By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
Over the main entrance to the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston is the inscription “Salus Animarum Suprema Lex” which translates, “The highest law is the salvation of souls.”
It is the last of the codes of Canon Law (#1752 “Salus animarum lex suprema est”) and was also the motto of Bishop Bryan McEntegart who opened the facility as Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception during his tenure as Bishop of Brooklyn.
It serves as a reminder that the ultimate work of the church is to lead the faithful to salvation. This is abundantly clear in St. John’s Gospel when he offers Jesus’ mission statement, “God so loved the world that He sent His Only-Begotten Son so that those who believe in Him would not perish but would have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). This mission is fulfilled in today’s Gospel.
Jesus is aware of the suffering that is before Him and speaks with intensity at the Last Supper. Celebrating the Passover, He announces that He will soon be the innocent lamb, offered as a perfect sacrifice to the Father – betrayed by a friend, abandoned by most others, denied by a confidant and handed over to great suffering. In the garden He prays alone, hoping that this cup might pass but promising a willingness to bring His mission to completion whatever it might take, whatever it might cost. And so, He moves on to do the Father’s will. The Gates of Heaven would be opened.
On the cross, completing his earthly mission, Jesus is crucified between two criminals. Innocent in contrast to their guilt, He accepts the scorn of one but promises a reward to the other, commonly referred to as Dismas. To him, Jesus says, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” In all of Scriptures, He is the only one to whom this promise was made. It is to our benefit, then, to understand what he did to deserve such a reward.
First, he acknowledged who he believed Jesus to be. In rebuking the other criminal who was mocking Jesus, he expresses his own faith in Jesus as the Christ, as one with power and promise, as the Messiah. Then he speaks of his need for Jesus’ help. He first admits his guilt, already accepting the punishment for it. And then he simply asks Jesus to “remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” He follows the basic format of the spiritual life — He acknowledges God’s power; confesses his need for it; then asks for help.
Even hanging on his own cross, it was not too late for Dismas to do what needed to be done so that the salvation being won on the Cross next to him would be given to him that same day.
There is no doubt that at the heart of the religious experience is salvation: God’s hope that all be saved coupled with man’s need to live in a way that claims the prize already won.
Tomorrow is Reconciliation Monday, an opportunity created to make the sacrament of Reconciliation as available as possible to as many as possible.
The sacrament is as simple as it is profound — we acknowledge God’s power to forgive, admit our need for that forgiveness and then offer to do whatever it takes to express our sincere remorse. As our celebration of the Resurrection draws near, may we enter into this Holy Week trusting that the Paradise given to Dismas that day could also be ours one day.
Readings for Palm Sunday
Procession: Luke 19:28-40
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.