Holy Week 2009: March 2013 Archives

Lest We Betray Him With a Kiss

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The Call to Holiness

My monastic vocation, as it has developed and matured over the years, is intimately bound up with the lives of my brother priests and with their desire for holiness. The Wednesday of Holy Week invites me to meditate on one priest's abject failure, on one priest's sordid betrayal of Our Lord, on one priest's headlong plunge into the darkness of despair. You all know this priest. His name was Judas Iscariot.

What I am about to share applies not only to priests; it applies, in some way, to everyone. Each of us is called to live in the friendship of Jesus. Each of us is called to holiness. Each of us is called to become nothing less than a saint.

Mysterium Iniquitatis

The Wednesday of Holy Week is designated Spy Wednesday: this because it commemorates Judas Iscariot's conspiracy to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas --his friend, his chosen one, his priest-- continues to astonish and grieve us. Why did Our Lord allow such an evil? Why did He not stop Judas, confront him with the horror of his sin, and pull him back from the abyss of iniquity about to open beneath his feet? What a mystery it is that Our Lord should so respect the free will of a man, even when that man's choices are misguided; motivated by the desire for power, or money, or pleasure; or manipulated by Satan, the father of lies!

What Happened?

Let us consider, for a moment, what might have happened, had Judas taken the risk of stepping out of his isolation, of reaching out to another. Why did Judas end the way he did? How did he go from giving up everything to follow Jesus, to betraying Him for a miserable thirty pieces of silver?

The Sickness of Our Secrets

The beginning of Judas' downfall was his secrecy. In the beginning of his discipleship, Judas Iscariot was, perhaps, more open, sharing with Jesus his thoughts, his dreams, his desires, and his fears. And then, little by little, Judas became disillusioned and jaded. He withdrew into himself. He dissimulated his temptations, his fears, his struggles, and his failures.

Something very similar happens when a soul stops going to confession, or confesses too infrequently, or puts off going to confession. One becomes accustomed to living with the sickness of one's secrets. One adjusts to living with them, and they poison us. This is something that the Church has always known. How important it is to lay bare our souls to a trusted spiritual father, to admit not only our sins, but also our temptations and our struggles. This act of humility disarms Satan, and renders him powerless. Only pride, and the secrecy that comes from pride and seeks to dissimulate sin, gives the Evil One a foothold in us.

Judas Stopped Conversing with Jesus

Judas must have stopped conversing with Jesus in a personal way. Certainly he continued talking to Jesus superficially, but mostly about business. He was, after all, responsible for administering the common fund of the Twelve. He stopped relating to Jesus in a personal way, as one trusting friend talks to another, heart to heart.

It is very telling that in Saint John's Gospel, Judas speaks rather caustically about expenses. He sounds calculating and disgruntled. "Why," he asked, "was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" (Jn 12:5) Judas had become all business. There was little love left in his heart. He was concerned about running a successful operation in worldly terms, but in his heart a viper was hid, and it was about to sting him with its deadly poison.

Had He Turned to Jesus

If only Judas had gone to Jesus and said, "Master, I need to talk to Thee. I want to open my heart to Thee. I am troubled, and tempted, and on the verge of committing a very great evil. Save me, lest I perish. Hold me fast, my Jesus, and do not let me go. I trust in Thy love for me. I believe in Thy mercy. I remember what Thou didst say one day: "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me; and him who comes to Me I will not cast out" (Jn 6:37).

It is never too late to stop and open one's heart to Jesus in the intimate conversation that we call prayer. The worst betrayals, the most heinous crimes, and the living death of mortal sin begin their gestation when we forsake prayer, when we stop conversing with Jesus, or only deal with Him when we are obliged to do so by convention or routine. Then, there is no more friendship with Him. There is only business. And so the heart grows hard and cold.

He Could Have Turned to Mary

Judas had another recourse, but he was too proud to make use of it. He could have gone to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Even before the words of Our Lord to Saint John from the Cross, "Behold, thy mother" (Jn 19:27), Mary was a true mother to each of the Apostles. She knew them as any mother knows her children, and she loved them, even with their weaknesses and repeated failures to believe in her Son, to hope in Him, and to love Him. Any one of the twelve could have gone to Mary at any time for counsel, for comfort, for encouragement, and for a mother's blessing. She loved each of them because her Son loved them, and chose them, and called them to leave all things and follow Him.

