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Christ's Betrayal and Divine Mercy

Pope Benedict XVI: How the Betrayal of Christ by Judas Reveals God's Mercy

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By David Came (Nov 8, 2006)
The betrayal of Jesus Himself by Judas Iscariot — one of the Master's 12 apostles — reveals that God is "rich in mercy and forgiveness."

In fact, the Catholic Church does not teach that even Judas is damned to hell. "Even though he went to hang himself (cf. Mt. 27:5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God."

These were among the astounding statements that Pope Benedict XVI made to the Church and the world during his general audience in St. Peter's Square on Oct. 18.

What does he mean exactly, and what are the implications for us?

Point #1: Only Christ can judge definitively each human heart and soul.

It's so easy for us to judge others as being damned to hell, especially notorious sinners like Judas throughout history and into the present. Consider this short list: Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Slobadan Milosevic, Pol Pot, Timothy McVeigh, Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Laden.

Yet, we cannot read the hearts of men and women at the time of death. We must leave that to Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world — as does Pope Benedict XVI in the case of Judas.

"Christ is Lord of eternal life," teaches the Catechism of the Catholic Church. "Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to Him as redeemer of the world" (679). And Christ's judgment of each human soul is not arbitrary but based on His complete knowledge of the true condition of the soul. As the Catechism states, "When He comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace" (682).

An important implication for us, then, is to guard our own hearts against passing judgment on someone else's soul. For example, in our heart of hearts have we judged and damned to hell Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden? Closer to home is there a particularly bothersome or difficult family member, friend, or co-worker whom we have judged as unworthy of heaven?

Let's repent right now of such a critical or judgmental spirit toward anyone we know. Instead, let's decide to pray for the person.

Point #2: Jesus goes out of His way to offer despairing souls at death a final grace of repentance. When we know of souls that may be in spiritual peril, especially the dying, we should pray that they would respond to this grace of repentance.

Jesus revealed this truth to St. Faustina, the great Apostle of Divine Mercy. In a crucial passage from the Diary of St. Faustina, Jesus converses with a despairing soul in a way that gives us reason to hope as He offers the soul this final grace and comes to it three times:

Jesus: O Soul steeped in darkness, do not despair. All is not yet lost. Come and confide in your God who is love and mercy.

In the soul arises this reply: "For me there is no mercy," and it falls into greater darkness, a despair which is a foretaste of hell and makes it unable to draw near to God.

Jesus calls to the soul a third time, but the soul remains deaf and blind, hardened and despairing. Then the mercy of God begins to exert itself, and without any cooperation from the soul, God grants it final grace. If this too is spurned, God will leave the soul in this self-chosen disposition for eternity. This grace emerges from the merciful Heart of Jesus and gives the soul a special light by means of which the soul begins to understand God's effort; but conversion depends on its own will. The soul knows that this, for her, is final grace and, should it show even a flicker of good will, the mercy of God will accomplish the rest (1486).

Notice here how far the Merciful Savior is willing to go to save the despairing soul. Yet, the soul must show at least "a flicker of good will" since its "conversion depends on its own will."

Consistent with the witness of Scripture, this is the same Jesus who prayed from the cross for those who had crucified Him, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34). And as St. Paul tells us, God "wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4).

God is, indeed, rich in mercy, but He does not force Himself upon us. Pope Benedict XVI underscored this very point in talking about Judas and his betrayal. The Holy Father said that Christ, "in His invitations [to Judas] to follow Him along the way of the beatitudes," "does not force [Judas's] will or protect it from the temptations of Satan, respecting human freedom."

This is precisely where we can come in as intercessors — not as judges — in praying that souls in spiritual peril would respond to this grace of repentance. In fact, many Divine Mercy devotees pray The Divine Mercy Chaplet with such souls in mind, as they pray for God's "mercy on us and on the whole world." They especially remember the dying.

In this regard, there's the inspiring story of the convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh who seemed to have accepted this final grace as he went to his death. (We published this story in the September/October 2001 issue of the Friends of Mercy newsletter.)

McVeigh was scheduled for execution in early June 2001, and to all appearances, he seemed beyond redemption. Then, in the two days before his execution, thousands of Divine Mercy devotees began to contact each other through e-mail and pray the Chaplet for him. The e-mail message to pray for McVeigh reached at least 5,000 people in less than 18 hours.

