Sunday, March 24, 2013


"For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, 
'He was counted among the wicked'..." (Luke 22:37)

   Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord   C 

On February 12, 1913—
just over 100 years ago—
Frederick Poulin was the last man
to be executed in the electric chair
at the state prison in Dannemora.
The Schenectady bartender
had been caught in a love triangle 
a year and a half before,
leaving Charles Leonard shot dead;
the details of both 
the relationship and the killing
are, of course, disputed.

Accounts from the time state
that, on his way to the death chamber,
Mr. Poulin carried in his right hand a little crucifix.
That same crucifix had previously been carried
in the hands of 19 other condemned men at Dannemora
who had preceded him
in taking the fatal walk to the chair.  (cf. Press Republican, 2/11/13)

Now two others, both criminals,
were led away with Jesus to be executed.

Those two convicted criminals mentioned in our Lord’s Passion—
they stand for us all, do they not?
The Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us
because the human race was on death row.
Because of sin, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes.

But this man, Jesus:
he has done nothing criminal.
And yet he dies—
neither rebelling nor turning back,
nor loudly protesting his innocence.
Rather, Jesus humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross.
As we’ll pray in a few moments—
praying as his saving Passion is renewed for us in the Eucharist—
“though innocent, he suffered willingly for sinners
and accepted unjust condemnation
to save the guilty.”  (cf. Preface, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord)

A small crucifix in Dannemora was passed down
through the hands of twenty condemned men…
…but it points to the Cross which has now been grasped in faith
by countless sinners across twenty centuries:
the same Cross we are called upon
to contemplate during this Holy Week;
the same Cross whose sweet wood
we will kiss again with tenderness on Good Friday;
the same Cross which has remained
the paradoxical sign of hope for the hopeless,
who recognize their real and urgent need for a Savior.

Joy-filled crowds, who only know half the story,
can wave their palm branches
in a frenzied welcome fit for a King.
But we who dare to stand by Christ to the end,
knowing that he will likewise always stand by us,
raise instead the instrument of his death
which signals not man’s final defeat,
but God’s ultimate victory.
With us and for us, Jesus willingly chose to be condemned,
nailing our sentence to his Cross.

Behind the thick, high walls 
of Dannemora’s prison,
there is a Catholic chapel—
a small church, really—
built, stone by stone, 
by the inmates there.
It is dedicated to the Good Thief.
With that dying criminal 
who steals his way into Paradise,
with all who cling 
to Christ and his Cross, we pray:
Jesus, remember me
when you come into your kingdom.

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