Every conversion starts with a crisis: with a moment or a situation involving some kind of suffering, physical, moral, or spiritual; with a dialectic, a tension, a pull, a duality, or a conflict. This crisis is also accompanied, on the one hand, by a profound sense of one’s own helplessness and, on the other hand, by an equally certain conviction that God alone can supply what the individual lacks.–Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Peace of Soul, 1949
Having delivered His farewell address from the pulpit of the Cross and finished the work of His Eternal Father, Jesus bows His head and dies. To make certain of His death, a centurion, Longinus by name, pierces His heart with a lance and the Divine Master, who saved up a few drops of His Precious Blood, now pours them out to prove that His love is stronger than death.
Two men who lacked courage to declare their affiliations while He was living, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, brought perfumes and spices and embalmed the body of Jesus. It was first laid on Mary’s lap, and it seemed to her that Bethlehem had come back again — but really it had not. Between Bethlehem and Calvary our sins had intervened. The body was lifeless. Jesus was dead.
His enemies remembered that He had said that He would rise again, but they were certain He would not. They were afraid that the Apostles would come and steal away the body and then say He had risen. Guarding against such deceit, they went to Pilate, asking him to set a watch of soldiers about the tomb for three days in addition to which they would attach their own official seal to the stone before the entrance. Pilate acceded to their request. In the words with which the Evangelist Matthew closed his Gospel, the most ironic sentence in literature: “And they departing made the sepulchre sure.” The seal was placed on the sepulchre and a great stone rolled in front of the door. They took every precaution against fraud, but could take none against Divinity. As they made their way down Calvary’s hill, such thoughts as these ran through their minds: “Now his fisherman can go back to their nets and their boats; their kingdom is a mockery. As for their master, his heart was so pierced that blood and water came from it. Even though he had a breath of life left in that bloodless body, it is now being suffocated by the hundredweight of spices with which he was embalmed. Our vigilance and that of the soldiers will not permit any one to steal away the body. He who said he had life in abundance is now dead; he who said he could summon twelve legions of angels to his assistance now is cold as death; he who said he could raise up a child of Abraham from a stone is now buried under stone. The imposter is dead! How wonderfully effective is a Roman death! Nothing can survive a crucifixion! He will never rise again!”
Is that true? Can one rise from the dead? Does not the very fact that He was born in a stranger’s cave and buried in a stranger’s grave prove that human “birth and death are equally foreign to Him? Look about at nature. Is not the springtime the Easter Day of the Good Friday of winter? Has not all death within itself the germs of life? Does not the “falling rain bud the greenery”? Does not the falling acorn bud the tree? Why should all creation rise from the dead and not the Redeemer of creation?
“If this bright lily
Can live once more,
And its white promise
Be as before,
Why cannot the great stone
Be moved from His door?
If the green grass
Ascend and shake
Year after year,
And blossoms break
Again and again
For April’s sake,
Why cannot He,
From the dark and mold,
Show us again
And gleaming glory,
A stream of gold?
Faint heart, be sure
These things must be.
See the new bud
On the old tree! …
If flowers can wake,
Oh, why not He?”
Sunday morning came, and it was one of calm, like the sleep of innocents, and the clear, benign air seemed almost as if it had been stirred by angels’ wings. Mary walked in the garden and someone near her spoke a word, and pronounced it longingly, wistfully, in that touching and unforgettable voice which had called her so many times: “Mary.” And to this one and only word, she made an answer, a word and only one: “Rabboni.” And as she fell at His knees in the dewy grass and clasped in her hands those bare feet, she saw two scars, two red-lined marks of nails — for Christ was now walking in the glory of His new Easter morn.
That was the first Easter Day. Centuries have whirled away since, and on this new Easter Day as I turn from that garden to the altar, I behold placed over the tabernacle, on this Resurrection Day, the image, not of a Risen Savior, but the image of a dying one, to teach me that Christ lives over again in His Church, and that the Church, like Christ, not only lives, not only dies, but always rises from the dead. She is in love with death as a condition of birth; and with her, as with Christ, unless there is a Good Friday in her life, there will never be an Easter Sunday; unless there is the crown of thorns there will never be the halo of light; and unless there is the Cross there will never be the empty tomb. In other words, every now and then the Church must be crucified by an unbelieving world and buried as dead, only to rise again. She never does anything but die, and for that peculiar reason she never does anything but live. Every now and then the very life seems to have gone out of her; she is palled with death; her blood seems to have been sapped out of her; her enemies seal the tomb, roll a stone in front of her grave, and say: “The Church will never rise again!” But somehow or other she does rise again.
At least a dozen times in history, the world has buried the Church and each time she has come to life again. I shall mention but a few such instances.
