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He chose to be Judas. No one chooses to be Judas! Except my son did. He was asked to play the role of Jesus in his school’s Passion play—a role that, historically, is offered to a student who teachers feel demonstrates the values of the school’s patron, St. Joseph: humility, compassion, and self-respect. (Insert proud mom smile!)

To which he said no. Why, you ask? Because in the role of Jesus you have to take your shirt off when he gets scourged and then “hung” on the cross. Instead, my son chose to play Judas. His reasoning in response to my pointed remarks of disagreement with his choice was: “We are all Judas, Mom. We all walk away from Jesus. He just didn’t walk back.” (Take out the dagger of pride and insert an arrow of humility to my heart.)

Why am I bringing up Judas so soon after Easter Sunday?

Because all of us are Judas, or can be. We have our moments when we choose sin—when we choose to serve ourselves, our comfort, or our pride over others. We have moments when we feel so overcome by shame and self-loathing that we cannot face the Lord. The enemy’s tauntings become the endless tape we replay in our minds causing hopelessness and despair. And like Judas, we will choose to walk away from Jesus. Our Lord knows all of this. He also knows that it probably won’t take too long after Easter Sunday for this to happen. 

Mass readings during the Easter season draw our attention to the communion Jesus desires to restore with His disciples following His crucifixion. In these readings we are reminded of the hope the resurrection promises, despite our very human choices. This past Sunday’s Gospel in which Peter encounters Jesus on the beach for the first time since his own betrayal is among my favorites. 

It’s early morning, and I imagine the scene to have been eerily quiet, save the noise of the boat rocking in the water. The weight from the discouragement of not having caught any fish was not nearly as heavy as the internal burden Peter was carrying, distraught over his repeated denial of our Lord in His time of need. Peter’s shame and self-loathing had to have been on par with Judas’ own desperate feelings. Rod Bennett writes in his book, These Twelve: The Gospel Through the Apostles' Eyes, that Peter may have been the worst betrayer among the close friends of Jesus.[1]

Scripture reveals that Peter showed himself to be overconfident, prideful, and arrogant so often throughout Jesus’ ministry. He denied Jesus’ own words to him, denied the faults Jesus was pointing out to him, and ultimately denied knowing Jesus. Following Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16 hinting of His Passion to come, Peter takes our Lord aside and rebukes him: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus responds to Peter’s denial of His words by calling out the enemy in him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Matthew 16:23). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells Peter that Satan will indeed take hold of him, and Peter argues, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you” (Luke 22:33). We know what follows is Jesus’ foretelling of Peter’s ultimate denial that happens only a few short hours later. 

Flashbacks of his own bravado and lack of humility had to have been tormenting Peter in the boat that morning on the Sea of Tiberias. And yet in a flash of acknowledgement of our Risen Lord in the distance, Peter, in his despair, does not turn away as Judas did. Instead he leaps toward Jesus. He leaps toward reconciliation, forgiveness, and restoration. He turns away from self-destruction and self-rejection and emphatically chooses the love of Jesus. Fr. John Bartunek writes of this moment in Scripture: “Once so self-reliant and independent, so authoritative and in control, now Peter climbs onto the shore wet and bedraggled, overjoyed to kneel at Jesus’ feet and embrace his Lord.”[2]

In Acts 5 following his reconciliation with Christ, Peter along with other followers, is brought in front of the Sanhedrin and high priests. This time Peter does not deny Christ. He stands in front of this crowd and boldly proclaims, We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:29-32). Following the punishment inflicted, Peter and the other apostles “left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of His name” (Acts 5:41).

Do you see the striking difference in Peter? Peter, bathed in the mercy of Christ and overflowing with humility, is transformed. Relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit instead of his own strength, Peter desires only to glorify Jesus. He rejoices, not denies. What a gift Peter’s transformation is to us! When our own discouragement and self-rejection is as intense and overwhelming as it was for Peter, we need only to look to Scripture to be reminded that our risen Lord is in constant pursuit of communion with us.  

“There is nothing you can ever have done, nowhere you can ever have been in your life that can ever stop you from turning right now to God, asking forgiveness if you need it—and begin again.”[3]

Judas, lacking in this supernatural grace and unable to hold on just a little longer, missed his opportunity to begin again in communion with Jesus. Let’s not miss ours. Yes, there will be times when we will walk away from Jesus, but more important is our choice to turn back and begin again. 

