Christ's Betrayal and Divine Mercy

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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