every patient room. What a boon it will be to our hospital when germ-free paint, linens, furnishings and medical equipment under development by those RPI scientists hits the market. Yes sir, no more germs!
But it’ll never be. There will always be something to get us. There will always be something to bring an end to this earthly life, something to launch us homeward. And it’s not a curse but a blessing. Indeed, we were made for better.
In the gospel passage we hear today recounting the event of the crucifixion of Jesus, we know that two criminals were executed with him, and one of them makes a sort of deathbed confession as, hanging beside Jesus, he professes faith in whom he implicitly acknowledges as Son of God. St. Luke describes the scene: “One of the criminals said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43) Indeed, even for a criminal sentenced to death, there can be salvation. Even for one who has led a dissolute life, heaven is within reach.
We then might ask, does God deny anyone eternal life? And the answer, I believe, is a resounding NO! God wishes a heavenly eternity for all of us. We are only excluded by our own choice, not God’s. And even should we lead a life marked by great depravity, deathbed conversions, albeit rare, are not unheard of. Consider the criminal in today’s gospel passage. Paradise is mine – and yours, too, assures Jesus.
Protection from what could kill us: though the researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are working diligently to stave off killer germs, and even though sure progress is being made, there will always be something out there that will bring an end to this earthly life. There will always be something to carry us home. Indeed, we were made for better.
Today the universal church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King, the central theme of which is that, through the death of Jesus, death itself has been forever conquered. Jesus has already done for us what those RPI researchers can only hope to do – banish death.
While not exactly criminals in the gospel sense, and while their change of heart later in life is surely not as dramatic as a deathbed conversion, nonetheless, their maturing lives have, in turn, stunned, humbled and amazed me. I speak of my former students, now themselves parents and even grandparents. Connecting with many of them through Facebook during the past year, I encounter once angry, rule-defying teens now asking for prayers as they face the daunting challenges of parenthood, employment and ill health. These are they who once balked at praying in class, attending Mass, indeed, having to admit to human frailty and – yikes, mortality! – just when they were sure they were King of the Heap. Now, here they are at 50 humbly asking me, their old English teacher, to spare a few prayers for this, for that, for this person, that person. Yes, I’m amused – but mostly I’m humbled. They’re being tested, surely, but, it seems, they’ve learned well the most valuable lesson Catholic education had to offer. They know they were made for better.
Yes sir, those RPI researchers are hot on the trail of obliterating deadly bacteria from the environment. Thanks to them, we’ll soon have abolished the MRSA bug. But something else will then pop up to carry us off, to shoo us heavenward. And while researchers will then search frantically for new antidotes to new threats, those who have a share in the life of the savior will remain calm as they pray, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus will reply, “Truly I tell you, I have made you for better. Today you will be with me in Paradise.”