Betraying Christ

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Newman bust

‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Those standing by thought, we are told, that Jesus was crying for Elijah. As so often they misunderstood. Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, fulfilling the prophecy of the ‘suffering servant’ in Isaiah. They had all looked for a King; they found one whose mercy and goodness they could not fathom, one who became sin to redeem their sin. Their response was to betray him in different ways. Of the betrayal by Judas, Jessica has written movingly here and here, bringing out the way in which he is the dark side which lurks in us all, that part of us which, if it is indulged, will grow through the work of satan until we are consumed by it; those cannot relate to that have my envy.

But there are other betrayals that night in Gethsemane. Not one of those who said they would stand with him was able to remain with him in prayer for even an hour; even when they were given more chances, they failed him. He knew it would be so, even as he knew that Peter’s flesh would be much weaker than his spirit. At the last he stood alone before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate. It was not until he was in his final agony on the Cross that there were any familiar and friendly faces, and it is notable that most of those are women; of the Apostles, only St John was there. Big and brave were the words of the men, small and cowardly were their actions. But before we sit in judgment, are we much better? Do we confess Him with our lips and yet not in our lives? How do we confess Him there?

Here, the Blessed John Henry Newman is, as so often, a good guide:

It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection—short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.

On ‘perfection’ he speaks with a common sense born of experience:

We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic—not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings—but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound—we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.

He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day

Like his great friend Keble, Newman saw in the ‘common round’ and the ‘daily task’ a way of walking with God:

f you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first—Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.

As we task ourselves with devotional tasks which may be beyond us, and which may lead us to betray Christ, let us take refuge in these thoughts of Newman’s. If we follow that advice, we shall make a better fist of it than if we aim too high.

The Supper at Bethany: Monday of Holy Week

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This is the first of a series of meditations for Holy Week

All of these taken from the book: DIVINE INTIMACY by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.

PRESENCE OF GOD – O Lord, with Mary of Bethany I wish to pay my humble, devout homage to Your sacred Body before it is disfigured by the Passion.

MEDITATION

  1. The Gospel for today (Jn 12, 1-9) tells us of this impressive scene: “Jesus therefore, six days before the Pasch, came to Bethany . . . and they made Him a supper there; and Martha served . . . Mary, therefore, took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.” Martha, as usual, was busy about many things. Mary, however, paid attention only to Jesus; to show respect to Him, it did not seem extravagant to her to pour over Him a whole vase of precious perfume. Some of those present murmured, “Why this waste? Could not the ointment have been sold . . .  and the price given to the poor?” And they murmured against her (cf. MK 14:4,5). Mary said nothing and made no excuses; completely absorbed in her adored Master, she continued her work of devotion and love.

Mary is the symbol of the soul in love with God, the soul who gives herself exclusively to Him, consuming for Him all that she is and all that she has. She is the symbol of those souls who give up, in whole or in part, exterior activity, in order to consecrate themselves more fully to the immediate service of God and to devote themselves to a life more intimate union with Him. This total consecration to the Lord is deemed wasteful by those who fail to understand it — although the same offering, if otherwise employed, would cause no complaint. If everything we are and have is His gift, can it be a waste to sacrifice it in His honor and , by so acting, to repair for the indifference of countless souls who seldom, if ever, think of Him?

Money, time, strength, and even human lives spent in the immediate service of the Lord, far from being wasted, reach therein the perfection of their being. Moreover, by this consecration , they conform to the proper scale of values. Giving alms to the poor is a duty, but the worship and love of God is a higher obligation. If urgent works of charity sometimes require us to leave His service for that of our neighbor, no change in the hierarchy of importance is thereby implied. God must always have the first place.

Jesus Himself then comes to Mary’s defense: “Let her be, that she may keep this perfume against the day of My burial.” In the name of all those who love, Mary gave the sacred Body of Jesus, before it was disfigured by the Passion, the ultimate homage of an ardent love and devotion.