A hunted Savior must always have hunted children; and in those days of the Roman persecution the Church, like a mole, had to dig into the caves of the earth. There, under the foundation of Rome’s proudest temples, under roads that rocked with the tramp of Rome’s resistless legions, these children of God were nourishing themselves on the Bread of Life, fortifying their bodies as well as their souls, for the day when they would be led to the “thumbs-down” crowd of the Roman Colosseum to testify to their faith, even with their blood. The day came; they were led into the center of that great amphitheater with enemies round about. There was no escape, except from above — but that was enough. They met death with a smile upon their lips. Caesar’s minions scattered fresh sands to hide their blood, but could not still their voice. It rose from the din of that arena; it entered into the very chancery of God’s Justice; it pierced the mist of undawned ages with no uncertain challenge: “In our blood has been mingled the blood of the Living God — dying and behold we live.” Roman swords blunted by massacre no longer fitted their sheaths; the wild beasts overfed on the living flesh of the Church lost their craving for food — but still the bloody warfare went on. Caesar was certain he had conquered. He rejoiced that the Church was dead. Her life was sapped and drained; she could never survive the Roman sword. A stone was rolled before the door. The Church would never rise again. And as they set their watch, and even as they watched, the Church like her Risen Savior came from the grave of the Catacombs and was seen walking in the glory of her new Easter Morn.
There came other moments in her history when in the eyes of the world she seemed to have her very life drained out of her. Whenever the Palm Sundays of earthly rejoicing came her way, and the world proclaimed her Queen, and strewed palm branches beneath her feet — in a word, whenever a great measure of temporal prosperity came her way, and she began to rely more upon action than prayer, she became weak. The yoke of Christ then seemed heavy to her children; bodies craved for the line of least resistance and hearts yearned for the fleshpots of Egypt. It is a strange but certain fact that the Church is never so weak as when she is powerful with the world; never so poor as when she is rich with the riches of the world; never so foolish as when she is wise with the fancies of the world. She is strongest with Divine Help when she is weakest with human power, for like Peter she is given the miraculous draught of fishes when she admits by her own power she has labored all the night and taken nothing.
When her discipline, her spirit of saintliness, her zeal for Christ, her vigils, and her mortifications, become a thing of less importance, the world makes the fatal mistake of believing that her soul is dead and her faith is departed. Not so! The faith, even in those days of lesser prayer, is solid — for it is the faith of the centuries, the faith of Jesus Christ. What may be weak is her discipline, her prayerfulness, and her saintliness, for these are of men, whereas her faith is of God. A renewal of spirit, then, will come not by changing her way of thinking, for that is divine, but her way of acting,for that is human.
But the world, failing to make this distinction between the Divine and the human in her, as it failed to make it in Christ, takes her for dead. To the world, her very life seems spent, her heart pierced, her body drained; in its eyes she is just as dead as the Master when taken down from the cross, and there is nothing left to do but to lay her in the sepulchre.
Once more a great stone is rolled before her tomb; the official seal of death placed upon it, the watch set; but as they watched saintliness came back, Christ stirred in Peter’s bark, and at the very moment men were saying she was dead, she was seen walking in the glory of her new Easter Morn.
Then came our own times and with it another death. Her death this time was inflicted not by executioners, but by other Pilates. These were dangerous days, for any civilization is in a bad way when it becomes indifferent, like another Pilate, to the answer to the question: “What is Truth?” From inside and outside of the Church sprang up that old Greek error that there is no truth — an error which, for want of a knowledge of its ancient ancestry, was called Modernism. Truth was derationalized, error rationalized, and proofs brought forward to prove all proofs worthless. Teachers who bedecked themselves in the robes of prophets became insulted if told they were not gentlemen, but remonstrated mildly if told they were not Christians. Minds now were told, and they began to believe, with the force of repetition, that we must be indifferent to both error and truth; that it is a lack of broad-mindedness to make up one’s mind; that it makes no difference whether God exists, whether Christ is God, or whether the Sacraments do actually communicate Divine Life — the only thing that matters is the subjective impression such beliefs have upon the feeling of the believer. Minds began to live by catchwords, phrases covered up loose thinking, and there was hardly an ear that did not hear such catchwords and phrases as “Life is bigger than logic,” and “The Christ of Faith is not the Jesus of History.”
The new spirit of the age was seemingly burying the Spirit of Christ. Books and articles were shot from the press, and in 1907 there hardly was an article written that did not say that the Church had now definitely reached its end. The world was asked to chant her Requiem; a great stone was rolled before the door of her sepulchre; the watch set. “She would never rise again.” And according to every human law she never should have risen from the dead! But for some mysterious reason the Giant stirred. War was on. Long-range guns were tearing great gaping wounds in majestic Cathedrals; ploughshares were beaten into swords; cannon fire changed poppy fields into Haceldamas of blood. And lo and behold! That which was thought dead was seen on the battlefields pressing a crucifix to dying lips; and when the smoke of battle cleared and the mist lifted, she was seen walking in the glory of her new Easter Morn; and even now as men watch her she grows! Christ, then, must have meant what He said when He declared that His Church would endure even to the consummation of the world.
