|St. Dismas in Paradise,|
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Today! Jesus had not yet died and risen. The gates of heaven had not yet been opened by his Redemptive sacrifice. The souls of the just from the Old Testament times were still waiting in Limbo for release. How, then, could Jesus promise this thief that he would be in Paradise today?
This is a good example of the very different concept of what we call time. For us on earth it is a linear thing, one moment following another. But for God and those in eternity, it is one single moment - the eternal NOW.
But what about the past life of this sinner? Even if he had "absolution" from Jesus, Himself, did he not have an enormous debt of punishment due for his sinful deeds? Is that not what Purgatory is for?
Yes, Purgatory is a period of healing and cleansing from the remnants and wounds of our past sins which have been forgiven. But it need not wait until we are dead. This good thief (tradition calls him Dismas), acknowledged that he was suffering on the cross as a punishment for his crimes. He united them to those of Jesus when he said, "we are under the same sentence of condemnation; we justly, receiving the due reward of our deed, but this man had done nothing wrong". And so the sufferings Dismas endured and united to those of Jesus, were his Purgatory.
In a similar manner, I believe that we can embrace with a penitential heart, our daily sufferings – pain and illness, rejection by a loved one, financial crisis, anxiety, frustration, grief – and by uniting them to the sufferings of Jesus they can suffice for our Purgatory. Thus on the day of our death Jesus can say to each one of us, "Today you will be with me in Paradise".