Saturday, March 23, 2013

Betraying Christ

Recent revelations afflicting the Church in these islands have shown us the truth of Pope Francis' words in his first address to the Cardinals that if we turn away from the Cross, from penance and self-denial, "we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly people - we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord".

As Holy Week approaches we might ask ourselves where such betrayal of Christ begins. I don't believe it can be a spur of the moment thing or a so-called "moment of madness" attributable to excess alcohol. I suspect the malaise takes root in an individual when he turns away from the path of discipline and self-denial and begins to follow an easy, compromised, way of life. Jesus says, "If anyone wishes to come after me let him deny himself and pick up the Cross and follow me". He does not say, "Look after yourself, the Church owes you a favour". He says, "Stay awake and pray". He does not say, "It's okay to be cool about prayer, just do it when you feel like it". Jesus says, "Do not worry about what you wear".  He does not say, "Your value is determined by designer labels, elaborate vestments and the most expensive Cologne". Jesus says, "Eat what is set before you". He does not say, "You know, you're right, I wouldn't eat that either!"

We are to pick up the Cross daily and follow the Lord. Our vocation is not to build booths on Thabor and contemplate the Lord's heavenly splendour (and much less the plasma TV), it is to ascend Calvary with the Cross on our shoulders.  When I was at seminary we were always being encouraged to "take care of ourselves" and "avoid burn-out". Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in his book Priests for the Third Millennium", recalls a bishop who complained to him that "the problem with priests in my diocese isn't burn out - it's bedsores!".

Where does the spirit of lukewarmness and compromise begin? It can begin at any time but, I suspect, for many it begins in the seminary. I was very pleased to hear that many seminarians in the United States have rediscovered the practice of Fraternal Correction. In a spirit of charity, having reflected in prayer, when necessary they will speak in a straightforward and manly way to their fellow students to challenge incipient worldliness. Their corrections are received with a gratitude by men who have not yet grown so cold that they have lost their initial desire to give everything to the Lord. It would be a good practice for seminarians to adopt on these shores as well. 

Let us not forget that Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. The Lord's apparent friend is his greatest betrayer. Francis Caravajal gives the following reflection on this betrayal:
"What happened in Judas' soul? [...] He too was sent to preach and would have seen the abundant fruit of his apostolate. He may have performed miracles like the others. And he would have had very intimate and personal conversations with the Master, as did the other Apostles. What can have happened to his soul that he would now betray the Lord for thirty pieces of silver? 
For it to be explicable, there must have been a long story behind the betrayal that night. For some time Judas would have been distant from Christ even though he was still in his company. On the surface he would have remained normal, but he must have changed inside and become distant. The split with the Master, the loss of his faith and his vocation must have taken place little by little, as he yielded in more and more important things...
He had allowed his love for the Lord to grow cold, and there remained only the mere external appearance of discipleship. His life of loving surrender to God had become a farce; more than once he would think it would have been better not to have followed the Lord at all. Now he does not remember the miracles, the cures, the happy moments with the Master, his friendship with the other Apostles. He is now a man who has lost his way, out of touch, quite capable of committing the madness which will for us be so difficult to understand.
The act now carried out has been preceded by increasing greater acts of disloyalty. It is one final outcome of a long, interior process".
How true those words are! How do you know whether it is happening to you? One way might be to ask yourself a few questions: How did you react internally when Pope Francis said, "He who does not pray worships the devil"?  How many hours did you spend in front of the Tabernacle this week? How open are you to the others in your community? What voluntary acts of mortification have you done today? What should you do if you recognise the signs? Confession. A new beginning. Return to the Lord. Don't wait. Judas did not return to the Lord. He gave in to self-pity and was lost. Peter, on the other hand, wept bitterly. On that repentance the Church was built.

In his introduction to YouCat Pope Benedict told young people they need to know their faith better than their parent's generation. Seminarians and those considering the priesthood should perhaps consider that their generation needs to be outstanding in holiness if they are to undo the damage inflicted upon the Church by those who have betrayed Christ's trust.

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