There emerges, then, from her history one great and wonderful lesson and it is this: Christ rose from the dead, not because He is man, but because He is God. The Church rises from the sepulchre in which violent hands or passing errors would inter her, not because she is human, but because she is Divine. Nothing can rise from the dead except Divinity. The world should profit by experience and give up expecting the Church to die. If a bell had been tolled on a thousand different occasions and the funeral never took place, men would soon begin to regard the funeral as a joke. So it is with the Church. The notice of her execution has been posted but the execution has never taken place. Science killed her and still she was there. History interred her, but still she was alive. Modernism slew her, but still she lived.
Even civilizations are born, rise to greatness, then decline, suffer, and die; but they never rise again. But the Church does rise again; in fact she is constantly finding her way out of the grave because she had a Captain who found His way out of the grave. The world may expect her to become tired, to be weak when she becomes powerful, to become poor when she is rich, but the world need never expect her to die. The world should give up looking for the extinction of that which so many times has been vainly extinguished.
Like a mighty oak tree which has stood for twenty centuries she bears fresh green foliage for each new age, that the age may come and enjoy the refreshing benediction of its shade. The flowers that open their chalices of perfume this spring are not old things, but new things on an old root. Such is the Church. She is reborn to each new age, and hence is the only new thing in the world. It is the errors that are old, for our so-called new thought is only an old mistake with a new label; it is not anew enthusiasm nor is it a new loyalty. The Church has put to bed all the errors of the past for she knows that to marry the passing fads of any age is to be a widow in the next. She is therefore not behind the times, but beyond the times, always fresh while the age is dying.
She will go on dying and living again and in each recurring cycle of a Good Friday and an Easter Sunday her one aim in life will be to preach Christ and Him Crucified. As a student I may be expected to know something of her aims, and as her priest I may be expected to know something of her secrets; and I honestly assure you, at the close of this series, that the Church seeks not the overthrow of governments, desires not to impede progress, strives not to persecute those who differ with her. (I know all these things are said about her). But what she does seek, with the full ardor of her soul, is to bring minds captive to the understanding of Christ, to lead wills to the glorious Liberty of the sons of God, to thrill human hearts with the Love that leaves all others cold, and to open eyes to a Beauty that leaves all other beauty pain. And, hence, if any single word of mine has lifted up but one soul to a nobler understanding of Christ, or fanned a single spark of love for His cause into a flame, or induced the tendrils of a single heart to entwine about the Heart of Hearts, then I shall believe that my words and my life shall not have been spoken or lived in vain.
The Catholic Hour will go on, under still nobler guidance, but its end and purpose will ever remain the same: To bring the peace of Christ to the souls of our countrymen. There will be no weapons to make that peace an armed peace, but there will be two insignificant instruments used, which have been used from the beginning, and they will be the instruments Our Lord taught His Apostles to use, namely those of fishermen and shepherds. I might say, therefore, we will go on “by hook and by crook” and the hook will be the hook of the fisherman, and the crook will be the crook of the shepherd; and with the hook we will catch souls for Christ, and with the crook we will keep them, even to the end of time; for as fishers of men and shepherds of souls we are committed to the high destiny of making Christ the King of human hearts, and with only the sign of Jonas the prophet, the fulfillment of that destiny can never be doubted, for if truth wins, Christ wins; if truth… Ah! But truth can’t lose
In the past few years in the Church we have had many psychological and sociological studies, all attempting to explain why some priests have left their sacred calling. I presume they have some value but it is interesting that none of them thought of making a biblical study of why a priest leaves. Perhaps we could find much if we peruse the Gospels and studied Judas.
His name was Iscariot; no one knows exactly what that meant. Maybe it was Sicarius, in the Greek, a dagger bearer. In this case he would have been classified as a revolutionist bent on driving the Romans out of the land of Israel. But in any case; one day a babe was born in Kerioth, a child of promise. Friends brought gifts to the parents and time went on and that babe of Kerioth grew in age and he met a babe who was born in Bethlehem who had grown in age and grace and wisdom, and at the parting of the waters, Christ chose Judas to be an Apostle. He did not choose him to be a traitor, but to be an Apostle.
Almost all studies that have been made seriously of Judas say that the principal reason that he left is because he was avaricious. There is indeed some Gospel evidence for this. For, just a week before the Passion of our Blessed Lord, the Savior was invited into the house of Simon, the Pharisee, and what the host saw brought a blush to his cheek. He looked up and saw a woman who was an intruder. Outside, friends could come and stand along the wall and listen to a conversation at table. This woman however, annoyed him to some extent. He would not have minded it if anyone else had been there; but the Rabbi, what would he think of it.