The encouraging news with McVeigh is that at the last hour before his execution, he was asked if he wanted to see a priest. And McVeigh, who had seemed defiantly unrepentant to the end, agreed to see a priest and received the Sacraments. According to the National Catholic Register, Fr. John Rushmore — the prison chaplain who ministered to McVeigh — said, "In my judgment … I feel the Lord will take him to the kingdom."

That was in 2001. What about us today? Can we find it in our hearts to pray for the grace of repentance for someone like Saddam Hussein, who was just sentenced to death for crimes against humanity? Can we pick up our beads and pray The Divine Mercy Chaplet today with this intention in mind?

We can find inspiration from St. Faustina when she writes, "O God, You are compassion itself for the greatest sinners who sincerely repent. The greater the sinner, the greater his right to God's mercy" (Diary, 423).

Point #3: We should always remember that Satan, the Evil One, is our main adversary when we face evil in our world. He is at work in the lives and hearts of human beings who have rejected God.

When Pope Benedict considers the motives for Judas's betrayal of Jesus, he makes very clear that Satan is the main adversary working through Judas. Yes, there's Judas's "greed for money" and the fact that "Jesus did not fit into his program for the political-militaristic liberation of his nation."

But the Holy Father says that "the Gospel texts insist on another aspect." Benedict then cites John the Evangelist that "the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him" (Jn 13:2) and Luke when he writes, "Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve" (Lk 22:3).

The Pope concludes: "In this way, one moves beyond historical motivations and explanations based on the personal responsibility of Judas, who shamefully ceded to a temptation of the Evil One."

Here, it is helpful to remember the words of St. Paul: "For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens" (Eph 6:12). With all this in mind, we need to realize we are engaged in spiritual warfare against Satan when we see evil at work in our own lives, in the lives of others, and in our world.

Jesus has the victory and is, indeed, seated at God's right hand in glory. But, here on earth, Satan seeks to oppose Him at every turn and tempts human beings to join him.

Saint Faustina understood this reality well. "My Jesus, despite Your graces, I see and feel all my misery. I begin my day with battle and end it with battle," she writes. "As soon as I conquer one obstacle, ten more appear to take its place. But I am not worried, because I know that this is the time of struggle, not peace" (Diary, 606).

As you and I face daily spiritual warfare in this life, I strongly recommend the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel during times of temptation and at certain times of the day. Saint Michael is the great warrior angel who cast Satan and his followers out of heaven after they rebelled against God; the great Pope Leo XIII composed this prayer to St. Michael after a vision:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And do you, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Here, in Our Lady of Mercy Oratory at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass., we recite this prayer at the end of daily Mass. My wife and I also pray it at the end of our nightly walks before bedtime.

As we pray to St. Michael, we can remember especially souls whom we think are under spiritual attack.

Point #4: In God's providence, what was intended for evil is transformed into a greater good. This should give us great hope when we combat evil in ourselves, in others, and in our world.

At the end of his general audience, Pope Benedict encourages us to "never despair of God's mercy" because the love and mercy of God will always win out in the end.

Interestingly, the Holy Father points out how the betrayal of Christ by Judas is a supreme example of this unfailing, providential love of God because it led to our salvation:

When we think of the negative role Judas played we must consider it according to the lofty ways in which God leads events. His betrayal led to the death of Jesus, who transformed this tremendous torment into a space of salvific love by consigning Himself to the Father (cf. Gal 2:20; Eph 2:25).

The word "to betray" is the version of a Greek word that means "to consign." Sometimes the subject is even God in person; it was He who for love "consigned" Jesus for all of us (Rom 8:32). In His mysterious salvific plan, God assumes Judas's inexcusable gesture as the occasion for the total gift of the Son for the redemption of the world.

Read these words over and let your mind soak up their meaning. The Holy Father is saying that Judas, in a mysterious way, advanced God's ultimate purpose, which was and is to save us from our sins! Thus, God in Christ thwarted the evil designs of Satan and of Judas in achieving the very good of our salvation!

Today, inspired by this triumph of God's mercy over evil, let's decide anew to place our complete confidence in Jesus, our Redeemer. Let's marvel at how Divine Mercy is revealed even in Jesus' betrayal by Judas. May it give us deeper insight into the Heart of God, who is so rich in mercy and forgiveness for us all.

David Came is the Executive Editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass.