Judas could have gone to Mary and said, "Mother, behold, my life is filled with wicked desires, with anger, and jealousy, and pride. Mother, I am ashamed to confess this to thee, but I am losing confidence in thy Son. I cannot accept His way of doing things. I am hardening my heart against His teachings. Mother, help me! And Mary, moved by an immense compassion, would have caressed his cheek, and opened her hands in prayer over his head. Mary was then, and remains even now for us, the Mediatrix of All Graces, the Mother of Mercy, the Refuge of Sinners, our life, our sweetness, and above all, our hope in this valley of tears. She would not have condemned Judas. She would not have been angry with him. She would have felt an immense pity for him, the pity of a mother for a wayward child. Mary could have saved him from the terrible fate that awaited him. But Judas did not seek her out. And so Mary would weep for him bitterly.

One can go to Mary at any moment, with any temptation, any weakness, and any sin. Our Lady hates sin, but loves poor sinners. She is disgusted by evil, but is merciful towards those held in its grip. She is repulsed by vice, but full of compassion for those who struggle to become free of it. Seeing us in our sins, she weeps over us, allowing her tears to soften and purify our hearts. Turn to her and she will crush the head of the serpent who plots our ruin. It is enough to look at her image with confidence, enough to say her blessed name, "Mary, Mary!"

He Could Have Opened Up to Peter

Judas could have gone to Peter. Peter had already emerged as the spokesman of the Twelve. Judas could have said to Peter, "Peter, my brother, tonight, let us get together for a glass of wine and a plate of figs. I need to talk. I am confused, troubled, restless. Hear me out. Help me." Peter was often outspoken, and impetuous, but he had a tender side as well. He was capable of compassion. Peter would have listened to Judas. He may have argued with him, as one brother argues with another. He may have reproved him as Padre Pio so often reproved his penitents in order to win them back. But the simple fact of opening up to Peter might have saved Judas. Instead, Judas chose to live with his secret. In the end, it would kill Jesus and cause Judas to hang himself.

It a dangerous thing to hold on to one's secrets, to entertain an inner life populated by demons and noisy with their evil suggestions. There is a solution: it is enough to go to one who represents Jesus, one who so knows the Heart of the Master that he can speak on His behalf and pull us back from the precipice.

He Could Have Asked John to Intercede for Him

Judas could have gone to John. John was Jesus' beloved friend, the one with whom He shared all the secrets of His Sacred Heart, the friend in whose company He found comfort and solace, the friend who would remain with Him even on Golgotha, the friend to whom He would entrust His All-Holy Mother. John was, and is, a powerful intercessor with the Heart of Jesus. Had Judas gone to John and exposed his temptations, John would have spoken to him of the gentleness of the Master, of the love of His Heart, of His readiness to forgive. And John, interceding, would have gone to Jesus, to speak to Him on Judas' behalf.

But Judas could not bring himself to do this. Out of pride certainly, out of jealousy perhaps. And so he went his dark way into the night of betrayal and death.

The Mercy of God

Judas remains a tragic mystery. Had he renounced his sin, or had he repented after it, he might have become one of the shining trophies of Divine Mercy in the early Church. Instead he went his dark way, keeping his secrets, and refusing to reach out to Jesus, to Mary, to Peter, to John or to any one of the company of faithful disciples who might have been able to grab hold of his hand and pull him back from the infernal pit.

The very act of reaching out is an expression of humility, and humility opens the floodgates of Divine Mercy. Apart from an abiding trust in the Mercy of God, one cannot have but a tragic destiny. Merciful Jesus, save us, lest we, like Judas, betray Thee with a kiss!

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Wednesday of Holy Week

At Saint Mary Major

Today’s Roman Stational Church is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. We go, in spirit, to this ancient church of the Mother of God, asking her to be present to us as we prepare to cross the threshold into the Paschal Triduum. We go to the suffering Christ, to the Crucified, to the Risen One with and through his most holy Mother. The Virgin of Sorrows is the Portress of the Holy Mysteries, the Keeper of the Door of Christ’s Pierced Heart, the Mother of our Joy. We will return again to Saint Mary Major for the Mass of Easter Day to sing our joy to the Mother of God -- Regina caeli, laetare! -- and to share in the joy that was hers at the resurrection of Christ. By framing the Paschal Triduum between two stations at the church of Saint Mary Major, the Roman liturgy suggests that the mystery of Christ is given us enveloped in Mary. Mary, like the Church, embodies and contains the mystery of Christ.