She was a woman, a sinner. Her hair was long and she did not attempt to brush it back. As she came toward the table, and in those days everyone reclined at table on the left arm leaving the right arm free to eat, she came and stood over the feet of our Blessed Lord and let fall upon the sandaled harbingers of peace, a few tears like the first warm drops of a summer rain. Then ashamed of what she had done, she attempted to wipe away the tears with her hair. All the while Simon was thinking to himself,
“If He only knew what kind of a woman she is.”
How did he know?
She took from about her neck, a small vessel. In those days women carried precious perfume about the neck in a bottle and when they attended funeral rites, they would break the bottle over the remains and then after allowing the perfume to fall upon the corpse, they would throw even the remains of the bottle onto the body. And she releases from her neck, this vessel of precious ointment but does not do what you and I do, pour it out gently drop-by-drop by drop, as if to indicate by the slowness of our giving, the generosity of our gift. She broke the vessel… gave everything. For love knows no limits.
Judas all the while got a whiff of this perfume. Oscar Wilde describes a synic as one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. And he immediately fixed a price, three hundred days wages. This perfume let me tell you, was no ordinary smell #5. So Judas now becomes the defender of the social order. He breaks up the routine of the dinner by saying,
“Why wasn’t this sold; sold for three hundred pennies worth and given to the poor?”
The poor! I can imagine that he probably went on and argued in some such way as this,
“I heard you on the mount of the Beatitudes say, Blessed are the poor. Where is your love for the poor now? Have you forgotten all those fishermen sheks that are laying in the Sea of Galilee? Remember all those huts that were hugging the highway between Jerusalem and Jericho; are you mindful of those? Have you forgotten the inner city of Jerusalem; it’s slums? Where is Your love of the poor?”
The Lord answered,
“The poor you have always with you; Me, you will have not always; and what this good woman has done was done for My burial and it will be told about her around the world.”
Here is another instance of an emphasis on social justice when there is a forgetfulness of individual justice.
A bishop, one day came to me with a letter written by a priest in his office. It was two or three pages long, single space. A very vicious attack on the bishop because he had no interest in ecumenism; particularly because he had no concern for the poor. Well, I knew that the bishop did have concern for the poor, ecumenism as well. And I said to him.
“Why don’t you find out how much he stole?”
Actually he stole over $25,000.00 from the chancery and then stole a wife who was a mother of four children. It was the story of Judas lived all over again.
So, the argument that Judas fell because he was avaricious does seem to have some substance. But…does avaricious really make a priest fall? As a matter of fact, in the history of the Church avaricious men have stayed in. Sometimes the Church can be a comfortable haven for the avarice. Furthermore, avarice is an old man’s sin; sin of youth is lust and middle age, power. Old age avarice, for it is a kind of economic immortality. See how well I have provided for myself. And, Judas was not an old man. Avarice therefore, cannot have been the cause of his leaving. What then was the cause?
Can you think of the first time that the fall of Judas is mentioned in the Gospels; the very first time? If you can recall that moment then you can have the answer to why there is a break in the priesthood. Where is the first mention of the fall of Judas? The day our Lord announced the Eucharist! When did Judas leave? The night our Lord gave the Eucharist! He broke at the announcement of the Eucharist; as a matter of fact, that was a critical moment in the life of our Blessed Lord. When He announced the Eucharist He lost the masses because He refused to be a bread King. Secondly, He lost some of his disciples; they left him and walked no more. Finally He split His Apostolic band. And here is the end of the story in the announcement of the Eucharist.
Conclusion of the 6th chapter of John,
And when the disciples withdrew and no longer went about with Him, Jesus asked the twelve,
“Do you also want to leave me?
Simon Peter answered,
“Lord to whom shall we go? Your words are the words of Eternal Life. We have faith and we know that you are the Holy One of God.” And Jesus answered, “Have I not chosen you? All twelve? Yet, one of you is a devil!” He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. He it was who would betray Him and he was one of the twelve.
When do priests begin to break? When they lose their faith in the Eucharist! It is not seen, it is not commented upon, a dozen other explanations will be given and the faith is generally lost long before others see the loss. There is predictability about those who leave the priesthood as is evident from this 6th chapter of John.
Our Blessed Lord had to live with this man for two years yet; think of it! He did not say who the devil was, He merely said, “One of you is the devil.” John, later on of course wrote the name. Now you know why we have centered this retreat on the Eucharist. There has never yet been a priest, who daily kept his faith in the Eucharist by watching an hour with the Lord who ever left him; no priest ever will! And those who are thinking of leaving… and I have many such letters in my possession about such men, from such men, who have come back because they restored their faith in the Eucharist.
So, this is the beginning of the break but they stay in. As I told you Demas left, he went back to the world as Paul simply put it, but others will destroy from within. A young priest told me within six months after his ordination, “I was ordained to try to destroy the Church from within.” If they would only leave, but they stay.
