I have always loved this little parable. I don’t know where I first learned of it, but it certainly tells us the central purpose of Easter Redemption.
It is Final Judgement Day and all are joyously gathered in Heaven celebrating those who have made it into heaven. St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Paul II, your mother…all together and enjoying Eternal Life. The gates of heaven have been sealed—for all eternity, never to be opened again! Everyone is there—except Jesus. Nowhere to be found. St. Peter searches high and low and finally finds Jesus at the gates of heaven looking downcast as he peers out of the closed gates. “Why are you not celebrating with everyone, Lord? Why are you so sad on this most joyous of days?” Jesus responds with great sorrow, “I was just looking for Judas. I had hoped that he might have come and asked me to forgive him at the last minute—before the doors of heaven were sealed forever. If he had only come and asked me to forgive him for what he did…I would have forgiven him you know; all he had to do was ask.”
Pope Benedict has reminded us that “Every saint had a past. Every sinner has a future.” The figures in the gospel stories are people who have been redeemed from their past—saved—made new by Christ. Dismiss the thief converts in the last minutes of his life and becomes Saint Dismiss. Longinus the centurion who put Jesus to death repented of his sin and is today Saint Longinus, and Peter “wept bitterly” when he realized he had denied Christ three times, and became Saint Peter. Often we forget that both Peter and Judas had been disloyal to Christ; the difference being that Peter repented—Judas despaired.
The great irony is that Judas might have been—dare I even say it—Saint Judas. All he had to do was ask for forgiveness. He was too proud. He despaired and died wallowing in his prideful sin.
These past 40 days of Lent we have made acts of penance, fasted and cared for the poor. Most importantly we have asked for God’s forgiveness in the wonderful Sacrament of Confession. Last Monday countless sins were forgiven for six continuous hours by countless priests from Montauk to Manhattan, from Washington to Boston, along the eastern seaboard of the United States. From 3PM to 9PM priests sat for hours absolving penitents of their sins for six hours without pausing. Do you know that this custom was begun first here in the diocese of Rockville Centre by our Bishop Murphy? Truly a great day of rejoicing for “this son of mine was lost, but now has been found.”
How fortunate we are to have so readily available to us the sacrament of Confession here on Long Island where we are absolutely assured of God’s forgiveness; this is not the reality in all parts of the world. A Catholic bishop tells the chilling story about the former Soviet satellite country of Belarus. When I first heard this story from a Dominican priest I felt like I got punched in the gut. The republic of Belarus proclaimed its sovereignty in 1990 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Prior to this, Joseph Stalin had a firm grip on Belarus by infiltrating Belarus’s government with Russians. Nikita Khrushchev continued this policy after Stalin’s death in order to ensure the Godlessness of communism. God was the enemy for the communists. Upon the sovereignty of Belarus, the Catholic church finally had access to Belarus after so many years of the communist persecution of the Catholic faith. The first thing the people wanted was to be able to go to Confession. They hadn’t had priests to absolve their sins for so long. The bishop tells us that late at night the people of Belarus would climb the fences into the cemeteries and search the graves, and then they would whisper their sins to the headstone of a priest.
Easter is about Redemption: redeeming the sinner, finding the lost, fixing the broken, and renewing a fallen world.
Redemption can be yours…if you but ask.