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A Book Review… The Long Shadow Of Grace Portrayed

February 16, 2021 Featured Today No Comments

By PEGGY MOEN

The Thief Who Stole Heaven by Raymond Arroyo; Sophia Institute Press (Manchester, NH: 2021); illustrated; 21 pages. Order from https://www.amazon.com/Thief-Stole-Heaven-Raymond-Arroyo/dp/1644132389/.

Once, in the 1970s, I attended the Christian Commonwealth Institute, associated with Triumph magazine. Held in San Lorenzo, Spain, every summer, the Institute featured a number of theology classes, some taught by Lorenzo Albacete (1941-2014). I remember one class in particular when he talked about the Good Thief, and the thief’s last-minute absolution, telling us, “Don’t count on something like that happening to you!”
The story of the Good Thief reminds us of the infinite and amazing mercy of God, and also of the need for conversion. We know of many who we hope will experience late conversions — note the prayer campaigns for President Biden’s return to Catholicism (a Catholicism that rejects abortion, rather than one that cheers it up to the time of birth).
In his The Thief Who Stole Heaven, Raymond Arroyo, host of EWTN’s The World Over Live, brings to life this shadowy figure in Scripture, known to us as Dismas.
At the book’s conclusion, Arroyo said the story’s arc intrigued him: “how the long shadow of grace can unexpectedly ambush even the greatest of sinners.”
Following this arc throughout his book, Arroyo shows us a rejected child co-opted by an evil man and his gang, who became his family. Dismas’ evil deepened, especially after he followed orders to push a widow into the street and take her money. The widow’s kitten traipsed after Dismas. He cared for it until Gestas, the gang leader, grabbed the kitten by the throat and told Dismas, “Mercy is a great weakness, boy.”
Following his assault on the widow — an act reminiscent of the SS blutkitt — Dismas earned the nickname “Prince of Death.”
Dismas killed and robbed a rich merchant, stealing his camel and pocketing his six sacks of gold. He told Gestas, who had been asleep nearby, that the camel just wandered by. Then they saw the Holy Family on their way into Egypt and Dismas said, “We are highly favored, Gestas. The night brings us yet another prize.”
But the eyes of the Baby and His Mother captivated Dismas. “Who is this Child? Who is He?” Mary covered the Child’s face with her mantle.
Joseph pleaded, “Have mercy on us.”
Dismas said to Mary, “Let me see your Child again, and I’ll do you no harm.”
The Child smiled at him, and Dismas said, “If ever a time should come when I need your mercy, remember me.”
He told Gestas that the Family had “treasure of great worth” and he gave him one of the rich merchant’s sacks of gold as proof.
Yet Dismas — showing that we are always either moving toward the good or away from it — continued his descent into darkness.
Finally the Romans arrested Gestas and Dismas. Along with a Preacher from Nazareth, they were forced to carry their crosses up a hill, in preparation for their crucifixions.
Women cried, “Jesus! Rabbi! Master!” But others called out, “Blasphemer! If you are the Messiah, save yourself!”
Gestas joined the crowd — remind you of something? — in jeering at Jesus.
On Calvary, Gestas called on Jesus to save Himself and them, too. Dismas, on the other side of Jesus, said to Gestas, “Do you not fear God? We have been rightly punished for the things we have done. We are getting what we deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Thus Calvary became a divided society — heralding the ultimate final division.
Dismas looked at Jesus, seeing the Child again, and “the wicked things he had done over so many years fell away, and Dismas saw only those eyes!”
So, this master thief ended by “stealing” Heaven.
Some of the details Arroyo notes in his afterword reveal what the saints and Church Fathers knew or thought about Dismas — two of the most interesting are these:
Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich recorded a vision of the Holy Family meeting Dismas on the road to Egypt, and Pope St. Gregory the Great said Dismas was “guilty of blood, even his brother’s blood.”
Along with being a good meditation source for our times generally, this book is beneficial for all of our Lenten preparations for Easter, which we hope will be celebrated widely and joyously this year. Though The Thief Who Stole Heaven is intended for children, adults will benefit from the book as well.
Complementing the story is Randy Gallegos stunning, expressive artwork, with jewel-like colors.
As Lorenzo Albacete warned some of us decades ago, we should not count on being blessed with a last-minute absolution like Dismas got. But we can hope that those in greatest need of a late forgiveness will somehow receive it.

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