Who was St. Dismas, the Good Thief?

Who was St. Dismas, the Good Thief?

This tribute to St. Dismas is attributed to Fr. W.T. Kingsley, third pastor of Good Thief Parish. From Celebrating the Centennial: The Church of the Good Thief, 1989-1994. A Souvenir of the First 100 Years Compiled by Lenore Majoros.

The St. Dismas story is a true, religious tale – mysterious, contradictory, and intriguing as the finest fictional drama. Here we visualize how this outlaw, the most famous robber in recorded history, stole Heaven on Calvary’s Hill. St. John Chrysostom elevates the faith of this lonely convert, the only person to be canonized by Christ Himself and while yet living, above that of Abraham, Moses and Isaiah, “For they saw Christ enthroned and in the midst of glory, and they believed in Him,” while once for a brief moment on a Galilean Hill the spotlight turned on a prayerful penitent who had been placed there to add further shame to the ignominious execution of a man called Christ, and cried, (St. Luke) “and we indeed suffer justly as we receive the due rewards of our deeds: but this Man has done no evil.” So Dismas, with all reverence to him as a saint, was a thief to the last, “making the kingdom of Heaven his booty,” stealing even as Death reached out and up to him.

The Church of the Good Thief in Kingston, Ontario, proudly leads the way in drawing St. Dismas out of the obscurity that closed in upon him as the shadows lengthened on Calvary Hill the evening of the first Good Friday. Here tower the grim grey walls of the federal penitentiary where hundreds pay the penalty for law violation as Dismas paid on a cross- crowned hill. Who knows how many of these inmates down through the years have turned their eyes to that other hill where the cross of The Good Thief pointed up to Heaven, and found repentance and a new hope in the thought of the Prisoner of the Tabernacle?

And who doubts that St. Dismas, who made public confession of his outlawry, acknowledging that he suffered under a just condemnation, at the same time that he confessed the innocent Jesus as His Lord and Master, looks down from his place in Christ’s Eternal Kingdom with a tender and compas- sionate regard for those who, like himself, have fallen foul of the law, and constantly prays that they may accept the just penalty of their misdeeds in a spirit of repentance and atonement so that the gloomy corridors of the federal penitentiary may be for them the avenue to the throne of God? For the thief, canonized by Christ Himself even before he had crossed the portals of eternity, remembers his career of crime, and so must necessarily feel that all who languish behind bars have a special claim on his prayerful intercession with the Friend of Sinners.

Another modern convert, Dempster MacMurphy, who was once business manager of the Chicago Daily News, became fascinated by the mystery of this saint of the down-and-outers. He called his hero, St. Dismas, a bulwark against despair, “a hope where there is no hope.” This modern press agent for St. Dismas marvelled at “how this hoodlum saint who roams the outfields of eternity still is making shoe-string catches of souls.”

So let us all become more dedicated to this saint on whom the dying Jesus showered a fountain of mercy and sanctification; let us also beg his blessings so we may never die in danger of impenitence; and join with this great sainted penitent and pray always “that the Heart of Jesus Crucified may more quickly and more efficaciously be inclined towards all sinners paying the penalty of offended justice.”

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