It’s the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord today although locally here it won’t be celebrated until Sunday. In this piece in which Pope Francis speaks about the Ascension he notes how joyful the apostles were when Jesus ascended into heaven. He points out that the disciples knew Jesus hadn’t been taken away from them, but that He remained with them forever. He had promised “I am with you, even to the end of the age.” And they knew He always spoke the truth.
I was going to try and write something meaningful about the Ascension but my brain is on a go slow.
So can I, instead, mention poor old St. Dismas. (Yes, I do have a soft spot for him).
It seems to be a popular question these days to ask if St. Dismas, the good thief, crucified with Jesus, did anything to be saved and whether he passed through purgatory.
If people think that Purgatory is a “place” you go to after death and Jesus said “This day you will be with me in Paradise” I do understand there might be some confusion. But if, as I suspect, many questioners are saying Dismas didn’t suffer purgatory (and in a weird extension that I don’t understand they then say therefore there is no purgatory) then it makes me think of “invisible illnesses”.
First; Purgatory is a process in which a soul is cleansed of attachment to sin and makes the required reparation for those sins as nothing unclean can live with God. St. Paul describes it as being saved “as if through fire” where only the “gold and silver” are left. It was certainly part of popular thought that Purgatory was a place with a time linked to earth where people would be purged over days, years or even centuries but this has been clarified by the Church and we are reminded that Purgatory is a process first and foremost. We can do a whole lot of it this side of death; so as Blessed Pope John Paul II said “Don’t waste your suffering!”
St Dismas was crucified for his sins. He accepted this astonishingly cruel way to die and even had the courage to speak up first for Jesus and then to beg for His mercy, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
To suggest that Dismas didn’t do anything and that he got off lightly is a bit like saying to a person with severe chronic illness “But you don’t look ill.” Perhaps St. Dismas could be made patron saint of “invisible illnesses”.
I am sure this questioning of what St Dismas went through is a very modern thing. Our culture of individualism has slid into blind selfishness and reached the point where even those who are supposed to be Christian can fail to see the suffering of another to such an extent they actually deny it. They deny his courage as well.
It seems to me a short (and dangerous to the soul) step between shrugging off what St. Dismas did in his last hours to shrugging off what his cross mate Jesus did for all of us.