Wednesday of Holy Week is traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” since it is this day when Judas conspired with the Temple Leadership to hand Jesus over. He would accomplish his task the evening of the next day, but today he makes arrangements to hand Jesus over.
One way to reflect on this terrible sin is to reflect that Judas was among the first priests called by Jesus. We see in the call of the Apostles the establishment of the ministerial priesthood. Jesus called these men to lead his Church and minister in his name. But one of these priests went wrong, terribly wrong, and turned against the very one he should have proclaimed. Among the other “first priests” we also see great weaknesses evident. Peter in weakness denied Jesus, though he repented later. All the others except John fled at the time of the passion. And so here we see the “sins of the clergy” made manifest. Christ did not call perfect men. He promised to protect his Church from officially teaching error but this does not mean that there is no sin in the Church and among those who are called to lead. The story of Judas shows that even among those who were called, one went terribly wrong.
In recent years there has been much focus on the sins of Catholic Priests who went terribly wrong and sexually abused the young. The vast majority of priests have never done such things, but those who did so inflicted great harm. There are other sins of the clergy that have nothing to do with sexuality that may also have caused great harm. Maybe it was an insensitive remark. Perhaps it was the failure of a priest to respond at a critical moment such as a hospital visit. Whatever it might be that has caused you harm or alienation please don’t give up on God or the on the Church. If a priest or Church leader has caused you grief or to feel alienated please know that there are other priests, deacons, and lay leaders who stand ready to hear your concerns and offer healing. Let the healing begin. Ask among your Catholic family and friends for recommendations about helpful and sensitive priests or Church leaders who can listen to your concerns, address them where possible, and offer another opportunity for the Church to reach out to you with love.
On this “Spy Wednesday” pray especially for priests. We carry the treasure of our priesthood in earthen vessels. As human beings we struggle with our own issues. We have many good days and some less than stellar moments too. The vast majority of Priests are good men, though sinners, who strive to do their very best. But some among us have sinned greatly and caused harm to the Body of Christ, as did Judas. Some of us may have casued harm to you. Please accept an invitation to begin anew. If you have stayed away through some hurt or harm caused by any leader of the Church strive on this “Spy Wednesday” to still find Christ where he is found. Among sinners and saints too, in the Church he founded: Perfect in her beauty as the Bride of Christ but consisting of members who are still “on the way” to holiness.
As usual, after all my verbiage, a music video offers this message better than I ever could. Allow this powerful video to move you if you have ever been hurt or know someone who has.
The Diagnosis is in. The situation looks grave. From the test results, we’ve got some serious stuff wrong with us! You might say we’ve got a few issues! Yes, I’ve got your spiritual “medical chart” and mine open and I’m looking at the test results and the numbers don’t look good. We’ve tested positive for a number of things: It says we can be dishonest, egotistical, undisciplined, weak, immature, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, insincere, unchaste, grasping, judgmental, inpatient, and shallow. It looks like we’ve tested positive for being inconsistent, unfaithful, immoral, ungrateful, disobedient, selfish, lukewarm, slothful, unloving, uncommitted, and just plain sinful. Further tests indicate the presence of fear, indifference, contempt, impurity, hatred, laziness, cowardice, and anger. Likewise, greed, jealousy, revenge fullness, disobedience, hardheartedness, pride, envy, stinginess, selfishness, pettiness, spite, self-indulgence, lust, careless neglect, and prejudice. Our “spiritual” medical history indicates that we have sinned against justice, modesty, purity, and the truth. We have committed sins against the human person, the children and the young, innocent and the trusting, the frail and elderly, the unborn in infants, weak and powerless, immigrants and strangers, and those who are disadvantaged. A set of further test results indicates that we have failed to give witness to Christ, we have failed to join our will to God or give good example to others. We have failed to seek God above all things, to act justly you show mercy, and to repent of our sins. We’ve failed to obey the commandments and curb our earthly desires. We have failed to lead a holy life and to speak the truth. We have failed to pray for others and assist those in need; neither have we consoled the grieving.
Well, you can see that we’re kind of in bad shape. You might say that I’m exaggerating but I suspect, if you’re honest, that you like me have committed many of these sins if not most of them. Without a lot of grace and mercy we are in very bad shape! The diagnosis is dire.
