(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has been reflecting on the events of Good Friday, which always reminds him of one of his favorite saints.
(Lange) Saint Dismas is one of what are known as the lesser saints. He didn’t evangelize a whole country like Saint Patrick, or found dozens of churches like Saint Paul, or give up immense riches to live in poverty like Saint Francis. In fact, his career as a saint lasted only a few hours, and he did only one thing. But he’s been remembered for it ever since.
According to an ancient legend that was quite popular in the Middle Ages, Dismas and his crony Gestas were two footpads and muggers – really mean guys — who worked the highways between Judah and Egypt during the First Century.
One day they fell upon a young working-class couple traveling south toward Egypt with an infant. The government had carried out a mass execution of little kids up north in a town named Bethlehem, and this couple were probably trying to get away from that. Gestas demanded everything they had, upon pain of their lives. But there was something about their innocence that moved Dismas, and he argued they should let them go unmolested.
Gestas was adamant, till Dismas agreed to give him his share of their last heist – 40 drachmas. Then, as the thugs turned to go, the infant miraculously spoke up, in perfectly clear Aramaic. Both of you, the child said, will be crucified with me in about thirty years, and one of you will accompany me to Paradise.
You’d think that would have been a life-changing experience – I mean, how often do tiny infants issue prophecies? And you’d think both of them would have wanted to be the one saved. But these guys were what we’d now call career criminals, and they pursued their profession until, about thirty years later the Roman authorities collared them during Passover, and sentenced them to crucifixion, along with a younger man named Jesus of Nazareth, a revolutionary preacher and faith healer, on what we now call Good Friday.
You no doubt remember that one of the thieves reviled Jesus: If you’re the son of God, let’s see you get yourself out of this one! But the other thief, Dismas, said he was sorry for all his crimes and asked to be forgiven. Sure enough, Dismas made it into Paradise by the skin of his teeth. He’s now Saint Dismas, “the Good Thief,” patron saint of prisoners, funeral directors, and those condemned to death. His day is March 25th. Up in Dannemora, New York, at grim old Clinton Prison, and in prisons all over the country, inmates have dedicated their chapels to him.
I once saw him in a stained glass window, depicted in a baseball uniform, with a great big outfielder’s mitt. The inscription read, “Here’s to Good Saint Dismas, still roaming the great outfield of life making shoestring catches of lost souls.”
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, wishing you all a lovely Easter.
Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.