Imagine yourself sitting in a beautiful place
The reflective content of this session has been edited based on Chapter 2 of Fr James Martin’s book, Seven Last Words. Used with permission from Harper One.
- As you enter into prayer now, become aware of your surroundings. It might be noisy where you are; it might be very still. Become aware of how you feel in this place. Comfortable? Content? Irritated? Confined? Just sit with this for a moment.
- Now imagine yourself sitting in a beautiful place. Perhaps beside the sea, or surrounded my country hills or mountains. Wherever it is, just be there in stillness with the Lord.
None of us are completely free of doubt in the spiritual life
- Believing in the afterlife is a significant problem for many people, even some devout believers. And without a belief in the afterlife, fear of the unknown often takes over. It’s one of the most common fears in the whole Christian life.
- None of us are completely free of doubt in the spiritual life. And in these moments of doubt, we may ask ourselves: What awaits me after I die? Is all of this faith in vain? Will I be rewarded for the good deeds I did while on earth? Or punished for the bad things I did? What has happened to the people I loved? Will I ever see them again? As you hear the reading from the Gospel of Luke, really listen to what Jesus is saying to the Good Thief…
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
We need to take Jesus at his word
- In saying what he says from the cross in this reading, Jesus promises the hope of the afterlife. It’s one of several places in the Gospels where Jesus holds out that promise. In the Gospel of John, immediately before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he says to Martha, the dead man’s sister, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
- Later in John’s Gospel, at the Last Supper, as Jesus is preparing to take leave of his disciples, he says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I go prepare a place for you.”
- Jesus, who heard the doubts of people in his lifetime, understands doubt – even doubts about the afterlife. So the first thing that should convince us of the promise of the afterlife is this: Jesus tells us. And, needless to say, Jesus is not a liar.
- The Good Thief shows us who the one next to him is. A man, yes. A man with a simple name, Jesus. But God too. The man who can open paradise for him. From the cross, Jesus tells the Good Thief, and us, about the future that is planned for us. Even in his agony, he offers the man a kind of spiritual healing. So one of Jesus’s last acts before his earthly death is a healing. “Don’t worry,” he’s saying. “There is a heaven.” So we need to take Jesus at his word.
- As St. Paul says in the Letter to the Romans, not even death can separate us from the love of God. One day, we pray, we will be with Jesus in paradise. We have Jesus’s word on it. We have Easter proof. And we know that God would never destroy the relationships he has with us. And one day, like the Good Thief, we will see that it is all true.
Talk to God
How do you experience your relationship with God?
- How do you feel about the afterlife? Excited? Scared? Or maybe doubtful? Sit with your feelings about this for a moment.
- Now offer these feelings to God, expressing them in any way that feels natural to you.
- How do you experience your relationship with God? Do you consistently feel his presence? Or is it sometimes difficult to really believe in his love for you?
- In the closing moments of this session, offer all that has stirred you, to the God who calls us into Paradise.