Every Good Friday there are certain characters who, after making their singular appearance in the gospel narrative, leave our souls in a succession of variant emotions. We think of the cynical Pilate and his contemplative wife, the hesitant Simon of Cyrene, the corrupt high priest Caiphas and his despicable servant, the observant centurion of open-eye (Longinus), and one of the crucified thieves. Advocate of God and consoler of Mary, this is the story of that "first" thief, whose wonderful eleventh hour conversion and defense of the holy Kingship of Christ on Calvary merited him the everlasting title, "The Good." It was in the throes of his death agony that this "new man," reborn on a cross, was canonized by the gasps of the heaving voice of our Saviour Himself as He hung from nails that had transfixed Him to His cathedra of torture.
Monsignor Gaume opens his book with a graphic, even ugly, description of the true face of a highway brigand in the days of the Caesars. Garnering his data from common tradition, the fathers of the Church, and several non-inspired accounts of the gospel story, the author presents the first meeting of our Egyptian thief and the Son of God in the idolatrous land of the Pharaohs on the occasion of the flight of the impoverished Holy Family away from the sword of Herod. Dismas was a very young man then, but, discerning enough to see in the face of this Mother and this Child a sacredness that he dare not profane. Indeed, he interceded with his cohorts and gave Saint Joseph safe entry into this chosen land of refuge, though he did not respond to grace at this time. Worse still, according to a tradition accepted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Dismas fell in later days so low that he was stained with the sin of Cain.
Gaume then takes us to Golgotha and tells the story of the transformation won by the Woman who never ceases to 'ponder things in her heart.' It is the story of a Mother who never forgets one who has given her Son a cup of cold water. Imagine God being grateful to such a man as this! His leprous soul was befouled by every vice, by the cesspool of Behemoth and the truculence of Leviathan! Meet Dismas, a dying man whose only request from his "Lord" was but a "remembrance" in His Kingdom! Rejoice with angels for an "anonymous" man chosen from all eternity to be co-crucified with "Jesus of Nazareth." Rejoice for a man who was the first to be with Christ "in Paradise." And be gone ye demons of despair!
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