[1] Rod Bennett, These Twelve: The Gospel Through the Apostles’ Eyes (Catholic Answers Press, 2022).
[2] Fr. John Bartunek, The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer (Circle Press, 2007).
[3] Fr. Timothy Gallagher, Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement: The Wisdom and Spiritual Power of Venerable Bruno Lanteri (EWTN Publishing, Inc, 2019).

 

Today is the memorial of Saint John Vianney, and I only had to read one line about the character of this saintly priest to become utterly and completely hooked: 

“A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible.”[1]

Personally? This is precisely both how I would most like to be remembered and how life currently feels: a woman with vision who performed deeds that seemed impossible.

Saint John Vianney, born in Dardilly, France, in 1786, had the desire to become a priest from a young age. But because of his meager formal schooling, he wasn’t exactly cut out for seminary studies. Apparently, Vianney was as good at Latin as I was at biology (fun fact: I failed biology). This, however, didn’t keep him from pursuing his dream. In fact, as his story goes, despite encountering one obstacle after the next, he pressed on, and so here we are today, celebrating his sainthood; recognizing his assistance to the poor, his fervent celebration of the Eucharist, and his incredible gift of leading parishioners to the Sacrament of Penance. As for me? Well, I didn’t pursue biology after the 8th grade. Not because I was a quitter, but because biology was never my dream. Nor was it God’s vision for me.

I wonder, sweet sisters…

Do you have a God-given vision you’ve given up on because you do not feel qualified?
Do you look around at what everyone else is doing, and worry that you don’t measure up?
Has God handed you a cross that you have been trying to hand back because you are convinced it is nothing more than an impossible obstacle keeping you from performing good works and deeds?

If you answered yes to any of these, listen up.

That vision you are unqualified for? That’s actually not for you to decide. Vision, by definition, is the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.[2] And the last time I checked, wisdom, along with common sense and understanding, comes from God (Proverbs 2:6-8)—our God whose hallmark is seeking out and calling the completely ill equipped and equipping them. Don’t believe me? Look at His apostles. 

The worry you feel when you look around and are convinced that everyone and their mother is doing way more that matters than you ever could? That’s a lie. Saint John Vianney will tell you that “it is not the size and greatness of deeds which give them merit, but the pure intention with which they are undertaken.”[3]

And how about that cross—that obstacle in your life that if God only removed, you’d be able to accomplish so much more for His Kingdom? Another lie. In fact, that obstacle is your invitation. These crosses we try so hard to lose? These, my friends, are our pathway to heaven. Resist the urge to kick your cross, and embrace it instead.

You might know all of this in your head, but do you believe it in your heart? I struggled, myself, with each of these lies for a long time. Despite knowing they were untrue, it was not until I put into practice two specific things that I began to live out of my true identity, feeling wholly capable to withstand any obstacle or battle I faced. Curious what they are? I’ll tell you: receiving the Eucharist as often as I can and frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

It took removing the sacraments from my life during quarantine to recognize how badly I needed them; how they are the exact remedy to all that ails me, and the necessary source of strength that keeps me persevering in the race. And it was in returning to these with new appreciation that I was able to see how dull and weary I had grown. It also became clear to me how delighted the enemy was at my inability to confess my sins to a priest or to receive the actual body and blood of Christ; how hard at work he was behind the scenes, doing all that he could to disturb, confuse, frighten, and frustrate me, all in the name of preventing me from approaching this fountain of grace. 

On this memorial of Saint John Vianney, patron saint of priests, I am so grateful for the good and holy priests in this world who stand in the person of Christ and offer us all that we need: the hope, peace, strength, remedy, and redemption we long for. Let us pray today for all priests, especially our Walking with Purpose chaplains: Father Dave Sizemore, Father Dave Pivonka, TOR,  Father John Hopkins, LC, and Father John Riccardo. Let us mirror the praise of Thomas A. Kempis when he writes, “How great and honorable is the office of priests, who have been empowered to consecrate with sacred words the Lord of all majesty, to bless Him with their lips, to hold Him in their hands, to receive Him with their mouth, and to administer Him to others!”[4]

As we hurdle our impossible obstacles, fueled by the sacraments, may we never give up on our vision. And today, let us pray in a special way, through the intercession of the great Saint John Vianney, “a man on a journey, with his goal before him at all times.”[5]

Saint John Vianney, pray for us!

With you on this journey,
Laura

[1] https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-john-vianney/
[2] https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/vision
[3] The Magnificat, August 2020, Vol.22, No.6, p.66
[4] Thomas A. Kempis, The Imitation Of Christ (Catholic Book Publishing Corp.,1993), p.267
[5] https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-john-vianney/

 

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