Christ in the Glory of God the Father

We sing today’s Introit in the presence of the Mother of Jesus. “In the name of Jesus let every knee bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; for the Lord became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10, 8, 11). She who was the witness of his sufferings on Calvary is the witness of his glory in heaven, for she “has chosen the better part which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42).

We confess the self-emptying obedience of Christ, obedience even to the death of the cross, calling him LORD. We summon the entire cosmos -- things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth -- to adoration of his Name! Already, we lift our eyes to the see the glory of the risen and ascended Christ. The very melody of the introit scales an entire octave to soar into the heights, obliging us to “seek the things that are above” (Col 3:1). Dame Aemiliana speaks of “the irresistible, shining tone of triumph with which today’s Mass straightaway puts the approaching shadows of evening to flight.” Like Saint Stephen at the hour of his death, we see Christ in the glory of God the Father. “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Ac 7:56). The Crucified is our Kyrios, the triumphant king, raised up into the glory of the Father.

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Into the Silence

Listening to the Passion plunges us into silence. The Word has been silenced. Only a fool would dare to speak. Perhaps there should be no homily today. Anything less than a word out of silence is unworthy of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ; anything more is superfluous. If I am so foolish as to preach today, it is for the sake of silence: a word out of silence, a word into silence. Like Saint Paul, "I am with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling" (1 Cor 2:3). In offering you these few words, my only purpose is to guide you into the harbour of an immense and solemn stillness.

The Mystery of the Cross

The Cross reveals its mystery only to those who allow themselves to be lifted up in its rough-hewn arms and held fast in its embrace. The power and wisdom of God are forever bound to the weakness and foolishness of the Cross.

In the Arms of the Cross

Most of us are repulsed by the Cross. We live in fear of suffering. We are willing to contemplate the Cross from a distance, willing to place it on our walls or to wear it on a chain over our hearts. It is quite another thing to be lifted up in its arms, to surrender to its embrace and to remain there naked, exposed and vulnerable. And yet, the saints are unanimous in testifying that for those who surrender to the embrace of the Cross and remain there, it becomes the Tree of Life, the Marriage Bed, and the Altar of Sacrifice.

My Yoke is Sweet

An ancient liturgical text describes the beginning of Holy Week as a ship coming into harbour. The Cross of Christ is our haven and our rest. Our Lord speaks to us and says: "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light." (Mt 11:28-29).

The Will of the Father is Always Love

The sweet yoke of Jesus is fashioned from the wood of the Cross. Those whom He draws to Himself find rest with Him in the arms of the Cross. When we struggle and strain against the Cross, we condemn ourselves to a long and restless agony, saying with Job: "My heart is in turmoil and is never still" (Jb 30:27). When we surrender to the embrace of the Cross, we rest with Jesus in the will of the Father. We discover that the will of the Father is always love, and so begin to pray: "Father, not my will, but Thine, be done" (Lk 22:42).

Tree of Life, Marriage Bed, and Altar

The Cross is the "tree that is planted beside flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves never fade" (Ps 1:3). Incandescent with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Cross is the bush that Moses saw "burning and yet not consumed" (Ex ). The Cross is the marriage bed upon which Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church consummate their love. The Cross is the altar from which ascends a fragrant sacrifice: the immolation of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

The Mass

How do we pass over from struggle to rest, from the tempest to the harbour? How do we pass over from the barren desert to the Tree of Life, from isolation to communion? How do we pass over from the threshold to the altar, and from the altar to God? By the Cross. Holy Week is the time of our great passover: from darkness to light, from sadness to joy, from time to eternity, from death to life. If you would leave behind the rot of your sins, and the darkness of untruth, and the horror of all that attacks innocence and outrages the Face of Love, then let yourself be drawn to the Cross. To each of us, and in every Mass, Our Lord offers the healing wood of the Cross. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the place, and the means, and the price of our Passover; the Mass is the Church held in the embrace of the Cross.

Come, Surrender

If you are weary, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you are isolated and afraid, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you are bitter, or bruised, or fragmented, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If, in spite of your sins, you hunger and thirst for holiness, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you would make of your life an offering worthy of God, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you would know the joy of resurrection, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross.

Toward the Eighth Day

In a week's time, having passed from seven days of measured time into the Eighth Day, the Day that will forever free us from the tyranny of time measured against the approach of death, we will hail the festival of Him who triumphs over hell and holds the stars of heaven in his hand (cf. Salve, Festa Dies, Easter processional hymn).

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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