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The Legend of Dismas header image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Pauline Sanders


Many years ago, after Jesus was born, the evil King Herod waited for the three kings from the Orient to return to his kingdom with news of the newborn King. When they did not return, Herod grew afraid that this new King would cause him to lose his throne. Because of this, he ordered his soldiers to kill all the babies in Bethlehem, from those newly born up to two years of age.

 

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An Angel warns Joseph

Now, God the Father could not allow Herod’s men to kill the Infant Jesus, so He sent an angel to speak to Saint Joseph while he slept. The angel told Saint Joseph in a dream to take his family and flee with them to the land of Egypt, where they would be safe.

Image of the Flight into Egypt. Our lady is on the back of a donkey, holding baby Jesus, while Saint Joseph leads them. Saint Joseph woke up and prepared in great haste to leave their simple home.

When the time came to leave, Mary the mother of Jesus woke her Infant, Who wept a little, as might any little child who is suddenly awakened in the middle of the night.

But Our Lady soothed Him tenderly, cooing and kissing Him reverently until He became quiet again.

Saint Joseph placed the Mother and the Holy Child on a donkey and set off for Egypt.

Now, Egypt could only be reached by crossing a vast desert, which the Holy Family had to cross without much food or drink, for they were very poor.

Sometimes, they suffered much from hunger, not having anything to eat the whole day, and at night they had little protection against the bitter cold. Our Lady was sad because the baby in her arms shivered with cold and cried. So it was that the Holy Family suffered terrible hardships on their way to Egypt.

 

Miracles in the desert

Nevertheless, nature came to their aid time and time again in a miraculous way. Once, when the Holy Family was very hungry, they came to a place in the desert where a fig tree stood, laden with fruit. The fruit was too high for Saint Joseph to reach, so the tree bent its branches so that Mary and Joseph could help themselves to as much fruit as they needed for Jesus and themselves.

Another time, when they had gone all day without eating, Our Lady, using her power as queen of the angels, commanded them to help with some nourishment. Thousands of angels rushed to help the Holy Family, bringing them heavenly juices and delicious food. They also walked with the Holy Family during the night, and their brilliance lit up the way as if it were a sunny day!

 

The den of thieves

One night, after many long days on their journey, the Holy Family came to a very desolate place, one full of great danger, for a gang of thieves hid in nearby caves and assaulted lonely pilgrims. From their lookouts, they watched Holy Family coming closer and closer, and at the opportune moment, pounced on them.

However, the minute they looked at the beautiful child, a bright ray, like an arrow, penetrated the heart of the leader. Strangely moved, the thief had a change of heart. He ordered his fellow robbers not to harm the holy pilgrims and to the gang’s surprise, invited the Holy Family to dine with him at his house.

The robber told his wife how strangely his heart had been moved, and while many of the thieves shyly looked on, the woman brought the awe-inspiring pilgrims little rolls, fruits, honeycomb, and juice.

 

Baby Jesus’s bath

After they had eaten, Our Lady asked the robber’s wife for some water to bathe her child. The woman brought a tub filled with water and stood by with her husband as Our Lady tenderly washed the desert dust from the Infant Jesus. The husband and his whole gang of thieves were deeply moved by the appearance of the Holy Family, whose charm, beauty, and goodness wrought a change of heart in nearly all who came into contact with them.

Our Lady bathes the baby Jesus while young Dismas and his mother watchOur Lady was so beautiful and queenly that it is said that people came out of their homes to gaze at her as she walked by.

She was not only sweet, and wise, but full of life and holy counsels. Saint Joseph and the Infant Jesus also touched hearts in a similar manner. Imagine what manner of grace and splendor they brought into that dingy den of robbers and sinners!

At a certain moment the robber whispered to his wife, “This Hebrew child is no ordinary child. Ask the Lady to allow us to wash our leprous son in His bath water, for it may do him some good.”

Before the wife approached the Blessed Mother with this request, Our Lady turned to her and kindly instructed her to wash her boy in that same water.

The poor couple’s son was really terribly afflicted by this horrible disease. At Our Lady’s word, the woman hurried to the darkest corner of the room and lifted her three-year old boy, whose limbs were stiff from the leprosy.

As she lowered the child into the basin, she saw the leprous scabs fall from his body as soon as the water touched it.

Everyone watched in wonder as the boy became clean and healthy once again.