  1. In St. John’s Gospel it is clearly stated that the murmurings about Mary’s act were uttered by Judas Iscariot. The sinister face of the traitor appears darker still beside that of the loyal Mary: physically, he is still numbered among the twelve, but spiritually, he has been cut off from them for a long time. Ever since the previous year, when the Master had told them about the Eucharist, Judas was lost. Referring to hm on one occasion, Jesus had said, “Have not I chosen you twelve; and one of you is a devil: (Jn 6:71). Judas had been chosen by Jesus with a love of predilection; he had been admitted to the group of His closest friends and, like the eleven others, had received the great grace of the apostolate. In the beginning, he must have been faithful; but later, attachment to worldly things and avarice began to take possession of him, so as to completely chill his love for the Master and transform the Apostle into a traitor.  Because of His divine foreknowledge, Jesus had expected the treachery; and yet, since Judas had been originally worthy of His trust, He had placed him on an equal footing with the other members of the apostolic college. Subsequently, although he had already become a liar, Jesus continued to treat him like the others, showing him the same love and esteem. This was very painful to the sensitive heart of Jesus, but He would not act otherwise, He wished that we might see with what love, patience, and delicacy He treats even His most stubborn enemies. How many times must the Master have tried to enlighten that when He gave His instructions on detachment from darkened mind! Certainly, He was thinking of Judas’ worldly goods: “You cannot serve God and mammon . . . What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of His own soul?” (Mt6:24 — 16:26). However, these words, which should have been an affectionate remove to the traitor, did not touch him. Judas represents those should who have received from God graces of predilection, but who prove to be unworthy of them, because of their infidelities. Consecrated souls must, therefore, be very faithful to the grace of the vocation and must not permit the slightest attachment to take root in their hearts.

COLLOQUY

Here are two paths, Lord, as diametrically opposed as possible: one of fidelity and one of betrayal, the loving fidelity of Mary of Bethany, the horrible treachery of Judas. O Lord, how I should like to offer You a heart like Mary’s1 How I should like to see the traitor in me entirely dead and destroyed!

But You tell me: “Watch ye, and pray that you enter not into temptation!” (Mk 14:38). Oh! how necessary it is for me to watch and pray, so that the enemy will not come to sow the poisonous germs of treason in my heart! May I be faithful to You, Lord, faithful at any cost, in big things as well as in small, sot that the foxes of little attachments will never succeed in invading and destroying the vineyard of my heart!

“Lord Jesus, when I meditate on Your Passion, the first thing that strikes me is the perfidy of the traitor. He was so full of the venom of bad faith that he actually betrayed You — You, his Master and Lord. He was inflamed with such cupidity that he sold God for money, and in exchange for a few vile coins delivered up Your precious Blood. His ingratitude went so far that he persecuted even to death Him who had raised him to the height of the apostolate . . . O Jesus, how great was Your goodness toward this hard-hearted disciple! Although his wickedness was so great, I am much more impressed by Your gentleness and meekness, O Lamb of God! You have given me this meekness as a model. Behold, O Lord, the man whom You allowed to share Your most special confidences, the man who seemed to be so united to You, Your Apostle, Your friend, the man who ate Your bread, and who, at the Lost Supper, tasted with You the sweet cup, and this man committed this monstrous crime against You, his Master! But in spite of all this at the time of betrayal, You, O meek Lamb, did not refuse the kiss of that mouth so full of malice. You gave him everything, even as You gave to the other Apostles, in order not to deprive him of anything that might melt the hardness of his evil heart: (cf. St. Bonaventure).

O Jesus, by the atrocious suffering inflicted on Your heart by that infamous treachery, grant me, I beg of You the grace of a fidelity that is total, loving, and devoted.

 

In support of our priests, our families and our Church

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Bible Marriage Vows

Along with many other Catholic bloggers, I am joining a move this Palm Sunday to ask those who are willing to support our priests. For those who think this is any way dissent or encouraging asperity, I would ask they read the splendid piece by Fr Lucie-Smith in the Catholic Herald here and his comments on Radio 4 this morning here (begins at 37.04). 

In support of our priests, our families, and our Church

You may have seen the recent letter from more than 450 priests in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

We would like to invite you to sign the letter below, to be sent to the press in support of them, and to encourage others to sign it.