Now we come to the Last Supper and Judas leaves the priesthood. The seating arrangement of the table was one in which certainly John sat at the right. Who sat at the left? Judas! Now I will prove this to you. In the painting of Leonardo Divinci, Judas is down the table, I think about the fourth and upsetting the salt. And from that time on it became bad luck to upset the salt. He was holding his money bag but I think Our Lord always anxious to save us said to him, “Here Judas, sit near Me.” Where was Peter? On the other side of John.
Our Blessed Lord now washes the feet of His disciples. There are seven gestures mentioned; I think it is the beginning of the 13th chapter of John. As Our Lord washes the feet during supper, Jesus was well aware that the Father had entrusted everything to Him and that He had come from God and was going back to God. Now get the picture of the Incarnation here, (rose from the table as if God the Son was now prepared for the Incarnation), laid aside His garments, (the glory of His Divinity,) taking a towel which is the mark of a servant, a slave, (tying humanity about Himself, tied it round Him) poured water into a basin, (poured out His blood) washed His disciples feet, (cleansed us) wiped them with a towel, (the purification of the spirit). It is interesting to compare this passage with the second chapter of Philippians, verse 6 which was a hymn in the Church, verse 6 and on in Philippians.
And Our Blessed Lord, after washing the feet of His disciples said, “You are clean, but not all. One of you is about to betray Me.” Ten said, “Is it I Lord?” In the Face of Divinity no one can be sure of his innocence. One said, “Who is it Lord?” We will come back to that later on. And one said, “Who is it Master.” St. Paul tell us that it is only by the Spirit that we can call Jesus, Lord. Eleven called Him Lord, one, Master. Now at this particular time there was whispering going on and you will understand why the seating arrangement was as it is here described.
When Our Lord said, “One of you is about to betray me, Peter always curious and inquisitive had to be in on everything; he just couldn’t bear the suspense. If he were seated next to our Lord, you may be sure that Peter would have said. “Who is it Lord?” But Peter, says the Gospel, turns to John and said, “Ask Him who it is?” He asked John to ask and John said, “Who is it Lord, who is it?” And the Lord said, “It is he to whom I will reach this bread after I have dipped it in the sauce.” That is the way toasts were paid in those days; the bread was dipped in the sauce and given to a friend, the assumption being that they who ate the same bread were one body. Our Blessed Lord at that dipped the bread and gave it to Judas and said, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Then Satan entered into Judas and the Gospel says, “And Judas went out and it was night.” It is always night when we leave the Lord.
None of the other Apostles at table knew what was happening because the Gospel tell us that they thought Judas had gone out either to buy food for the Passover or else to give money to the poor. In other words, do not expect that anyone who is satanic looks satanic. You would never think that anyone who is going out to conduct the Liturgy, to prepare the Liturgy, was satanic. You wouldn’t think that anyone who was going out to distribute alms was satanic, but Satan was in him. Then it is after he leaves that our Blessed Lord pronounces that word “now”. “Now Father, glorify Thy Son with the glory that I had with thee before the foundation of the world was laid.”
The Lord now prepares to go down to the garden; there is only one recorded time in the life of our Blessed Lord that He ever sang and that was the night He went out to His death! They go into the garden, He thought He could depend on three, Peter, James and John; John rather loving, Peter loyal in an intense kind of way, James ready always to follow leadership, but He told them to watch and pray. “Watch!” (Look out for the external environment…that is your horizontal problem.} “Pray!”…(Vertical attachment to Heaven.) And they slept! Men who are worried do not sleep, but they slept. Three times our Blessed Lord came back to them and said, “Can you not stay awake one hour with Me?”
Now on the hill opposite the garden one can catch the sight of lanterns and a group of men, the Greek word that is used, spira, would rather suggest that there were about two hundred in this army of Judas. It is a full moon, very easy to distinguish anyone. Further more, our Lord was well known in Jerusalem, everyone saw him, at least on Palm Sunday. And as Judas leads his band of ruffians down the hill he says, “I will give you a sign, a sign. He whom I shall kiss, that is He. Lay hold of Him.” Why did he have to give a sign, a kiss? Somehow or another when we leave the Lord we never understand Him, we forget His Divinity, we forget His wisdom and we forget His love. And Judas thought our Blessed Lord, coward that He was, would run back into the olive grove hiding in the dark. And so he would have to flush Him out and in the darkness he would give them a sign, he would kiss Him. And our Lord comes forward, “Who do you seek?” ‘Jesus of Nazareth!” “I AM!” (Exodus) And they all fall backwards until He gives them strength to stand.
And Judas then throws his arms around the neck of our Blessed Lord and blisters His lips with a kiss. And the original word that is used in the Gospel is means he smothered Him with kisses. (So, books are written; I love the Church BUT!) “Hail, Rabbi,” and then he kissed Him. Why the kiss? Because Divinity is so sacred that its betrayal must always be prefaced by some mark of affection and esteem.