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Marian - Nov 10, 2006

This is beautiful. For a while I've been adding people like Judas Iscariot and Adolf Hitler to my prayers, praying that they had repented at the moment of death, but I didn't tell many people about it because I thought it might sound crazy. Learning about what the Holy Father has to say and the wonderful story of Timothy McVeigh, however, has revitalized my resolve to continue praying for these famous sinners. Thank you, David!

stephenjames - Nov 29, 2006

I thank you for this article and comments, I've been struggling with the idea that Satan and his fallen angels could redeem themselves if only they weren't so far gone along the path of sin to not acknowledge and renounce their rebellion. Is it wrong to pray the Divine Mercy for Satan and the fallen angels?

Moderator - Nov 29, 2006

Dear stephenjames,

That's a great question. Here is what the Catechism says on the nature of the sin of the angels, which is essentially different than the fall of human beings:


"It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels' sin unforgivable. "There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death" (CCC 393).

Hope this helps.

alexis - Apr 24, 2007

i have a question, this may sound a little bit out there but i've been meaning to ask this question for a long time. okay, i know that nothing in the future is hidden from God, he forsee the future of every human kind, but why does he create a person and then sometimes just allow him to fall, sin or even go to hell. wouldnt be much better if he didnt create that person.

tom bailey houston, tx - Jan 17, 2010

remember we were told to tell every one about His divine mercy. if we do that then the sinners will know they have a chance to be with Him ,regardless of their sins, they can be saved.

pray 4 all - Apr 18, 2015

Imagine -- Jesus dying on the Cross -- *redeeming* every person from the price of their sins (in the past, present, future) -- hoping that each soul would respond to his Divine Mercy (God's grace is sufficient for every single soul that has ever existed/ will exist)... hoping that people would someday be praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for themselves & others -- including hardened sinners such as those in the list...

Marian: great minds think alike, you're not crazy :) ... viva Holy Father!;

StephenJames: I think that a prayer such as the St. Michael prayer shows the proper way to pray in that sense (it is a safeguard for us against their wickedness though)...& keep praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet (think of the Novena's groups and who they include);

Moderator: yes I think that helps, because our sense of justice doesn't want people who've rejected God's Divine Merciful Love till the very last moment to wreak havoc against the security of our future Peace in Heaven, yet no truly compassionate person would want to turn away a repentant Prodigal Son type who has been purified in Purgatory from the communion of saints (think of the many terrible sinners who repented and became great saints, we love them only because we know about their conversion...imagine how much we could grow to love someone we found out later that they converted!)...Heaven must be the final place of safety and happiness, no longer the sinful earthly evils that make our world dangerous to live in (although it is a wonderful beautiful world we should be grateful to our Awesome Creator God!);

Alexis: it's ok to wonder about that problem, you're not alone it's a common concern...I've wondered for example, why did Jesus tell Judas basically it'd be better if he hadn't been born and told him to go ahead with the betrayal because it had to take place as part of the mystery of God's Will but woe to him...I would be confused whether to obey or let God's Will take place without sinning against our Best Friend... yet to NOT turn back to Jesus for forgiveness afterwards was the worse mistake, because Jesus did die for Judas Iscariot too...I guess maybe the answer, while remaining hidden in mystery, may have something to do with God's generosity and abundance of grace...there's enough grace for each person to respond to, so no soul is pre-destined to be lost, from what I understand...and it's these "lost souls" that we have to be praying for...if possible reaching out to (idea: giving out Divine Mercy holy cards)...what if one of the disciples had gone out of their way to go find Judas & give him a hug & talk to him & share their testimony about Jesus, this is what we have to try to do to follow the Prayer of St. Francis to bring hope to people in despair...think of the Conversation of the Merciful God with souls in despair;

Tom Bailey from Houston, TX: you're so right, we all have an equal chance because God gives enough grace to everyone in the world, it depends on our openness to those rays of Divine Mercy!...

Everyone: think about us joining the club of "DAY 7 (Easter Thursday) - The souls who especially venerate and glorify Jesus' mercy"--- hey this is our Constitution, folks:


"The Chaplet of The Divine Mercy Novena

Seventh Day:
Today bring to Me THE SOULS WHO ESPECIALLY VENERATE AND GLORIFY MY MERCY,* and immerse them in My mercy. These souls sorrowed most over my Passion and entered most deeply into My spirit. They are living images of My Compassionate Heart. These souls will shine with a special brightness in the next life. Not one of them will go into the fire of hell. I shall particularly defend each one of them at the hour of death.

