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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 May 25, 2020

“I will take away not the grace but the feeling of grace...

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May 25

 

“I will take away
not the grace but the feeling of grace.
Though I will seem to leave you
I will be closer to you.”

Our Lord to St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi


My Mother, I will stand with you on OCTOBER 10, 2020

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

Pope St. Gregory VII

In 1073 at the death of Alexander II, the people of Rome cri...

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Pope St. Gregory VII

Pope Gregory VII was born Hildebrand in Tuscany, Italy. Little else is known of his early life. Hailed, historically, as one of the greatest of the Church's pontiffs and one of the most remarkable men of all time, his name, Hildebrand, meant “bright flame”. Those who hated him, which were many, interpreted the name as “brand of Hell”.

Hildebrand was a Benedictine monk, for a time living in Cluny, from whence he certainly gleaned the monastery’s ideal of societal reform.

As a cleric, he became chaplain to Pope Gregory VI, and a few years later, under Leo IX was made Cardinal Deacon. A man of outstanding energy and insight, Hildebrand became a power in Rome. It is greatly due to him that the practice of electing popes through a college of cardinals was established.

In 1073 at the death of Alexander II, the people of Rome cried out for the holy genius who had helped steer the Church for twenty years, “Hildebrand for Pope! Holy Peter wants Hildebrand, the Archdeacon!” Once before the holy monk had eluded the tiara but this time a proper college of cardinals, seconding the popular cry, induced him to accept an honor duly his.

Hildebrand assumed the name Gregory VII, and threw his energy and zeal into a continued reform, especially fighting simony (the sale of ecclesiastical posts) and clerical incontinence.

He confronted Emperor Henry IV head- on about his practice of choosing men for ecclesiastical positions. On meeting with dogged resistance, the pontiff finally had recourse to excommunication which drastically curtailed the proud monarch’s power, ultimately bringing Henry on foot to the Pope at the Castle of Canossa. Because of Henry’s rebellious obstinacy, Pope Gregory saw fit to leave him out in the cold for three days before receiving and reinstating the royal penitent.

But Henry failed to make any true personal reform and alienated his princes who elected another ruler. Still, he later rallied and went as far as electing another Pope, a Clement III, calling down upon himself another sentence of excommunication. He also attacked and entered the Eternal City in 1084, which forced Pope Gregory into exile. Henry had his protégée “pope” crown him Emperor. Ultimately repelled by an army fighting for the true pope, the Emperor Henry left Rome, but complications sent Gregory VII again into exile, this time to die.

His last words before his death were a summary of how he had lived, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile.”

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

There was once a young country wife who practiced devotion t...

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Mary and the Simple Country Wife

There was once a young country wife who practiced devotion to Holy Mary, just as her mother had taught her to do. This simple young lady considered herself fortunate to have married a handsome soldier. Little did she know that her soldier-husband had made a deal with the devil, that he would sell his wife for a certain sum of money.

One crisp, autumn morning the couple went out for their customary walk. Oddly, this time the young man insisted on heading towards the forest. It was at the forest where he intended to deliver his young bride over to the devil.

On their way to the forest, the couple passed in front of a Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The wife, overtaken with a desire to enter the church begged her husband to allow her to pray a Hail Mary in that church.

As the young lady entered the church, Holy Mary came forth from it, taking the form of the wife and accompanied the man into the forest.

When they at last approached the devil at the forest, he said to the man, “Traitor! Why have you brought me instead of your wife, my enemy, the mother of God?”

“And you,” said Mary, addressing the devil, “how have you dared to think of injuring my servant? Go, flee to hell.”

And then, turning to the man, Mary said to him, “Amend your life, and I will aid you.”

She then disappeared and that wretched man repented, amended his life and became a husband worthy of his simple country wife.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

 

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There was once a young country wife who practiced devotion to Holy Mary, just as her mother had taught her to do. This simple young lady considered herself fortunate to have married a handsome soldier.

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