Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Prayers today: At the name of Jesus every knee must bend, in heaven, on earth and under the earth; Christ became obedient for us even to death, dying on the cross. Therefore, to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord. (Phil 2:10, 8, 11)

Father, in your plan of salvation your Son Jesus Christ accepted the cross and freed us from the power of the enemy. May we come to share the glory of his resurrection, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Stephen of Mar Saba (d. 794)

A "do not disturb" sign helped today's saint find holiness and peace. Stephen of Mar Saba was the nephew of St. John Damascene, who introduced the young boy to monastic life beginning at age 10. When he reached 24, Stephen served the community in a variety of ways, including guest master. After some time he asked permission to live a hermit's life. The answer from the abbot was yes and no: Stephen could follow his preferred lifestyle during the week, but on weekends he was to offer his skills as a counsellor. Stephen placed a note on the door of his cell: "Forgive me, Fathers, in the name of the Lord, but please do not disturb me except on Saturdays and Sundays." Despite his calling to prayer and quiet, Stephen displayed uncanny skills with people and was a valued spiritual guide. His biographer and disciple wrote about Stephen: "Whatever help, spiritual or material, he was asked to give, he gave. He received and honored all with the same kindness. He possessed nothing and lacked nothing. In total poverty he possessed all things." Stephen died in 794.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (26.14~25)

One of the Twelve — the one called Judas Iscariot — went to the chief priests and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand Him over. On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He replied, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, He said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray Me." They were very sad and began to say to Him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?" Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."

Secret sin
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In their accounts of the Last Supper, each of the four Gospels narrates how our Lord sorrowfully announced that one of his own would betray him. They all agree that Judas was there in their midst during this dramatic announcement that astonished the body of the disciples. Now, there is a textual detail that suggests how memorable this was in the minds of the disciples. Our Gospel passage today is Matthew’s account of this declaration of Jesus, which occurs early in the Supper (26:20-21). In Matthew, our Lord’s words are (in the Greek) “eis ex humon paradosei me” (one of you will betray me). In John’s account of the Supper, Christ tells the news after he has washed the feet of his disciples, which would have included Judas. The words as quoted by John (13: 21) are the same, “eis ex humon paradosei me.” In the Gospel of St Mark, which scholars generally agree is Mark’s writing of Peter’s account of the Gospel, the wording is the same: “eis ex humon paradosei me” (14:18) with the addition of “ho esthion met emou” (the one eating with me). That is to say, we have identical versions of the very words of Christ in the recollections of three of the Apostles who were at the Supper. With all three, the Greek rendering of the original Aramaic (or Hebrew) is the same. John and Peter were on either side of our Lord, and perhaps Matthew was reclining not far from them at the repast. Luke, who was not at the Supper and who reports the result of his careful enquiries, has our Lord say this: “behold, the hand of my betrayer is with me at the table” (22:21). He, not an eye-witness, differs in wording from the other three, although our Lord may have said what Luke reports as well. The point I am making here is that it looks as if our Lord’s devastating news was so memorable that the very words he used burned into the minds of those who were present. It was overwhelming and there had been no preparation for it. They had not the slightest inkling that such a thing would come to pass. The Apostles were in complete confusion, and all the while Judas kept his terrible secret. He was buried in secret, mortal sin — hidden, as he hoped, even from the knowledge of Christ.

Yes, Judas in his heart of hearts was profoundly isolated, and this is how he wanted it to be. He studiously fitted in with the others. They had no suspicion of where he stood. In our Gospel passage today from Matthew (Matthew 26: 14-25), various of the Apostles in turn asked our Lord if it were they who would betray him — presumably they meant inadvertently, or in some other inexplicable manner. Matthew reports that Judas also asked our Lord the same question — and perhaps Matthew remembered seeing Judas ask this. This fact immediately suggests that, apart from fitting in very well in the Apostolic group, even in his expressions of friendship towards our Lord Judas had seemed no different from the others. The point is that Judas was sunk in hidden sin. His descent from venial to mortal sin had been a solitary and hidden process, in which in his heart he had gradually striven to hide himself from the Saviour. We remember the first man and woman who, after they had sinned, hid from the Lord God. Judas became clouded in self-deception, thinking that what he was doing was “okay” after all. He had approached the chief priests, and perhaps his dark and terrible dealings with them gave legitimacy to his course, in his own mind. Satan was befuddling him in self-deceit and at each step, Judas deliberately chose his course. All of this was luminously clear to the all-knowing Christ. He could see the advancing tragedy of his chosen friend — his friend! He would address him as such in the Garden: Friend, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss? In our passage today, Judas thinks that Christ knows nothing of the direction of his heart and of his relations with his mortal enemies. He is seated near enough to our Lord, because in John’s Gospel our Lord reaches to him, offering the gift of a morsel. Hiding himself from the gaze of Goodness itself, he asks, Surely not I, Rabbi? Our Lord whispered plainly to him that, yes, it was he indeed. The tragedy of Judas was that he was not open with our Lord. Had he only admitted to our Lord his temptations and his secret falls!

The immortal story of Judas Iscariot surely tells us that we must bring our temptations and our sins before Jesus Christ for his light, his grace, his pardon and his direction. We must develop a hatred of hidden, secret sins. We must examine our consciences, and bring all sins to the light of the divine gaze, asking Jesus our Redeemer for his grace, his light and his pardon. Judas needed the spiritual direction of Jesus Christ, and he refused it. He needed his pardon, and he refused it. He went down the path of Satan, and reached a point where all he then did was despair. Let this be the lesson of lessons. Flee all secret sin! Bring all sin before Jesus Christ!

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