Most Merciful Jesus, whose Heart is Love Itself, receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who particularly extol and venerate the greatness of Your mercy. These souls are mighty with the very power of God Himself. In the midst of all afflictions and adversities they go forward, confident of Your mercy; and united to You, O Jesus, they carry all mankind on their shoulders. These souls will not be judged severely, but Your mercy will embrace them as they depart from this life.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls who glorify and venerate Your greatest attribute, that of Your fathomless mercy, and who are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. These souls are a living Gospel; their hands are full of deeds of mercy, and their hearts, overflowing with joy, sing a canticle of mercy to You, O Most High! I beg You O God:

Show them Your mercy according to the hope and trust they have placed in You. Let there be accomplished in them the promise of Jesus, who said to them that during their life, but especially at the hour of death, the souls who will venerate this fathomless mercy of His, He, Himself, will defend as His glory. Amen.

*The text leads one to conclude that in the first prayer directed to Jesus, Who is the Redeemer, it is "victim" souls and contemplatives that are being prayed for; those persons, that is, that voluntarily offered themselves to God for the salvation of their neighbor (see Col 1:24; 2 Cor 4:12). This explains their close union with the Savior and the extraordinary efficacy that their invisible activity has for others. In the second prayer, directed to the Father from whom comes "every worthwhile gift and every genuine benefit," we recommend the "active" souls, who promote devotion to The Divine Mercy and exercise with it all the other works that lend themselves to the spiritual and material uplifting of their brethren."

pray 4 all (p.s.) - Apr 18, 2015

I forgot to add, that just by thinking/praying mercifully in retrospect for hardened sinners of the past (& praying for the current ones of the world) it doesn't mean that we approve of anything that breaks the Heart of God. His Precious Heart was pierced for our offenses! :( Big sins are not ok, but neither are little ones...I mean, we (who know better) should never want to hurt Jesus on purpose, because we KNOW how much He loves us, right? It may seem unfair for famous world leader sinners to be forgiven, because of all the people they hurt/killed -- but let's turn that hurt into even more prayer -- let's not forget to pray for the souls of innocent victims who may or may not have been totally ready to die... and for their families who have known grief...for each individual, the feelings we have are as if we are the first to feel that way, because feelings are real for each person, we are each of us un-repeatable... each new soul is uniquely loved by God! So we're not only praying for the "bad guys" but also for the many others affected, including us because it's depressing to hear the news or feel like we haven't been preventing terrible things around us. When will the violence stop? Let's think of the song "let peace begin on earth, and let it begin with me." Or also St. Faustina's poem about how we can't change the past, but we can live in the moment. Each new moment is a chance to accept God's Will in tiny little ways, following good inspirations of the Holy Spirit (instead of the opposite) and getting to know/ practicing the Divine Mercy devotions better day by day (all of them!) I hope everyone in Heaven truly wants to be there, everyone who hopes for it will make it -- but they NEED our prayers! Since the Chaplet has been written, we must pray it and teach others to pray it, ok? Don't give up, it's a wonderful world all in all, because it is the one our good God made just for us :) nothing can separate us from Him, as long as we hold on to Him!

God bless

p.s. again - Apr 18, 2015

I don't mean that Heaven needs our prayers (we need Heaven's prayers!) but that we need to pray for people to make it to Heaven :) (sorry I was writing quickly). Also, just think how many strong prayers we will get from people who ended up in Heaven because we prayed for them, if we didn't give up hope for them, they shouldn't give up hope for praying for our perseverance and renewal of greater dedication to Divine Mercy!

Peace to all. Also, whatever you do (ok try not to sin against anyone at all but) please don't take your own life, because it belongs to God... desolation can't last indefinitely (except for hell) so we have to trust God can turn our life around, & let's beg for at least enough consolation from Him to keep us going, BUT let's concentrate more on consoling HIM in the abandonment of His Agony... life is worth living... Jesus died FOR US... He LOVES US!...let Him love you! Let Him get you through the day, week, month, year, even with dullness or crisis or anything we go through is not as much as He went through, He can understand us, heal us, guide us, forgive us... He's our all in all, and He's worth living for! In the Divine Mercy image, He's alive! so let's rejoice, because He is truly risen! Alleluia! Suicide is no guarantee of an easier more problem-free afterlife, as the Catechism points out, but we can pray that they turned to God's Mercy in the last moments (even praying for Judas Iscariot, in case he repented)... remember how St. Therese prayed for that murderer and then he kissed the crucifix before he was executed? St. Therese leads the way of praying for people. We may not be able to prevent all mortal sins of others, or prevent all of the death penalties if they protect people (but they're hardly necessary these days)...most of all let's remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. Each Holy Communion celebrates His Life, which is our life! Live 4 His Glory! We don't have to be big sinners, there's no joy in sinning, we've learned that! The joy is in pleasing Jesus.

