Recently, I heard on Kresta in the Afternoon the story of Rudolf Hoess, a former Nazi officer who was responsible for many abominations during the Holocaust of the 20th century. Specifically, he was at Auschwitz, which is considered one of the largest concentration and extermination camps during that time.
Growing up Catholic, something must’ve happened to his faith. Somewhere down the road, his faith entered a period of stagnation and eventually he would be responsible for one of the greatest abuses against human rights. By his own confession, he admitted killing at least 2.5 million people!
After he was captured and went through the Nuremberg Trials, Hoess was sentenced to death. Before he died, Rudolf wrote many letters to his wife and children, who reportedly knew nothing about his work as an SS officer.
More importantly, which leads me to the topic of this article, Rudolf Hoess wrote a letter that expressed his contrition and plea for forgiveness to God. A priest came to him, administered the sacrament of confession, offered the Eucharist/Holy Communion, and he was later executed at some point.
My literal knee jerk reaction while I listened to the interview was, “How unfair it is for Rudolf Hoess to have committed atrocities and received forgiveness at the end. What a cop-out move! ”
I know death bed conversion is possible and I know that God can completely change the most monstrous person, but a piece of me didn’t want to extend that privilege to a person such as Hoess.
Yep! Total hypocrisy!
After I wrestled with this thought, I had to do some reflection. First, I took my feelings out of the way and had to answer the question: Is God the highest just and forgiving Being? If yes, then I had to observe God’s amazing act of love for this contrite sinner.
If I would’ve answered “no” then I would’ve made God’s character untrue with how He has revealed himself to us through Sacred Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. Both objective sources of truth!
I immediately had to stop my thinking and submit myself to God’s true attribute of omnibenevolence, that because we have been adopted by the Father as his children, he continually bestows upon us an unfathomable merciful heart.
Some days later, Rudolf Hoess popped back up again. Not in a dilemma causing way but more in a mindset of fascination. Well, this time, my mind immediately jumped to the parable Jesus Christ told in Matthew 20:1-16 about the first and the last and how God generously applies the same eternal reward to all!
Why didn’t this parable come up sooner?
Basically, the parable is about a laborer who is looking for workers in a vineyard. At dawn, he finds workers and agrees to pay them a wage. Again, he went out at a different time and found more workers to join. Periodically throughout the day, he found more workers that sat idly and he invited them to work. When it came to paying them, he paid the workers that started last their wages first. The workers he hired during midday received the same wage.
Then, the workers who had been there from the very beginning complained because the workers who didn’t work the same amount still managed to receive the same exact wage. The landowner rebuked their anger by saying, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?”
Yes, this is true about God. I’m reminded of Job. He had all of those disputes against God but when He revealed himself said, “Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! (Job 38:2-3).”
No one can have a grievance against the supremacy and power of God. He acts according to His will and does those things that are compatible with His all-good nature. As St. Paul stated about the election between the Jews and Gentiles in Romans 9:18: He has mercy upon whom he wills.
Although some come to Jesus at earlier times or even childhood, some come at their final moments. What matters most is that they came to the way, the truth, and the life.
End of story!
Last-minute conversions are baffling, but they remind us that no one is far from the love of God. The repentant thief on the cross, according to tradition is named St. Dismas, made a last-minute conversion. Jesus knew all thoughts so we can have certainty that his repentance was authentic. If it wasn’t, Jesus wouldn’t have admired it the way he did.
The Bible tells us that God rejoices when one sinner repents (Lk 15:7). The Church is a physician to the sick. Instead of tearing down bridges toward God’s redeeming love, we should always proclaim the message that it’s never too late to turn to God!