The Lord is arrested, led over the brook of Kedron; a story we will tell about in the last Holy Hour. And Judas had found his Lord because the Gospel tells us that our Lord was often accustomed to go there to pray. Only those who have been cradled in the sacred association of the Church know how to betray. Judas knew where to find the Lord after dark, and in all the great apocalyptic literature, Robert Hugh Benson, Soloviev, and Doesteovsky. The betrayal of Christ in His Church is always from within, not from without. In Benson, it was a Cardinal, in Doesteovsky it was a Cardinal, and in Soloviev it was a Cardinal. The title means nothing but the fact is, he was a priest. These writers made the priest one who had been at the top.
Who will ever forget Doesteovsky’s description of Christ coming to the city of Seville in about the 16th Century? The Grand Inquisitor is a wisened old Cardinal over ninety years of age. And when our Blessed Lord returns he sees a child being brought into a Church. He raises the child to life and the Grand Inquisitor reminds Him that He came to bring freedom but people did not want to be free. They really want to be slaves of something. And he said, “Tomorrow we will burn You. Leave and never come back.” And our Lord bent over and kissed the whitened cheeks of the old cardinal and for the first time in many years blood came to his cheeks. And once again he said, “Never again come back.”
Is it any wonder then that St. Peter along with Ezekiel in the Old Testament speak of the destruction of the Temple and the persecution of the Church is coming from within. Ezekiel said, “Incipite a sanctuario meo,” and St. Peter; “Begin at my sanctuary.” Begin there in the sanctuary, and that was what was first destroyed when Titus and Vespasian took over Jerusalem. And Peter said that’s the way it will be at the end.
Judas now has his money but not very much, $17.40. Divinity is always betrayed out of all proportion to its due worth, always a ridiculous figure. So when a man gives up his priesthood what does he get? He gets $500.00 in royalties for a book attacking the Church, an hour on television to make light of it and celibacy. Three thousand nights in bed and he is sick of it all. Judas was sick of it all, took back his thirty pieces of silver and sent them rolling across the temple floor and he said, “Look, you do it.” All that it was fit for was to buy a field of blood. And he might have, if he had just a spark of faith, have received pardon and forgiveness from the Lord, Who would forgive such betrayals seventy times seven.
It is interesting to make a comparison of Peter and Judas. Our Lord warned both that they would fail. They both failed, they both denied or betrayed the Lord and they both repented. But the difference in the word repent is that Judas repented unto himself and Peter repented unto the Lord. They were the same up to that point. St. Paul therefore says there are two kinds of sorrow, the sorrow of the world and the sorrow of true faith. So Judas no longer has any hope having refused to return to the Savior and he takes a rope and goes out to some rocky ground, we know not where it was.
I wonder, maybe…and here I am only speculating, up to this point I have used the Gospel. After Good Friday did he throw the rope over one of the beams of the Cross? We know he fell from the rocks and was burst asunder. That we do not know; it is mere speculation. That speculation was confirmed a few years ago when the cook of one of our bishops in China, who had been with him for about twenty five years, When the Communists came in the cook sold out to the Communists and became a sheriff and, he became the sheriff prisoner of the bishop and the bishop died on the death march. The cook, in remorse went to the Chapel of the Bishop and threw a rope over the rafter and hanged himself. He went back as it were, to the scene of his crime.
Leaving aside this speculation because that is all it is, Judas now is full of despair and he walks over the rocky ground and each rock seem just as hard and cruel as his own heart. The limb of every tree seemed like a pointing finger, “Traitor, traitor, traitor!” The knot on every tree seemed like an accusing eye.
And he hanged himself. And as the Acts of the Apostles tells us, his bowels burst asunder. “And he went to his own place.” That is all – his own place.
Everything has its own place. You open the cage of a bird and the bird goes to its own place. You drop a stone from the hand and the stone goes to its own place. We do not know what this propriam locum was of Judas but we do know the reason of the fall and may that reason sharpen the resolution of our will so that we will not fail the Eucharist. If we could read the hearts of those who have left, faith broke, it snapped somewhere making light of the Eucharist, anything at all but no longer the sense of the invisible and the beautiful presence of Christ.
And the great tragedy of the life of Judas, one of the twelve, is that he might have been Saint Judas.
[Conference #10 given by Archbishop Sheen for the Priests of the Archdiocese of Washington at Loyola on Potomac Retreat House during their annual Priest’s Retreat, 1974.]
Text from the book: “Life of Christ” by Bishop Fulton Sheen
Our Lord spoke seven times from the Cross; these are called His Seven Last Words. In His goodness, Our Blessed Lord left His thoughts on dying. He was representative of all humanity. In this sublime hour He called all His children to the pulpit of the Cross, and every word He said to them was set down for the purpose of an eternal publication and an undying consolation. There was never a preacher like the dying Christ; there was never a congregation like that which gathered about the pulpit of the Cross; there was never a sermon like the Seven Last Words.
