VATICAN CITY — Through his faith and ability to grasp the depths of God’s love and mercy, the good thief of the Gospel was able to make the ultimate heist and steal heaven. This was the message Pope Francis gave today in off the cuff remarks during his weekly audience catechesis.
Addressing faithful and pilgrims from around the world in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, the pope focused on the theme: “Forgiveness on the Cross” (cf Lk 23:39-43).
The Pope compared the two “opposite attitudes” of the bad and good thief to Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice on the Cross.
“The first insults him, like the leaders of the people, but moved by desperation: ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’,” the pope said. “This cry testifies to the man’s anguish before the mystery of death and the tragic awareness that only God can be the liberating response: it is therefore unthinkable to him that the Messiah, the one sent by God, can remain on the Cross without doing anything to save himself.”
“They didn’t understand the mystery of the sacrifice of Jesus” the pope explained. “Jesus rather saved us by remaining on the Cross. And we all know that it is not easy to remain on the cross, on our little daily crosses. It isn’t easy. He remained on this great Cross, in this great suffering, and there he saved us. There he showed us his omnipotence, and there he forgave us.”
“Dying on the Cross, innocent between two criminals, He attests that God’s salvation can reach any man in any condition, even the most negative and painful …. God’s salvation is for everyone, for everyone, no one is excluded.
“It is offered to everyone,” Pope Francis said. “This is why the Jubilee is a time of grace and mercy for all, good and bad, those who are well and those who suffer.”
“Good and bad … Remember the parable that Jesus recounts about the wedding feast of the son by a powerful man,” he continued in off the cuff remarks. “When those who were invited didn’t want to go, he said to his servants: ‘Go to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you can find … good and bad (Mt 22:9).’
“We are all called, good and bad,” Pope Francis said. “The Church is not only for the good, or for those who seem good, or for those who believe they are good. The Church is for everyone, and even preferentially for the bad, because the Church is mercy.”
This time of grace and mercy makes us remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God (cf. Rm 8:39), the pope continued. To all those sick in hospital, who live within the walls of a prison, or who are trapped by war, we are called to look to Christ Crucified on the Cross, who is God with us, who remains with us on the Cross and who offers himself as our Savior.
“To you who suffer greatly, I say, Jesus was crucified for you, for us, for everyone. Allow the power of the Gospel to penetrate your heart and console you, give you hope and the intimate certainty that no one is excluded from his forgiveness.”
Pope Francis then raised an objection: “But some of you might ask me: ‘But Father, what about that man who has done the worst things in his life? Does he have the possibility of being forgiven? Yes. Yes. No one is excluded from God’s forgiveness, as long as he draws near to Jesus, repentant, and with the will to be embraced by Him.”
The good thief is “a marvelous model of repentance,” the Pope said. He helps us to understand how we should approach God: with awe and not fear, with respect for God’s power and infinite goodness.
“What was a scandal for the leaders, for the bad thief, was the foundation of the good thief’s faith, and thus the good thief becomes a witness to grace: ‘What has happened is unimaginable; God has loved me so much that he died on the Cross for me,’ the good thief said. The faith of this man is the fruit of the grace of Christ. His eyes contemplate in the Crucified God’s love for him for him, a poor sinner. It’s true, he was a thief. He was a thief, it’s true. He had stolen his whole life. But at the end, repentant for what he had done, looking at Jesus who was so good and merciful, he managed even to steal heaven. He was a good thief!”
“Jesus is truly the Face of the Father’s mercy,” the pope concluded. “The good thief called him by name, ‘Jesus’. It’s a short prayer, and we can all say it many times throughout the day. ‘Jesus, Jesus,’ simply. Shall we say it together three times? ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’. Say it like this throughout the day.”
The audience concluded with the ‘Our Father’ in Latin and the Apostolic Blessing.
See below the Pope’s special greetings to US seminarians preparing for Diaconate Ordination.
Special greetings to English-speaking pilgrims
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, South Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States of America. I extend a special welcome to the seminarians of the Pontifical North American College and their families gathered here for the Ordination to the Diaconate to be celebrated tomorrow. May God bless you all!
Special greetings to young people, the sick, and newlyweds
“Lastly, I extend my greetings to young people, to the sick, and to newlyweds. May the example of the charity of St. Vincent de Paul, whom we remembered yesterday as the patron saint of charities, lead you, dear young people, to implement your plans for the future with a joyful and unselfish service to your neighbor. May he help you, dear sick, to face suffering with your gaze fixed on Christ. And my he assist you, dear newlyweds, to build a family that is always open to the poor and the gift of life.”