By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published March 28, 2013
I read something so horrific in the newspapers that it had me in tears. It seems there was a tiny baby asleep in the backseat of a car, and the busy father rushed off and forgot the baby was there—and the child perished.
The tragic tale brings home the fact that no one wants to be forgotten, especially where a memory lapse could mean death. And that common longing reminds me of a simple plea, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
It was spoken by one of the men crucified next to Christ, and he went down in history as the “good thief”—somewhat of an oxymoron—but a term differentiating him from the other thief who berated and mocked Jesus.
The man’s words “Remember me” are a very simple prayer, one I often repeat while going about my day: “Remember me, Jesus, in this storm. Remember me, Jesus, as I go to bed at night. Jesus, don’t forget me! Don’t abandon me!”
This man—whom the church honors as St. Dismas—recognized something different about the man dying next to him. St. Luke tells us the thief knew that he and the other robber were “receiving what our deeds deserved, but this man (Christ) has done nothing wrong.”
In his book “The Life of Christ,” Fulton J. Sheen notes that the good thief was the only one who spoke to Christ that day without reproach. He calls the man’s show of faith a deathbed conversion that was “preceded by the cross of suffering.”
This good thief sees with the eyes of faith. While the soldiers mock and jeer, he perceives the truth: Jesus clearly has no riches, no army of soldiers—and no means of escape. And yet the good thief knows Jesus is a king.
The thief is an outcast, who is already forgotten by the world. We read about him again when the soldiers come to break his legs to hasten suffocation—which is the slow, agonizing way that people die on a cross.
The thief is dying alone, naked, hungry and thirsty—calling to mind Jesus’ words in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.”
The thief, hungry for mercy, doesn’t ask Jesus to perform a miracle and get him down from the cross. Instead, he asks for entrance into an invisible kingdom. And how quickly his prayer is answered when Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
In other words, I won’t forget you.
And this promise is true for us too. In the Old Testament we read “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” (Isaiah 49:15-16)
During Holy Week, I think of all the people who are hoping God will remember them: the dying in hospices, the elderly in nursing homes and the poor in shelters. The helpless, the hopeless and the hungry: They all yearn to be cherished and protected by God.
And the little ones in the womb too: They don’t have a voice, but if they did, surely they would cry out to their parents: “Don’t forget me! Don’t abandon me! Please, give me a chance to live.”
My prayer for Holy Week is this: Please remember me too, Lord, the lady who doesn’t do all the things she promises, the lady who often falls down, but who loves you nonetheless. Please remember me in paradise.