On Calvary, on either side of Christ, hung two thieves. Both were equally guilty. Both were sentenced to death. Both had access to Jesus in their last moments. Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said 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 23:39-43)
Two sinners. Same opportunity for grace. Two different endings. My childhood pastor put it this way: One thief became bitter. One became better.
I’d like to think that if I were one of them and was being justly punished for my sins, I would be “the good thief.” But alas, I know myself. I’m a complainer. When it comes to suffering, I like to give it what it so richly deserves — a good tongue lashing.
Fortunately, for the likes of me, there is Lent.
People think of Lent as time to give things up. Right. It is a time of penance. But the reason for giving good things up is to train you so you can give up bad things. Think of the words the priest says when he smears the ashes on your forehead: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Or for the real die hards: “Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”
Lent gets you to deny yourself so you can follow Jesus, just as he said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Lent brings your sins to your attention. Think of it as the Catholic version of New Year’s Resolutions — only perhaps even more difficult because you are often blind to what your sins are. Everyone else’s sins are glaringly obvious. At least to me. But mine? What sins? Where? Who?
Today the good thief is known to us as St. Dismas, patron saint of penitent sinners (that’s us). His feast day is March 25, deep into the season of Lent, just in time to make a good confession. Introduce your kids to this humble saint. Plan a time to go to confession as a family. If the kids are nervous about it, as many kids are, ask St. Dismas to guide them. He knows all about having to own up to sin and trusting in the Lord’s mercy.
Put yourself in Dismas’ place for just one second. Imagine his guilt and shame. Imagine his pain. Imagine all the years he wasted, the people he hurt, the anger he lived. Maybe he thought it was too late, that his sins were unforgivable. Now imagine him seeing Our Lord innocently suffer — his patience, his meekness, his concern for others, even in his agony. Dismas now knows that this man can only be God. With God all things are possible. Even mercy for him, even to find peace in these last terrible moments. Dismas makes his confession.
And Jesus says to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
SUSIE LLOYD has won three Catholic Press Awards for her writing. Find her books, articles, and speaking schedule at SusieLloyd.com.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, February, 2018.
Banner Image, and first interior photo: PUBLIC DOMAIN
Second Interior Image Credit: RTimages / iStock photo:178966364