To sign, please leave your name and your diocese in the comments box below, or if you prefer email them to me or to one of the coordinators:

Mark Lambert (mark@landbtechnical.com) or Andrew Plasom-Scott (andrewplasom_scott@me.com)

The Letter:

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald, http://bit.ly/19kuBkl

As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.

It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.

For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.

We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.

Yours faithfully,

 

Gospel Year B (4) Gethsemane

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Mark 14:1-15:47 (part 4)

God knows all things, and Jesus knew Peter’s weakness, even when Peter was most emphatic; we should be cautious about what we promise lest our words be greater than our strength to carry them through – as St Augustine reminds us. One betrayed Him; one went with Him, but even that one could not stay faithful. So it was he ‘trod the winepress alone’ as the Psalmist said; all had turned aside, not one was good.

Origen tells us that there is no lessening of the divinity of Christ in the emphases we get here on his vulnerability; the purpose is to show us the extent of the sacrifice made for us. As Chrysostom points out, like all humans, he shrinks from death – not least the one he knows he is going to.

St Ephrem the Syrian tells us that Jesus is aware that the chalice could pass from Him if the Father willed it, and the Father would have done what the Son prayed for, but Jesus had come to drink this cup to the dregs in order to save us. No mere human could achieve this. So the Word became enfleshed and dwelt among us, assuming all our weaknesses save only sin; and now his hour had come, he was afraid – and all the more should we love him for what he endured for our sakes.

We will pray with Him that we should not enter into temptation, for the trial will be beyond our strength unless we wait with him and his strength. We must, like him, ask that God’s will be done. The Apostles trusted in their own strength and were found wanting. Jesus trusted in God – utterly, even unto death, death on the Cross. Chrysostom reminds us that Jesus, who had had little in his earthly life, lost even that at the last and was handed over to his enemies to be killed.

The silence of Jesus before the Sanhedrin fulfilled the prophecy that the lamb would be silent. The fallen Temple represented the futility of all human efforts without God; but the Temple to which the Lord referred was his own body, which God raised after three days as He had said would be the case. The Sanhedrin know the letter of the Law, but we see they do not understand its meaning as, when they have the Word of God before them, they condemn him, and in so doing, bring condemnation upon themselves. Justin Martyr reminds us that his first coming was in silence and humiliation; the second will be in glory and will bring judgement on all.

The rest of the Passion in Mark will be the subject of commentaries on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday

Palm Sunday Year B (3) The Last Supper

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Mark 14:1-15:47 (part 3)

We know from the Didache (9) and Justin Martyr (First Apology 65-66) that the early Church followed the practice of celebrating the Eucharist according to the practice of Christ at the Last Supper. The bread and the wine become for us his body and his blood. It is not the visible bread alone which has saving efficacy but the word of the of the mystery of the Lord’s broken body; it is the same, says Origen, with the wine. As St Iraenaeus writes (Against Heresies 4.14.5):

giving directions to His disciples to offer to God the first-fruits of His own, created things— not as if He stood in need of them, but that they might be themselves neither unfruitful nor ungrateful— He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks, and said, This is My body. Matthew 26:26, etc. And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant; which the Church receiving from the apostles, offers to Godthroughout all the world, to Him who gives us as the means of subsistence the first-fruits of His own gifts in the New Testament, concerning which Malachi, among the twelve prophets, thus spoke beforehand: I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord Omnipotent, and I will not accept sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun, unto the going down [of the same], My name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is My name among theGentiles, says the Lord Omnipotent; Malachi 1:10-11 — indicating in the plainest manner, by these words, that the former people [the Jews] shall indeed cease to make offerings to God, but that in every place sacrifice shall be offered to Him, and that a pure one; and His name is glorified among the Gentiles.

St John of Damascus points out how fitting it is that, having a compound nature ourselves – body and spirit, our new birth should correspond to that, and that the food of faith should be compound too. So, we are given birth by water and the Spirit and fed by heavenly food. As St Ambrose tells us, before the words of Christ, the chalice is full of wine and water, after the words in Institution then the blood in effect redeems the people:

So behold in what great respects the expression of Christ is able to change all things. Then the Lord Jesus himself testified to us that we receive his body and blood. Should we doubt at all about his faith and testimony?

