On this most solemn and sacred of days, the day in which the Church remembers the violent death of Her Spouse and Lord, we are accustomed to the Passion narratives (in the West) and the lengthy and ornate funeral procession (in the East). But today marks not only the death of the only truly innocent man to walk the earth, but also the death of the first saint of the Church. No, I don’t mean Jesus, God is far above the saints, I mean Dismas. Also known as Titus, Zoatham, Demas, and Rach, depending on which tradition of naming you come from, he is most commonly remembered simply as The Repentant Thief.
In St. Luke’s account of the Passion, while one of the criminals being crucified with Christ takes this most horrible torment as a chance to mock the Lord. The other criminal however rebukes the first and admits to the grievous fault which he has committed. Then, having done this, he begs Christ to “remember me when you come in your Kingdom.” Christ’s response to this humble plea of a man who is being executed for the horrible life he has led is rather telling of the true mission of Christ. “Amen, I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
That’s right, Jesus just told this guy, a total stranger until now, who has committed such horrible crimes as to warrant his execution, that he will be with Him in Paradise.No canonization process necessary, this one’s just stated plainly by Christ Himself.
Why is this important? Because for eons the venerable saints of the Church have been reminding us time and again to follow the directive of Christ who said, “take up your cross and follow me.” And St. Dismas is a man who did just that, he bore the cross upon which he would die and followed close behind the Lord. And in the end, he is said to have managed one final theft in his life; he is the thief who stole Paradise.
In the end, we can only hope to do the same. For we will suffer a great deal in our lives, all of us. And in the midst of this suffering, we can either recognize our faults which brought it about, or we can mock God, who suffers with us. However, if we turn to the Lord who suffers innocently along with us, recognize those evils which have driven us to this place of suffering, and like The Thief profess to the Lord: “Remember me, O Lord, when You shall come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Master, when You shall come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Holy One, when You shall come into your kingdom,” then maybe we too will be lucky enough to steal Paradise, as we cannot say that any of us deserve it by our own merits and deeds. For it is every Christian’s goal to hear the words: “This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.”