Christ was crucified between the thieves because such was the will of the Jews, and also because this was part of God’s design. But the reasons why this was appointed were not the same in each of these cases.
1. As far as the Jews were concerned Our Lord was crucified with the thieves on either side to encourage the suspicion that he too was a criminal. But it fell out otherwise. The thieves themselves have left not a trace in the remembrance of man, while His cross is everywhere held in honour. Kings laying aside their crowns have broidered the cross on their royal robes. They have placed it on their crowns; on their arms. It has its place on the very altars. Everywhere, throughout the world, we behold the splendour of the cross.
In God’s plan Christ was crucified with the thieves in order that, as for our sakes he became accursed of the cross, so, for our salvation, He is crucified like an evil thing among evil things.
2. The Pope, St. Leo the Great, says that the thieves were crucified, one on either side of Him, so that in the very appearance of the scene of His suffering there might be set forth that distinction which should be made in the judgment of each one of us. St. Augustine has the same thought. “The cross itself,” he says, ” was a tribunal. In the centre was the judge. To the one side a man who believed and was set free, to the other side a scoffer and he was condemned.” Already there was made clear the final fate of the living and the dead, the one class placed at His right, the other on His left.
3. According to St. Hilary the two thieves, placed to right and to left, typify that the whole of mankind is called to the mystery of Our Lord’s Passion. And since division of things according to right and left is made with reference to believers and those who will not believe, one of the two, placed on the right, is saved by justifying faith.
4. As St. Bede says, the thieves who were crucified with Our Lord, represent those who for the faith and to confess Christ undergo the agony of martyrdom or the severe discipline of a more perfect life. Those who do this for the sake of eternal glory are typified by the thief on the right hand. Those whose motive is the admiration of whoever beholds them imitate the spirit and the act of the thief on the left-hand side.
As Christ owed no debt in payment for which a man must die, but submitted to death of His own will, in order to overcome death, so also He had not done anything on account of which He deserved to be put with the thieves. But of His own will He chose to be reckoned among the wicked, that by His power He might destroy wickedness itself. Which is why St. John Chrysostom says that to convert the thief on the cross and to turn him to Paradise was as great a miracle as the earthquake.
1. We fast for three reasons.
(i) To check the desires of the flesh. So St. Paul says in fastings, in chastity (2 Cor. vi. 5), meaning that fasting is a safeguard for chastity. As St. Jerome says, ” Without Ceres, and Bacchus, Venus would freeze,” as much as to say that lust loses its heat through spareness of food and drink.
(ii) That the mind may more freely raise itself to contemplation of the heights. We read in the book of Daniel that it was after a fast of three weeks that he received the revelation from God (Dan. x. 2-4).
(iii) To make satisfaction for sin. This is the reason given by the prophet Joel, Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning (Joel ii. 12). And here is what St. Augustine writes on the matter. “Fasting purifies the soul. It lifts up the mind, and it brings the body into subjection to the spirit. It makes the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of desire, puts out the flames of lust and the true light of chastity.”
2. There is commandment laid on us to fast. For fasting helps to destroy sin, and to raise the mind to thoughts of the spiritual world. Each man is then bound, by the natural law of the matter, to fast just as much as is necessary to help him in these matters. Which is to say that fasting in general is a matter of natural law. To determine, however, when we shall fast and how, according to what suits and is of use to the Catholic body, is a matter of positive law. To state the positive law is the business of the bishops, and what is thus stated by them is called ecclesiastical fasting, in contradistinction with the natural fasting previously mentioned.
3 . The times fixed for fasting by the Church are well chosen. Fasting has two objects in view:
(i) The destruction of sin, and
(ii) the lifting of the mind to higher things.
The times self-indicated for fasting are then those in which men are especially bound to free themselves from sin and to raise their minds to God in devotion. Such a time especially is that which precedes that solemnity of Easter in which baptism is administered and sin thereby destroyed, and when the burial of Our Lord is recalled, for we are buried together with Christ by baptism into death (Rom. vi. 4). Then, too, at Easter most of all, men’s minds should be lifted, through devotion to the glory of that eternity which Christ in His resurrection inaugurated.
Wherefore the Church has decreed that immediately before the solemnity of Easter we must fast, and, for a similar reason, that we must fast on the eves of the principal feasts, setting apart those days as opportune to prepare ourselves for the devout celebration of the feasts themselves.