THE FIRST WORD
The executioners expected Him to cry, for everyone pinned to the gibbet of the Cross had done it before Him. Seneca [a Roman philosopher] wrote that those who were crucified cursed the day of their birth, the executioners, their mothers, and even spat on those who looked upon them. Hence the executioners expected a word, but not the kind of word that they heard. The Scribes and Pharisees awaited His reaction, and they were quite sure that He Who had preached “Love your enemies,” and “Do good to them that hate you,” would now forget that Gospel with the piercing of His feet and hands. Every one expected a cry, but no one, with the exception of the three at the foot of the Cross, expected the cry they did hear. Like some fragrant trees which bathe in perfume the very axe which gashes them, the great Heart on the Tree of Love poured out from its depths something less a cry than a prayer – the soft, sweet, low prayer of pardon and forgiveness:
Father forgive them; They do not know what it is they are doing (Luke 22:34).
Forgive whom? Forgive enemies? The soldier in the courtroom of Caiphas who struck Him with a mailed fist? Pilate, the politician, who condemned a God to retain the friendship of Caesar? The soldiers who swung the King of Kings on a tree between heaven and earth? Forgive them, why? Because they know not what they are doing. If they knew what they were doing and still went on doing it; if they knew what a terrible crime they were committing by sentencing Life to death; if they knew what a perversion of justice it was to prefer Barabbas to Christ; if they knew what cruelty it was to take the feet that trod everlasting hills and pinion them to the limb of a tree if they knew what they were doing and still went on doing it, unmindful of the fact that the very Blood which they shed was capable of redeeming them, they would never be saved! It was only the ignorance of their great sin that brought them within the pale of the hearing of that cry from the Cross. It was not wisdom that saved them: it was ignorance!
THE SECOND WORD
The Last Judgment was prefigured on Calvary; the Judge was in the center, and the two divisions of humanity on either side: the saved and the lost, the sheep and the goats. When He would come in glory to judge all men, the Cross would be with Him then too but as a badge of honor, not shame. Two thieves were crucified on either side of Him. The thief on the left asked to be taken down. But the thief on the right, evidently moved by Our Savior’s priestly prayer of intercession, asked to be taken up: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” Luke 23:42.
A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life; a man without possessions asked a poor man for a Kingdom; a thief at the door of death asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise. One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of Redemption, but in the Divine plan it was a thief who was the escort of the King of kings into Paradise. If Our Lord had come merely as a teacher, the thief would never have asked for forgiveness. But since the thief’s request touched the reason of His coming to earth, namely, to save souls, the thief heard the immediate answer:
I promise thee, this day thou shalt be With Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).
It was the thief’s last prayer, perhaps even his first. He knocked once, sought once, asked once, dared everything, and found everything.
THE THIRD WORD
With a gesture of His dust-filled eyes and His thorn-crowned head, Our Blessed Lord looked longingly at His Mother who was standing beneath the Cross as a cooperator in His Redemption; and He said:
“Woman, this is thy son.”
He did not call him John; to do that would have been to address him as the son of Zebedee and no one else. But, in his anonymity, John stood for all mankind. To His beloved disciple He said:
“This is thy mother.”
Here is the answer, after all these years, to the mysterious words in the Gospel of the Incarnation which stated that Our Blessed Mother laid her “firstborn” in the manger. Did that mean that Our Blessed Mother was to have other children? It certainly did, but not according to the flesh. Our Divine Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was the unique Son of Our Blessed Mother by the flesh. But Our Lady was to have other children, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit! She became our mother the moment she lost her Divine Son. It was, for the moment, a poor exchange, giving up her Divine Son to win mankind, but in reality, she did not win mankind apart from Him. On that day He began to merge the Divine maternity into the new motherhood of all men; at Calvary He caused her to love men as He loved them.
THE FOURTH WORD
My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46).
In each of the other words, He acted as the Divine mediator; in the first word, He pleaded for the forgiveness of sinners in general; in the second word, He anticipated His final role at the end of the world when He would separate the good from the bad; in the third word, He was the mediator assigning a spiritual motherhood for redeemed humanity. Now in the fourth word, He acted as mediator for sinful humanity. God and He stand over against each other for the moment. The Old Testament had prophesied that He Who hangs upon a tree is cursed; the darkness gave expression to that burning curse which He would remove by bearing it and triumphing in the Resurrection. One of God’s first great gifts to man was the gift of light which He Himself said He caused to shine upon the just and the wicked; but as mediator and pleader for the emptiness and darkness of sinful hearts, He would deny Himself that primitive gift of light.
Christ’s cry was of abandonment which He felt standing in a sinner’s place, but it was not of despair. The soul that despairs never cries to God. As the keenest pangs of hunger are felt not by the dying man who is completely exhausted but by the man battling for his life with the last ounce of strength, so abandonment was felt not only by the ungodly and unholy but by the most holy of men, the Lord on the Cross. The greatest mental agony in the world, and the cause of many psychic disorders, is that minds and souls and hearts are without God. Such emptiness would never have a consolation, if He had not felt all of this as His own. From this point on, no atheist could ever say in his loneliness, he does not know what it is to be without God! This emptiness of humanity through sin, though He felt it as His own, was nevertheless spoken with a loud voice to indicate not despair, but rather hope that the sun would rise again and scatter the darkness.