But here’s the good news: the doctor is in! Jesus! Likewise, the doctor has a cure! Jesus refers us to the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR)- Spiritual Edition (also called the Holy Book) for a cure to this condition. It is to be found in section Acts 2.42:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
The cure is thus ancient and well attested and consists of a consistent regime of four basic medicines which must be taken as the text says “Devotedly”:
The Apostles’ Teaching– This medicine supplies daily doses of Scripture which helps to cleanse the mind of worldly thinking and to deliver remedial amounts of God-like thinking. It removes the tendency to be conformed to this world and begins a process of transformation by the renewing of the mind (Rom 12:4). While the term “apostles teaching” is here used, this is medicine is inclusive of all Sacred Scripture of which the Apostles’ teaching is the pinnacle. Studying carefully another manual known as the Catechism also delivers healthy doses of Scripture (aka the Apostles Teaching).
The Fellowship– This gathering or fellowship is also referred to as “The Church” and refers to the prescribed medicine of gathering frequently with the Church for instruction, edification, encouragement, necessary rebuke, exposure to truth, helpful friendships and proper worship of God known as the “Liturgy”. The regular and necessary dosage is once per week. Taking more is advantageous but missing the necessary weekly dose leads to a deadly condition known as “mortal sin.”
The Breaking of the Bread– Also known as Holy Communion. This medicine supplies necessary nourishment to sustain the Christian on the journey across the desert of this life to the Promised Land of Heaven. Regular reception helps ensure being raised up on the last day to eternal life (Jn 6:54). Neglect of this medicine leads to spiritual death which the PDR – Spiritual Edition refers to as “having no life in you” (Jn 6:53). While this medicine is called the “breaking of the bread” it actually refers to a series of seven medicines known as the “sacraments” of which Holy Communion is the greatest. Some medicines in this series are taken but once, others may require on-going doses. Most notable is the medicine called “confession” wherein, through salutary conversation with a properly licensed doctor in Jesus’ practice, one is healed from the wounds of sin through the laying on of hands and the words of absolution. The usual recommended dosage of this medicine of confession is four to six times per year but more for those who wound easily.
Prayer– Regular and substantial conversation with the Doctor (aka Jesus) is essential for healing. Herein symptoms are discussed and solutions are proposed. Given the grave condition, these visits must be daily. Failure to take this medicine daily leads to a serious complex known as “temptation” (cf Mk 14:38) which leads the patient to further wounding and death-directed actions. The medicine of prayer comes in a variety of forms: meditation, devotional reading of Scripture, contemplation, reading the lives of the saints and devotions such as the rosary, and novenas.
Well there it is. We need help; we’ve got stuff going on that will kill us eternally. But Jesus has a hospital: the Church, and Medicine: the Sacraments. Likewise there is spiritual “medical” advice available, the Word of God, sermons, the teachings of the Church and the presence of encouraging doctors and nurses such as the priests, religious, and fellow Catholics. Whether you and like to admit it or not we need regular check-ups and serious medicine. And Jesus is guiding his Church to give skillful advice and distribute powerful medicine. Do you think of the sacraments that way? Many simply think of them as rituals but the truth is they are powerful medicine. I’m a witness. After twenty-five years of seeing the doctor, Jesus and letting him minister to me through Sacraments, the Word and his Church a wonderful change has come over me. I’m not what I want to be but I’m not what I used to be.
The doctor is in and you know you need him! Reach out for him what ever your struggles. He’s waiting to minister to you especially in the liturgy and the sacraments. You can’t do it alone. Join us every Sunday at the “holy hospital”, the Church. The Doctor is in!
Back when I was in seminary over 20 years ago I remember one of my Church History teachers say, “Don’t be too quick to defend the Church against charges. The Church is so big and so old that what ever the charge, it is probably true!” Now careful, this is an intentional EXAGGERATION folks intended to teach a point. I will say that I have sometimes rushed to defend the Church against some charge only to find later that some or all aspects of that charge were true. We ARE very big and very old. A LOT has happened in 2000 years and we’ve had more than a few nuts fall from our family tree. Our past has both glory and is sometimes gory. Saints and sinners are in this house. We’re running a hospital here and so sickness is often found in abundance. So a few thoughts here about sin in the Church.
