Judas and Us
Today is the final day of Lent as the Church stands on the eve of the Sacred Triduum, and we end our Lenten journey with Our Lady and begin our entry into the Paschal Mystery in her company. The Station is held at Rome's oldest and largest basilica built in honour of the Mother of God. She is the ever-faithful one, whose 'Fiat' to God led her to follow Christ and share in His Passion.
"Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" (Ps 41:9)
The Blessed Virgin's steadfast faith and closeness to her Son contrasts with Judas, who betrayed the Lord. This event is especially commemorated in today's Liturgy, hence it is known in some countries as Spy Wednesday. And yet, the tragic figure of Judas is someone we can perhaps all identify with and feel sympathy for. How many of us have not betrayed the Lord in some way through our sins? And Judas at least did not know what the Lord was to do for him, by dying on the Cross. But we, we know of the marvellous works of the Lord and still we sin against him.
However, when we have sinned and are conscious of this, we can pray for the grace of repentance which is the very gift of divine forgiveness. As we have seen the past two days, God is ever ready to forgive us, if only we are honest with ourselves, strip ourselves of all illusions and come to God, with "a humble and contrite heart", as a sinner in need of God's healing, stength and re-creating Spirit. This forgiveness of God and every grace of repentance is poured out into our hearts through the beautiful sacrament of reconciliation by the ministry of His priests. As the Council of Chalon-sur-Saone in 813 puts it: "God, the author and dispenser of health and salvation, grants us pardon, by the operation of his invisible power, and by the work of the doctors of the soul."
Therefore, the tragedy of the sinner, the one who betrays Christ is not so much that one has sinned but that one does not come to repentance and so, does not receive the forgiveness of our ever-loving God. It is here that we part company with Judas. As a Dominican Tertiary (writing in 1956) muses:
"[If Judas had] thrown himself at Jesus' Feet, how different his end would have been. We know that God will forgive the most hardened sinner, provided he repents and hopes. But Judas to his first sin added that of final despair, and casting down the money, he went out and hanged himself. Had he repented truly and insisted publicly on the Lord's innocence, there would doubtless have been four crosses on Calvary instead of three, but he would have welcomed that agonising death by the side of his Redeemer, and would have died with his soul at peace, and the assurance of forgiveness."
The language above, as fr Herbert McCabe OP put it yesterday, is "picturesque" and what it says is that the one who truly repents, finds forgiveness in abundance, for the grace of God's forgiveness is true repentance. Judas did not find this because he succumbed to despair and all hope was lost; we however, by the grace of the Holy Spirit and by baptism, have the gifts of faith, hope and love. Drawing on the strength of these gifts, we can examine our conscience and see ourselves clearly - sinners as we are - and ought not to despair but need only repent, confess our sins to the Lord and be healed, renewed and revitalized. This is the grace of "second repentance" as fr Geoffrey Preston OP calls the sacrament of reconciliation.
May the Blessed Virgin, our Mother of Mercy lead us to the grace of this sacrament and help us to see ourselves as we truly are - sinners yet beloved in God's eyes. May she intercede for us before God's Mercy Seat and may we, by our fidelity, show ourselves to be children of Mary.