I. The first effect of the Divine Mercy is Enlightenment. Before they call, I will answer. Before the thief feels the first pang of sorrow Grace is at work on him, and for the first time in his dreary life he begins to understand. And an extraordinary illumination shines in his soul. For no expert penitent after years of spirituality, no sorrowful saint, could have prayed more perfectly than this outcast. His intellect, perhaps, took in little or nothing of the great forces that were active about him and within him; he knew, perhaps, explicitly little or nothing of Who this was that hung beside him; yet his soul’s intuition pierces to the very heart of the mystery and expresses itself in a prayer that combines at once a perfect love, an exquisite humility, an entire confidence, a resolute hope, a clear-sighted faith, and an unutterable patience; his soul blossoms all in a moment: Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom. He saw the glory behind the shame, the Eternal Throne behind the Cross, and the future behind the present; and he asked only to be remembered when the glory should transfigure the shame and the Cross be transformed into the Throne; for he understood what that remembrance would mean: “Remember, Lord, that I suffered at Thy side.”
II. So perfect, then, are the dispositions formed in him by grace that at one bound the last is first. Not even Mary and John shall have the instant reward that shall be his; for them there are other gifts, and the first are those of separation and exile. For the moment, then, this man steps into the foremost place and they who have hung side by side on Calvary shall walk side by side to meet those waiting souls beyond the veil who will run so eagerly to welcome them. To-day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.
III. Now this Paradox, the last shall be first, is an old doctrine of Christ, so startling and bewildering that He has been forced to repeat it again and again. He taught it in at least four parables: in the parables of the Lost Piece of Silver, the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, and the Vineyard. The Nine Pieces lie neglected on the table, the Ninety-nine sheep are exiled in the Fold, the Elder Son is, he thinks, overlooked and slighted, and the Labourers complain of favouritism. Yet still, even after all this teaching, the complaint goes up from Christians that God is too loving to be quite just. A convert, perhaps, comes into the Church in middle age and in a few months develops the graces of Saint Teresa and becomes one of her daughters. A careless black-guard is condemned to death for murder and three weeks later dies upon the scaffold the death of a saint, at the very head of the line. And the complaints seem natural enough. Thou hast made them equal unto us who have borne the burden and heat of the day.