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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Feast of St Dismas, the Good Thief and Patron of Penitents

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from the Golden Legend:

The passion of our Lord was bitter for the sorrow that he suffered in derisions despitous and of many filths fructuous. The sorrow was cause of five things. The first, because it was shameful, for the place of the Mount of Calvary, whereas malefactors and criminal persons were put to execution, and he was there put to death right foul. The cross was the torment of thieves, and if the cross was then of shame and of villainy, she is now of glory and of honour. Wherefore saith S. Austin: Crux latronum qui erat supplicium, etc. The cross which was the justice of thieves is now become the sign of glory in the foreheads or fronts of emperors. And if he had such honour at his torment, what did he to his servant for the shameful fellowships that he did to him? For he was set with malefactors, but the one of them was converted, which was called Dismas, like as it said in the gospel of Nicodemus. And he was on the right side of our Lord, and that other on the left side was damned, which was called Gesmas. So that one then he gave the realm of heaven, and to that other hell. Whereof saith S. Ambrose: Auctor pietatis in cruce, etc. He saith the author of pity hanging on the cross divided offices of pity in secular errands; that is to say, the persecution to the apostles, peace to his disciples, his body to the Jews, his spirit to the Father, to the Virgin the messages of the wedding of the sovereign spouse, to the thief paradise, to sinners hell, and to christian penitent he commanded the cross.

Feast of the Annunciation

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Brethren and fathers, the Annunciation is here and it is the first of the Feasts of the Lord, and we should not simply celebrate as most do, but with understanding and with reverence for the mystery. What is the mystery? That the Son of God becomes son of man, using the holy Virgin as the means, dwelling in her and from her fashioning for Himself a temple and becoming perfect man. Why so? "That he might ransom those under the law," as it is written, "and that we might receive sonship" [Gal. 4:5]; that we may no longer be slaves, but free; no longer subject to the passions, but free of passions; no longer friends of the world, but friends of God; no longer walking according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. "Those who walk according to the flesh, think the things of the flesh; those who walk according to the spirit, the things of the spirit; for the thought of the flesh is death; but the thought of the spirit, life and peace. And so the thought of the flesh is hostile to God, for it is not subject to the law of God. Indeed it cannot be. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" [Rom. 8:5-8]. In brief this is the power of the mystery, and this is why we should celebrate spiritually and behave spiritually, with holiness and justice, with love, with gentleness, with peace, "with forbearance, with goodness, with the Holy Spirit" [2 Cor. 6:6], so that as far as we ourselves are concerned we do not render the dispensation of our Lord Jesus Christ empty and ineffectual.

Not only that, but we should both pray and grieve for the world. Why so? Because the Son of God came to save the world, and the world rejects Him. Tribes and languages reject Him; the barbarian nations reject Him, those who have had his holy name invoked upon them reject Him, some through abandoning the faith, others through their evil lives. What should He have done and did not do? Being God He became man, "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, the death of the cross" [Phil. 2,8.]; he gave us His body to eat and His blood to drink; He allowed us to call him Father, Brother, Head, Teacher, Bridegroom, Fellow-heir and all the other titles which there is no time to mention now. And still He is rejected, and still He bears it. "For," He says, "I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world" [John 12:47].

What then is there to say, brethren? That the genuine disciples are grieved by the rejections of their fellow-disciples, thus showing love both for the teacher and for the disciples. So too, genuine servants suffer in the same way from the desertions of their fellow-servants. This is why the great Apostle orders that "we should offer supplications, prayers, entreaties, thanksgivings on behalf of all mankind, for kings and for all in high positions" [1 Tim. 2:1-2]; and elsewhere he says this on the subject, "I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience bears witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have a great grief and unceasing anguish in my heart; for I have prayed that I might be anathema to Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Rom. 9:1-3]. You see the power of love? You see the height of friendship? Moses shows it too when he says to God, "If you will forgive them their sin, forgive; if not, wipe me out of the book which you have written" [Exodus 32:32]. So we too, as genuine and not counterfeit disciples, should not only look to what concerns ourselves, but we should grieve and pray for our brothers and for the whole world; for by so doing what is pleasing to the Lord we shall become inheritors of eternal life, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be the glory and the might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.