|"Treason of Judas", German 15th Century, Courtesy of |
National Gallery of Art
The traditional title given to the day before Holy Thursday is Spy Wednesday. We know this is due to the nefarious conduct of one of Jesus’ chosen disciples. Judas sought for a way to betray the Lord to his enemies. Being an accused spy, true or not, is not a coveted accolade. Spies, however, are not such a strange breed; after all, every nation on earth from the beginning of time has employed them. The scandal present in the Gospel spy story is, much like the present day Church scandal of pedophilia, in the fact that evil lurks where holiness should reign. How could a man honored by the Messiah, his trusted collaborator, friend, and daily companion suddenly betray that intimacy and side with those bent on his destruction? There have been innumerable scenarios offered by scholars, everything from disillusionment to a misguided plan to hasten the revelation of Jesus’ true mission.
No matter how distressing we find this incident and how justifiably scandalized we imagine ourselves to be, the “spy” may not be so foreign to our own spirit. Haven’t we occasionally found that we spy on others seeking to discover their motivations or to test their sincerity when disagreements occur? There are, of course, prudent reasons for not being up front about our suspicions; we want to be sure before we accuse or confront.
|"Judas Betrays Jesus", fresco, church in Assisi|
On another more personal and more practical level, the Church has always encouraged us to spy, not on others, but on ourselves. I am, of course, referring to the time-honored spiritual practice of the examination or examen of conscience. The exam does not suggest interrogation, but rather a gentle attentiveness and an honest confrontation of our faults. As we look over our thoughts, words, sentiments, actions, and intentions of the day we may “spy” something that doesn’t seem to jive with who we say we are, that is, Christian. Isn’t this how spies are detected? Something about them isn’t right; something isn’t authentic about their words or actions. They somehow betray their sincerity. What do we seek for in this examination of conscience? Blessed James Alberione answers very simply, “To know ourselves, to read the book of our conscience well: what state we are in, what value and worth we have, and what we need.”
Let’s not be dismayed by Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, but instead let us look within. How do I measure up to my Lord’s expectations of me? When we find a betrayal of our Christian identity within, we reprimand ourselves, confess our guilt, present ourselves to a confessor for absolution, accept our penance, and then go on to make amends. We have been called to an enviable position by the Divine Teacher who signs us as disciples by our baptism and draws us to a life of close companionship through the sacraments. We are not greater, nor are we stronger, than Judas; so when we spy some little betrayal of Jesus’ trust we should turn to him with confidence, humility, and trust. Judas should have been Saint Judas, an honored pillar of our Church, but then we are also meant to wear the title of saint and to help bear the burden of the Church today. Let us be sincere as we watch and pray.
Sister Mary Lea Hill, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul since 1964, has enjoyed communicating the faith through a variety of apostolic assignments. Her skills as a story teller were honed as director of audiovisual productions when Pauline Books & Media first produced animated features in the early 80s. An editor and author for many years, Sister Mary Lea has written several books, including Prayer and You, Blessed are the Stressed, Saints Alive: The Gospel Witnessed, Saints Alive: The Faith Proclaimed, and the best-selling Basic Catechism (co-authored with Sister Susan Helen Wallace).