The story of Dismas was read at Mass yesterday. Thought I’d repost this piece in his honor. Now more than ever we need inspiration from someone who was completely broken yet forgiven and redeemed.
We Catholics are big on saints. We are named after saints. We create artwork about saints. For me, saints are extraordinary people whose journeys inspire. From St. Thomas the Doubter to St. Damien among the Lepers, saints have helped me along the way. But my favorite saint is Dismas.
Dismas is better known as the Good Thief. His story appears only in the Gospel of Luke. He was one of the hoodlums crucified with Jesus. According to the Luke, as Jesus hung on the cross between two thieves, one began to berate Jesus, essentially saying “Do something!” The other thief, Dismas, told the first one to knock it off. “We deserve what we’re getting. He doesn’t”, says Dismas (Bear with my non-Lukian interpretation of Dismas’ words!) Here is Dismas, broken and humiliated yet feeling he deserves the cruel treatment he is receiving. Have you ever felt that way? That whatever is going wrong in your life you somehow deserve?
Then in one of the great Biblical scenes, Dismas turns to Jesus and says quietly “Lord, remember me when You enter into Your Kingdom.” Jesus looks at Damien and assures him “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Imagine! As best I can tell, Dismas is the only person in the Bible who we know for sure made it to Heaven. A hood. A punk. We don’t even know what he did to merit such a horrible sentence. All that we know is that he was broken in body, mind, and spirit yet was given a one-way ticket to Heaven.
In dark times the story of Dismas can give hope. Those of us who’ve battled addiction know his self-hatred. We know the feeling of hopelessness. We know what it’s like to hit bottom. Many others of us have been broken by loss, by failure, by trauma. Dismas hanging on the cross gives us a visual image of such brokenness. And Jesus’ promise to him gives us the hope that we can be healed.
I hereby nominate St. Dismas as the Patron Saint for Persons with Low Self-esteem.
Reflection: 1. What have been your experiences of brokenness and healing?
Further viewing: There is an old movie called The Hoodlum Priest about Fr. Charles Dismas Clark, a Jesuit from St. Louis who did seminal work helping ex-convicts. His character tells us about Dismas at several points in the film.