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Father James Ruhlin

“Seven Last Words” a series, Part Two

February 28, 2023 | During Lent, we turn our focus to the greatest sermon of all time, the one which Jesus gave from the pulpit of the cross. Since Jesus made seven profound statements while being crucified, his sermon is often referred to as the “Seven Last Words.”

Starting on Ash Wednesday, Gulf Coast Catholic  will publish a seven-part series focused on each of the last seven messages of Jesus from the cross. The series is written by Father James Ruhlin, Pastor of Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Hudson Fl.

Hopefully this reflection will inspire you to contemplate the depths of the Lord’s message of love from the cross.

As we learned last week, the first word of Jesus went out to enemies; however, his second word was spoken to sinners. The second word of Jesus from his cross was said to the good thief: “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” Some might say that the good thief died a thief since he stole paradise.  When it comes to the Lord’s exchange with the good thief, we can see that God is more eager to save us than we are to save ourselves. Because the good thief was merciful and compassionate, he received mercy and compassion. The good thief was concerned for the Lord and in so doing he discovered that God finds us best when we are lost in others. The response of Jesus in this instance was profound to the criminal, as he promised this sinner that he too would enter the gates of Heaven to live in paradise. This was significant for it represented what Jesus was doing in that moment. Jesus took on our sin, our debts, our guilt and died for them. He did not have to do this, but his entire purpose in coming to earth was to not only love us, not only to show empathy to us by taking on human flesh, but to die for us in order to free us from the penitence of sin.

The second word of our Lord teaches us about what our attitude toward pain and suffering should be.  Both thieves who were crucified with Christ suffered through immense pain until their deaths.  The difference between the two thieves is one could not correlate his sufferings with Christ; whereas, the good thief found the purpose of his suffering within the mystery of the Crucified Christ. Looking through the eyes of the good thief, we can see that if pain had no reason, Jesus would not have embraced it.  If the cross had no purpose, Jesus would not have mounted it. If the good thief did not see purpose in pain, then he would never have saved his soul. Pain can be the death of our soul or it can be its life.  Pain without relation to the cross is like an unsigned check, which is without value. But once we have it signed by the Crucified Christ, it takes on an infinite value. The Crucified Christ teaches us that sacrifice is pain with love. The prayer which God will never refuse is the prayer of suffering.

The tragedy of the modern world is that so many people deny sin. The good thief recognized his wrongdoing, but he also recognized Jesus’ innocence. The essence of the conversion of the good thief is the key to the conversion of the world: man will return to God, not because they are good, but because they recognize that they are evil.

The good thief conquered evil by admitting his emptiness of soul and calling upon God to save him. There is only one thing worse than sin and that is denying that we are sinners. If you are your own law, if you set your own standards, and if you are your own god, then it is nonsense to ask to be reconciled to the one, true God. The problem is the more wicked we become, the less we understand of our wickedness. We never know we were asleep until we wake up and we never know what sin really is until we get out of it. 

Another lesson that we can learn from the good thief’s encounter with the Crucified Christ is that it makes no difference what you do here on earth; what matters is the love with which you do it. The reason why there are so many mediocre Christians in the world is simply because they refuse to let God work on them.  No matter how severe the sin, there is opportunity for salvation and forgiveness from Christ, even in the final breaths of life. Jesus died for our transgressions. The good thief acknowledged Jesus as Savior. Jesus knew his heart and granted the promise that despite earth’s sentence upon this thief, he would enter the gates of Heaven. In a world that is quick to not only judge but to condemn it is a magnificent relief to know that at the end of it all God has the final say. If we choose to recognize Jesus as Lord, we can rest assured that we too will enter the gates of paradise, just as the good thief did.

God bless,

Fr. Ruhlin

Fr. Ruhlin




Father James Ruhlin is the Pastor of Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Hudson Fl.