Wednesday, October 19, 2016

No Feast Day for Judas

Of everything that I learned in eight years of seminary, the most helpful piece of advice was this: "Always give the penitent something to love." In other words, instead of keeping the penitent's eyes fixed on the sin to be avoided, give him or her something to love. I have found this advice invaluable in the ministry of the confessional.  While the attention of the penitent is often fixated on the sin or the vice, the good confessor can turn the eyes of the penitent towards what is good, true, and beautiful. There are so many good things to be loved! The fact that the penitent is there at all is a sign of God's grace at work. Whatever sin has been committed, there is a virtue to be loved that can overcome that particular vice. There is also the fact that the Good Shepherd has been seeking out this lost sheep and desiring to bring him back to the fold. Without ever dismissing the seriousness of sin or its consequences, the confessor can direct the gaze of the penitent away from the sin and onto the true, the good, and the beautiful.

This pointing to the presence of the true, good, and beautiful is present also in the Church's liturgy. Almost daily, the Church directs our attention to the example of the saints and martyrs. In doing so, the Liturgy places before us something encouraging: Holiness is possible. In the lives of the saints, we see men and women who followed Christ and radiated the beauty and goodness of the Christian life. There is, however, no feast day for Judas.  Of course, we would not honor Judas with a feast day, but it's interesting, I think, that we don't have a day in the liturgical life of the Church that commemorates or directs our attention to examples of failure in the Christian life. Sure, we acknowledge our sins at every Mass, and on Ash Wednesday, penitential days, and penitential seasons we sorrowfully acknowledge our sinfulness and seek pardon. But, we don't have a day set aside to ponder and dwell upon the betrayal of Judas. Judas' betrayal is placed before us during Holy Week and is offered to us for our consideration. But, it becomes so small and petty. It is seen for what it is. In the face of Christ's magnificent love, Judas' betrayal becomes even sadder because of its pettiness. When we look upon Christ, the Eucharist, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the Acts of the Apostles, it is difficult to spend much time on poor, petty, Judas.

I mention all of this because there is a perpetual temptation to spend too much of our time focussing our eyes (and the eyes of others) on bad examples and upon the presence of sin and evil. Are there bad priests, bishops, religious, and lay people? Yes! When a Catholic politician supports abortion, should he be corrected? Yes! When a priest or a bishop undermines the true doctrine of the Church--either directly or by subterfuge--should he be corrected? Yes! But, spending all of our time pointing out everything that is wrong in the life of the Church isn't going to build the Church up.  Are there priests who probably are unkind, greedy, or who preach falsely? Yes!  But, why spend too much time talking about them? Doing so directs people's attention away from Christ. Instead, we ought to follow the example of the Liturgy and direct people's attention to what is good, true, and beautiful.

All around us, Jesus is doing beautiful things in the lives of his disciples. There are tremendous conversion stories, stories of great generosity, stories of great mercy, stories of men and women striving for holiness, living devoutly, chastely, mercifully, and humbly. There are people living the beatitudes. There are great priests and bishops who are teaching and shepherding after the heart of Christ. There are great Catholic families in our parishes. There are great Catholic young men and women on our college campuses. There are Catholic politicians who are willing to sacrifice their political careers in order to be more dedicated to Christ than to their political party. 

A good confessor is not going to dismiss or make light of the reality of sin. But, neither will he keep the penitent's eyes fixed upon the sin. A good confessor points towards the good, true, and beautiful.  Similarly, as a Church, we should not ignore the presence of sin and evil, but we should not dwell upon it. Are there glaring failures among the bishops, priests, and laity of the Church? Of course there are! There always has been. It's fine to acknowledge that, but we are not called to direct people's gaze onto them. What helps people to grow in holiness is to give them something to love, something beautiful to contemplate. And in the Catholic Church, there is plenty to love and plenty of beauty to contemplate.  Judas existed, but he has no feast day. Let's keep it that way.

1 comment:

  1. "In the Church there is plenty to love and plenty of beauty to contemplate." That truth is one of the many gifts God gives us that we constantly need brought to mind. Thanks for being one of the reminders.