Sin is the human condition. I am not excusing it but where ever people gather there is sin as well as grace. It is no less true of the human dimension of the Church. Truth be told, Jesus had this annoying habit of hanging out with sinners. He ate with them, preached to them, healed them and called them to follow him. And the odd thing was that they didn’t become instantly perfect after they followed him. Look at the Apostles. Even after following Jesus they squabbled about who was the greatest, they were jealous, fearful, undependable, one of them betrayed Jesus, another denied him, all but one deserted him. A pretty sorry crowd. Little by little they got better but it took time. But where was Jesus found? Among these sinners and worse besides. Demanding that the Church be free of sinners is like demanding that a hospital be free of sick people. If that could happen the hospital would no longer be a hospital. Asking the Church to be rid of sin and sinners would mean that the Church would no longer be the Church.
Sin is Serious. OK but lets also be clear, to admit that sin is inevitable in this giant hospital we call the Church is not to approve of it. Jesus said this clearly when he declared, “Scandals will inevitably arise. But woe to that man by who they come. (Luke 17:1) So Jesus hung with sinners but did not patronize them. He spoke the truth in love. Neither can we overlook sin in the Church. We ought to be serious about correcting the sinner. When we go to a hospital we expect to encounter illness and also to experience healing. And part of that healing is for health care professionals to speak the truth to us in love. There are some things in our life that need to change. Smoking, fattening foods, high cholesterol etc. all that has to go. But do people instantly change? Not usually. We’re back next time and have gained even more weight! But perhaps, little by little the message gets through. And so it is for the Church. We reconcile sinners but also preach a new life. Sin like disease is not to be excused, but just as a hospital, the Church can sometimes be a messy place.
If you’ve been hurt by sin the Church may God help you to experience healing. Maybe it was an unkind word, perhaps it was a grouchy priest, a bad confession, a lack sympathy. Perhaps it was just the discouragement of overhearing gossip or experiencing factions. Maybe you felt forgotten when you were sick. Perhaps it was something even more serious like sexual abuse. Maybe you’ve felt you weren’t wanted because of something you did and you figured you’d be judged. Whatever it is please know you are not alone. If someone in the Church hurt you, perhaps someone else can bring you healing from God. Maybe one priest was unkind but another can show care. Somewhere in the midst of all this mess Jesus is waiting. Let the healing begin.
One of the most beautiful psalms in the Bible is Psalm 139 which speaks of God’s absolute and sovereignty over our lives. God made us, fashioned us, sees into the depth of our very being and knows every one of our days long before he ever made us.
The Psalm is clear that none of us are an accident or a mistake. Each of us is known to God, willed by God, loved by God unconditionally. God knew every good thing we would ever do, before we were made. He also knew every bad, sorrowful and hurtful thing we’d ever do but loves us anyway and made us despite this.
There is something intrinsically good about every human person, even the most troubling, we are willed and loved by God. God does not make us as an “experiment” as though he set us in motion and then stepped back to see the results. Rather, he made us, knowing everything in advance. We tend to sort people out and value them based on accomplishments or deficits. God just loves. Even the souls in Hell, those who choose something other than God, remain in his care. He still sustains them. God never destroys or annihilates any human person he has made. The souls in hell have chosen something other than heaven and God, they would rather reign in Hell than serve and worship in the Kingdom. God respects that choice but never withdraws his love.
Psalm 139 is also essential to the Pro-life movement for it states clearly that God knits us together in our mother’s womb. We are willed by God before one of our days ever existed. He calls us into being forms, “knits us” in our mother’s womb. We are wonderfully, fearfully made. Our dignity is not in our utility to others or the state. It is not in our convenience or abilities. It is not that others want us or do not want us. Our dignity is that we are willed and loved by God.
Here are excerpts from psalm 139. And then a beautiful video I stitched together from several sources showing astonishing ultrasound images of our development in the womb along with a beautiful song: “Psalm 139” by Pro Sound. The song is available at iTunes.
O Lord, You search me and You know me; you know when I sit and when I stand, you understand my thoughts from afar….behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me….You formed my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you that I wonderfully and fearfully made….even my bones were not hidden from you as I made and fashioned in secret….Your eyes foresaw all my actions and all my days were written in your book before one of them ever came to be. (Psalm 139)
Enjoy this beautiful video depicting the handiwork of God as he fashions us in the womb.