THE FIFTH WORD
There now came a point in the discourse of the Seven Last Words from the Cross which would seem to indicate that Our Blessed Lord was speaking of Himself, whereas in some of the previous words He was speaking to others. But the facts are not quite so simple. It is, indeed, true that the loss of blood through the sufferings, the unnatural position of the Body with the extreme tension on hands and feet, the overstretched muscles, the wounds exposed to air, the headache from the crowning of thorns, the swelling of the blood vessels, the increasing inflammation – all would have produced a physical thirst. It was not surprising that He thirsted; what was surprising was that He said so. He Who threw stars into their orbits and spheres into space, He Who shut up the sea with doors, He Who made waters come out of the rock smitten by Moses, He Who had made all the seas and rivers and fountains, He Who said to the woman of Samaria: “The man who drinks the water I give him will not know thirst any more,” now let fall from His lips the shortest of the seven cries from the Cross:
I am thirsty (John 19:28).
The bystanders at the Cross who knew well the Old Testament prophecies were thus given another proof that He was the suffering Messias. His fourth word, which expressed His sufferings of Soul, and His fifth word, which expressed sufferings of Body, were both foretold, Thirst was the symbol of the unsatisfying character of sin; the pleasures of the flesh purchased at the cost of joy of the spirit are like drinking salt water. The rich man in hell, in the parable, thirsted and begged Father Abraham to ask Lazarus to wet his tongue with but a drop of water. Making complete atonement for sin demanded that the Redeemer now feel the thirst even of the lost before they are lost. But for the saved, too, it was a thirst – a yearning for souls. Some men have a passion for money, others for fame; His passion was for souls! “Give Me to think’ meant “give Me thy heart.” The tragedy of Divine love for mankind is that in His thirst men gave him vinegar and gall.
THE SIXTH WORD
From all eternity God willed to make men in the image of His Eternal Son. Having perfected and achieved this likeness in Adam, He placed him in a garden, beautiful as God alone knows how to make a garden beautiful. In some mysterious way the revolt of Lucifer echoed to earth, and the image of God in man became blurred. The Heavenly Father now willed in His Divine mercy to restore man to his pristine glory, in order that fallen man might know the beautiful image to which he was destined to be conformed. God sent His Divine Son to this earth, not just to forgive sin but to satisfy justice through suffering.
In the beautiful Divine economy of Redemption, the same three things which cooperated in the Fall shared in Redemption. For the disobedient man Adam, there was the obedient new Adam, Christ; for the proud woman Eve, there was the humble new Eve, the Virgin Mary; for the tree of the Garden, there was the tree of the Cross. Looking back on the Divine plan and after having tasted the vinegar which fulfilled the prophecy, He now uttered what in the original is only one word:
It is achieved (John 19:30).
It was not an utterance of thanksgiving that His suffering was over and finished, though the humiliation of the Son of Man was now at an end. It was rather that His life from the time of His birth to the time of His death had faithfully achieved what the Heavenly Father sent Him to do.
THE SEVENTH WORD
One of the penalties imposed on man as a result of original sin was that he would die in body. After the exile from the garden, Adam stumbled upon the limp form of his son Abel. He spoke to him, but Abel did not answer. The head was lifted, but it fell hack limp; his eyes were cold and staring. Then Adam remembered that death was the penalty for sin. It was the first death in the world. Now the new Abel, Christ, slain by the race of Cain, prepared to go home. His sixth word was earthward; the seventh was Godward. The sixth was the farewell to time, the seventh, the beginning of His glory. The prodigal Son was returning back home; thirty-three years before, He had left the Father’s house and gone off into the foreign country of this world. There He began spending His substance, the Divine riches of power and wisdom; in His last hour, His substance of Flesh and Blood was wasted among sinners. There was nothing left to feed upon except the husks and the sneers and the vinegar of human ingratitude. He now entered into Himself and prepared to take the road back home into His Father’s house and as He did so, He let fall from His lips the perfect prayer:
Father, into Thy Hands I commend My spirit (Luke 23:46).
As these words were spoken, there came from the opposite hill of Jerusalem the sound of thousands of lambs who were being slain in the outer court of the temple that their blood might be offered before the Lord God on the altar, and their flesh might be eaten by the people. Whether there is any truth in the teaching of the Rabbis that it was on the same day that Cain slew Abel that God made the Covenant with Abraham, that Isaac was led up to the mountain for sacrifice, that Melchisedech offered bread and wine to Abraham, and that Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, we know not; but on this day the Lamb of God was slain and all the prophecies were fulfilled. The work of Redemption was finished. There was a rupture of a heart in a rapture of love; the Son of Man bowed His head and willed to die.