Sunday, November 21, 2010

Betwixt the Stirrup and the Ground

At Mass today, the deacon noted that Saint Dismas, one of the two criminals crucified along with Jesus, is the only individual in the Gospels who Christ says is going to heaven.  This struck me powerfully.  Dismas, "the good thief," makes his confession, as it were, to Christ Himself, seeming to examine the sins of his life in the briefest of moments before admitting that he has been "condemned justly," and then professes, in another brief moment, Christ's kingship.  And Christ replies with the beautiful words: "This day you will be with me in Paradise."

This seems to me a profound teaching about the Divine Mercy, the mercy that confounds and reverses every human expectation; as the Elizabethan geographer William Camden is supposed to have written:

Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I ask'd; mercy I found.

It's probably safe to speculate that some of the saints of the Gospels -- Dismas, Paul, the Magdalene -- were, in their lives before their conversions, capable of evils as great or greater than those we decry in our contemporaries.  It's therefore also safe to assume that God's great mercy is available to any and all of us, no matter who we may be or what we may have done, and at all times.

St. Dismas, pray for us.

(Cross-posted at Vox Nova)


tubbs said...

Hmmm, Did Christ first go and see His Father before Saturday's descent into Hell? I always envisioned Him carrying that lost sheep (Dismas) on his shoulder, either way. (oh yeah, Dad, and I picked this one up on the way).
The story of the good thief is so beautiful and so comforting.

Pentimento said...

I love it!

Enbrethiliel said...


St. Dismas always reminds me of a conversation I had with an older lady about the purple cloths that used to cover images of the saints during Lent. She said she had always wondered what churches with images of St. Dismas do, because the rationale for this tradition (there were no saints "allowed"--for lack of a better term--in Heaven until after the Harrowing of Hell) doesn't apply to him. I still remember the way I sat back stunned when she explained, "St. Dismas is the only saint we have who was canonised before he died."

Pentimento said...

There's something really beautiful about that, Enbrethiliel.