… continues

Palm Sunday Year B (2) Judas

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Mark 14:1-15:47 (part 2)

St Cyprian points out how patient Jesus is, even with Judas, whom he knows will betray him. In saying that one of them would betray Him, Jesus sifts the Apostles, and we see the good hearts of all but one of them in their sorrow. In a moving passage in his commentary on Matthew Origen asks why the Apostles grieved if they knew their consciences were clear?

I think that each of them knew from Jesus’ teaching that human freedom is infinitely changeable and may easily be turned to evil. It may happen in the struggles against the principalities and powers and rulers of this world of darkness, that one may quite unexpectedly fall into evil, either being deceived or overcome by demonic power. Thus, each disciple feared lest it might be he was foreknown as betrayer.

The betrayal was in accordance with the words of the Psalmist:

Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted,
Who ate my bread,
Has lifted up his heel against me.

Judas is of that class of person who, having received much reward from a man, betrays him; such men are found useful by the devil.

St John of Damascus directs us towards the question of whether Judas was condemned always to this betrayal. Simple being comes first, he reminds us, and then good or evil, so if God were to prevent the existence of those who might do evil of their own choice, then evil would have prevailed over the goodness of God. In this way God makes all things good, but each becomes, through its own choices, good or evil. Although Jesus says it would have been better for Judas not to have been born, he says it in condemnation not of Judas, but of the evil which Judas acquired through his own bad choices and preference for his own counsel.

continues …

Palm Sunday Year B (1) Bethany

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Mark 14:1-15:47 (part 1)

The length of this Sunday’s Gospel suggests that breaking it into four posts might be best: this, Bethany, is the first, to be followed by Judas; Last Supper; Gethsemane. I will cover the rest of the reading during the week.

Bede observes that, having until this point followed the observances of the old Passover, Jesus brings them to perfection and hands over to his disciples the new ones which will be observed henceforth. Though we are not told the name of the woman with the alabaster jar of ointment, we cannot doubt she was the women in Luke’s Gospel who bathed His blessed feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair. Here we see the fruits of the love of the repentant sinner. The ointment was compounded from spikenard which was pure – that is unadulterated – and precious, to imply the chastity of perfect faith and action. His head, which Mary anoints, represents the sublimity of his deity, and his feet the lowliness of the incarnation. We, too, anoint his head when we venerate the loftiness of his divinity with a consent fitting to Him who bears a name above all angels. We see here the fulfilment of what the Song of Songs says – whilst the king is at his table, the ointment gives forth its fragrance. Here it is clearly shown that what Mary once did as a type, the entire church and every perfect soul should do always.

We anoint Our Lord’s head when we cherish the glory of his divinity, along with that of his humanity, with the worthy sweetness of faith, hope and charity, and when we spread the praise of his name by living uprightly. We anoint Our Lord’s feet when we renew his poor by a word of consolation, so they may not lose hope when under duress. We wipe the feet of these same poor with our hair when we share with them some of our good things.

St Jerome points out that Judas thought the ointment was being wasted because the jar was broken, but, for us, it was a great good because the perfume spread throughout the whole world. Judas lies when he uses the excuse of the poor, for he was himself a thief who took from them.

Jesus knew he would be with them but a short time, but that the poor would be provided for forever from the charity of the Church he founded. Jesus dismisses Judas’ words with a simple explanation. Chrysostom reminds us that the words of Jesus were prophetic, because Mary’s name is celebrated wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, and all generations shall hear the story of her love for her Saviour – from the Isles of the Britons to the lands of the Indies.

St Gregory Nazianzen comments on the cheapness with which Christ is sold – and yet He buys back the world at huge cost to Himself. As a sheep, He is led to the slaughter, yet He is the shepherd of Israel, and now, of the whole wide world

Tertullian reminds us that Easter is the appointed time for receiving new members into the Church – the jar of water is the symbol of that.

continues …

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