An Honest Thief

(Palm Sunday Homily)

Welcome to Holy Week! Reflecting on the Passion according to St. Luke, especially the final scene of Jesus crucified between the two criminals (Lk 23:33), I remembered a visit to a prison. I had received a donation of rosaries - about two hundred. In the jail were a few more than that number, but some were political prisoners. I figured because of their communist philosophy they would not want one. After finishing Mass, I asked those who desired a rosary to line up. One by one I placed them around their necks. Rather than diminish, the line seemed to grow. When I got to the last rosary, ten guys remained. I held it up and said, "I am sorry. I do not know what to do."

One of the prisoners said, "Padre, you have to give that rosary to me."

"Why?" I asked.

"Look, Father, I am thief. I admit it. That is why I am here. But I am not like these political guys over here. At least I am an honest thief!"

Well, even the "political guys" laughed and I placed the rosary over his head. He smiled, revealing his crooked teeth, then took the crucifix of the rosary in his hand, raised it to his lips and kissed it.

One of the two men crucified with Jesus was also an "honest thief." He was brave enough to confess who he was. If we were honest, we would also admit we had taken things that do not belong to us. You know, it is not just the one who steals money or shoplifts who is a thief. The person who has sex apart from marriage is taking something that does not belong to him. Even if you call it "living together" it is still stealing. The same with the husband who spends all his time with buddies; he is robbing his wife and children. The person whose motto is "shop till I drop" and who never thinks about the needy is stealing from the poor. I could multiply examples until everyone here, including the one speaking to you, recognizes he is a thief.

This is not a question of a "guilt trip." It's a simple matter of saying to Jesus who we really are. The second criminal refused to do that. All his life he had practiced "self-reliance." Now he had one final opportunity to put aside that false self, to rely instead on God. But he chose to mock Jesus. Perhaps he thought, "no one has a right to judge me." He didn't realize the only just judge hung next to him.

It's possible to be so convinced of own rightness that we lose everything. The first step requires courage and honesty to face who we are. A good companion for us this Holy Week is the honest thief. The Church recognizes "the good thief" as a saint - Saint Dismas. Like him, we appeal to Jesus, "Remember me." (Lk 23:42)

With those words on our lips, we will make it to Easter Sunday. Imagine what it would be like to hear: "today you will be with me in paradise." As a reminder I encourage you to take home your blessed palm branches. They are a symbol of victory. Place them behind the crucifix in your bedroom or living room. Who does not require encouragement? To not grow bitter, but to ask for humility - even humor. Saint Dismas, pray for us.


Spanish Version

From Archives:

2015, Year B: New Mind and Heart Week 6
2014, Year A: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 6
2013, Year C: Strengthen Your Brothers
2012, Year B: A Loud Cry
2011, Year A: The Blood of Martyrs and of Jesus
2010, Year C: The Good Thief
2009, Year B: God's Justice
2008, Year A: Your Will Be Done
2007, Year C: What Do We Have To Offer God?
2006, Year B: Body and Blood
2005, Year A: A Week to Remember
2004, Year C: The Passion of the Christ
2003, Year B: He Breathed His Last
2002, Year A: Human Guilt & Divine Mercy
2001, Year C: An Honest Thief
2000, Year B: Why This Waste?
1999, Year A: His Blood Be Upon Us
1998, Year C: The First Letter of God's Alphabet

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Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Bulletin (Holy Week Subtext: Jewish-Christian Relations)


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Please take time to read what our bishops are saying about Religious Liberty & Conscience Protection

The Archdiocese of Seattle also has helpful resources regarding the defense of marriage and family

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