don't dilly dally! :) - Apr 20, 2015

ok but although we want to keep up hope for others who seem hopeless, we also don't want to procrastinate with our own conversion progress nor do we want to be stuck in presumption of God's Mercy when instead we should be entrusting ourselves to God's Mercy to direct our life. Here is a great talk by a Sister of Our Lady of Mercy about trusting Him the way He wants us to:

Mark Silverbird - Jun 9, 2015

DID JUDAS GO TO HELL? Let's examine the following passage.

Matthew 26 [24] The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: IT WERE BETTER FOR HIM, IF THAT MAN HAD NOT BEEN BORN. [25] And Judas that betrayed him, answering, said: Is it I, Rabbi? He saith to him: Thou hast said it.

Jesus said, "it were better for him, if that man had not been born" meaning that the creation of Judas is worse than being born. It also means that Judas is better off being non-existent. Jesus condemned the birth of Judas when He said this passage. If Jesus were to say that you should not have been born, do you think He suggests that you will be in heaven with HIM? NO, because that type of betrayal makes you non-existent to His Father GOD.

This definition of Judas was given by JESUS in one of the books of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich: He that is conscious of being so strictly temperate, needs neither rule nor direction. He bears in himself his law.

The bible is very clear who is in heaven, and who is in hell, and by no means does this say that I am judge over anyone, but I am clear on the scriptures of our Lord Jesus Christ, and man can say something different about these passages, but I have been taught the truth by what Jesus means in these passages. No man can change that, not even a POPE.

GOD bless you.
Jesus, I trust in YOU

Mike Shannon - Aug 20, 2016

I would like to respond to Mark Silverbird who said
"The bible is very clear who is in heaven, and who is in hell, and by no means does this say that I am judge over anyone, but I am clear on the scriptures of our Lord Jesus Christ, and man can say something different about these passages, but I have been taught the truth by what Jesus means in these passages. No man can change that, not even a POPE."

What an arrogant statement. The Catholic church has never put anyone in Hell, though Hell is definitely populated and not empty as some have said. We don't know as Silverbird says he knows who is in Hell. Even Judas is not known for sure. Pope John Paul says Jesus' word saying he should have never been born don't "allude to him being in Hell". Jim Blackburn with Catholic Answers says we can't know if Judas repented at the last or not so "it cannot be said with certainty that he is in Hell". http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/did-judas-go-to-hell

The reader of this should consult the Catholic Catechism section 1851. For those who don't take the time her it is: 1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate's cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas' betrayal - so bitter to Jesus, Peter's denial and the disciples' flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world,126 the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.

Also John makes it clear that everything that happened in the life of Jesus is not recorded, which I will record here: Chapter 21 verse 25
"There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written."

Also in that same area of the bible John mentions people hearing a verse and misunderstanding what it said which alludes to Jesus saying it would be better that he not be born. Chapter 21 verse 23
* So the word spread among the brothers that that disciple would not die. But Jesus had not told him that he would not die, just “What if I want him to remain until I come? [What concern is it of yours?]”
My point is we can misunderstand what Jesus said and this applies to what he meant about not being born since it was prophesied that he was the one appointed to betray Jesus, without which we would not be saved.
Bottom line is people who say they know who is in Hell are uninformed. That is not Catholic teaching.
We are also told that the way we judge others is the way we will be judged so beware of judging others i. e. Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate and Caiphus, too harshly. It may come back to bite you on the derriere.
Which reminds me to mention, off subject, that if we want to know who killed Jesus my response is look in the mirror.
peace and joy and thanks to Jesus,
mike shannon

Ana from San Antonio - Mar 4, 2017

What does John 17 verse 12 mean? Is he referring to the apostles and everyone else that believed Jesus is the son of God? Who was lost and what does lost mean