The woman, beside herself with joy, ran to embrace Our Lady and the Infant Jesus, but Mary gently warded her off. She told her to save the water in a hole in a rock for similar future uses, then spoke to her for a long time, counseling her to escape from her home among the thieves at the first opportunity. The woman promised, and in fact, did leave them later on and joined the women at the balsam garden.

Early the next morning, the Holy Family left the den of thieves with their host and hostess leading the way past the snares set up for travelers. When at last, they had to take leave of the Holy Family, the husband and wife expressed their deep feelings, beseeching them, “Remember us wherever you go!” The region where all this took place was called Gaza, the last town before passing into Egypt.

 

Thirty years later

Thirty years passed. As the Child grew wondrously in holiness and beauty, the robber’s child also grew, but in wickedness and sin. Then, Savior and the robber found themselves side by side once again on wooden crosses.

The One was the Son of God, sinless and innocent, suffering to free us all from the bonds of sin. And the other?

Ah! Poor Dismas, thy first
leprosy was fair
To that which now disfigures
thy poor soul.
No water from His bath will
cleanse thee now,
His blood alone hath power to
make thee whole.
A thousand worlds in one
blood-crimson bath.
With godlike prodigality it pours,
In such strong streams that even crimes like thine
Are borne away in its
irresistible flood!*


Jesus hung between the two thieves, bleeding, silent, dying. His sacrifice had been made. Dismas looked at Him, and his heart was moved as strangely as his father’s had been long ago when looking into the face of the King of kings. He suddenly saw the hideousness of the life he had led and knew that he deserved to hang there on this awful cross. But this other Man, this Jesus who was called the Son of God, He was surely innocent!

Two crosses, one with Christ dying, and one with Saint Dismas looking up at HimAnd then he looked down on the beautiful, tear-stained face of the sorrowful mother, her eyes fixed on her dying Son.

He knew that face!

He remembered those sweet eyes looking down on him in that bath so long ago!

Now his heart was pierced. Gratitude, that wondrous virtue that dissipates darkness and sin flooded his soul.

Suddenly he knew that the leprosy of old was nothing compared to the horrible crimes on his soul.

As his blood-shot eyes filled, he suddenly knew Who that Babe had been.

He drew in a ragged breath and addressed Jesus: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

Ah! what strange echoes those familiar words must have rung in Our Lady’s memory!
And Jesus, lifting His dying gaze to the face of the thief, promptly offered him this everlasting promise:

“This day, Dismas, you will be with me in Paradise!”

 


(*) A Legend of St. Dismas and Other Poems, Copyright by P. J. Kenedy and Sons. 1927, p. 18.
Illustrations by A.F.Phillips

 

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 18, 2019

Better a few staunch and sincere Catholics, than many compli...

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November 18

 

Better a few staunch and sincere Catholics,
than many compliant with the enemies of the Church
and conformed to the foes of our Faith.

St. Peter Canisius


DEFEND Our Lady's HONOR !

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

During the French Revolution, the Sisters of the Visitation...

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St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

Born on August 29, 1769 in the French city of Grenoble, Rose Philippine was baptized in the Church of St. Louis. She was educated at the Convent of the Visitation of Ste. Marie d'en Haut and, against her father’s wishes, became a novice there when she was eighteen years old. However, the French Revolution caused much disruption for the nuns, and when the Sisters of the Visitation were expelled from their convents, Rose returned home.

She cared for the sick and the poor, helped fugitive priests, visited prisons, and taught children. Some time after the Revolution ended, she unsuccessfully tried to reestablish the Visitation community, and ultimately gave the convent to St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and joined the Order. When the Bishop of New Orleans, William Du Bourg, requested nuns for his thriving diocese in Louisiana, Rose and four other nuns made the trip to America in 1818.

Rose and the nuns were sent to Missouri, pioneers of the New World. There, as well in neighboring states, they established multiple schools, built a convent, an orphanage, a mission school for Indian girls, a boarding academy and a novitiate for her Order. However, the strenuous and difficult regime of work for her apostolate took its toll on her body. She died in St. Charles, Missouri in 1852 after spending more than 30 years as a pioneer in the evangelization of the New World. She was canonized in 1988. Rose was truly devoted to God, and prayed in her every spare moment. Because of this, the Indians began to call her “Quah-kah-ka-num-ad,” or "Woman-Who-Prays-Always."

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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