By: Rick Hernandez
Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, one Good Friday long ago, for the expiation of our sins, for the redemption of His loved ones. I cannot fathom what it would have been like to be there, at the foot of the cross, knowing that the Messiah was going through that much suffering for me. The Gospels tell us of a few named people among the multitude that were present during the Crucifixion: The Virgin Mary, Mary of Magdala, and John the Evangelist. These holy persons we know very well from their roles in the life of Jesus, but there were another two men present in Golgotha that day, crucified along with Our Lord, the two thieves: Dismas and Gestas.
We do not know much about Dismas and Gestas. Some early Christian writings tell us that they were bandits, men that stole from the people on the road to Jerusalem. Caught by the Roman Auxiliaries, who were tasked with keeping the territory safe, the bandits were sentenced to death by crucifixion. The Gospels tell us that these men were on their own crosses at Golgotha, one to the left of Jesus, the other to His right, and kept addressing Jesus. “‘Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.” (Mark 15:32). They both doubted Jesus, but then something incredible happened, Dismas’ eyes and heart were opened, and he was able to see the Son of God.
“Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.’ The other, however, rebuked him, saying in reply, ‘Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’” (Luke 23:39-42).
Dismas, through that encounter with the heart of Jesus, became the “Penitent Thief”. He experienced one moment of perfect clarity. He understood and accepted the guilt from his sin, witnessed to Christ’s innocence, and acknowledged Christ’s power to redeem him. “…Remember me…”. In that moment of true lucidity, Dismas was able to confess to the High Priest, our Lord of Mercy. His admission of fault, true contrition, and acceptance of responsibility allowed his crucifixion to act as his penance. Christ washed Dismas’ soul clean. “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Contrition, theologically speaking, comes directly from the virtue of Charity, and it is, therefore, a gift conferred by God. The acceptance and internalization of the gift is an act of our will. That means that contrition is a cooperative act between God and us.
We know He is always acting, giving, loving, waiting for us to turn back to Him. Are we consciously asking for and trusting His Mercy? How painfully unaware are we of our faults, our prejudices, our sin. We really depend on our courage. Courage allows us to look inwards with humility and sincerity to examine our conscience. After that, we trust in the sacrament of reconciliation. We trust in God’s Mercy. We can hold on tight to our Mother Mary and pray for her help and guidance. We have another guide in St. Dismas that we may be like him and grab onto the presented opportunities even at the final moment.
Let us pray that now and at the time of our deaths, we are gifted with those moments of great clarity. That we persevere through the temptations to give up on the hope for Heaven, and that while accompanied by Mother Mary, as promised to her consecrated children, we can achieve perfect contrition from all our faults and shortcomings. This so we can meekly face Our Lord and humbly ask, “Jesus, please remember me…” Amen.