The older I get, the more I come to appreciate the wisdom of Jesus including Judas in His initial crew of Apostles.
I am certain that Judas fully believed Jesus to be the Messiah. It is the only way the whole story makes sense. He was tired of traipsing around the desert for three years and wanted to get the show on the road to restore Israel to its former glory. So, he thought to force Jesus’ hand, to make Him fully reveal His mighty power. This, too, is consistent with the character of a self-serving double-dealer who is too clever by half, always playing the angles for his own benefit. As with most manipulators things ultimately did not turn out as he expected. In Judas’ case, he committed suicide in despair at his error (an error which he still did not understand).
Jesus accomplished a multitude of things while He walked the earth, but His primary mission was to conquer death after having taken on our humanity. That made Him part of our family and us, if we will, part of His family. In order to conquer death for all of us, He first had to die. That was baked into the cake of His Incarnation. He did not have to die because of Judas’ betrayal, though. The Sanhedrin had long been looking for the means to put the Lord to death. How sorrowful it must have been for Jesus to gaze upon Judas, who He loved and to whom He had entrusted much, knowing against hope that the man would betray Him.
Why would Jesus do this? Judas was authentically an Apostle – until he betrayed his call. It was for us. Jesus showed us that, from the start, there would be those who betrayed Him, their calling and those entrusted to them. That invalidates nothing. Betrayal does not last forever. While it is happening and when it is ultimately repudiated, we are called to live simple fidelity and trust.
As I neared the end of my pilgrimage 11 years ago, I found myself wondering, “What next?” I knew no one in Colorado, I didn’t have family within more than a thousand miles. What next? While in Loveland, Colorado, I felt the presence of the Lord, who seemed to say to me (with a maddening smirk), “I have a plan.” And then He was gone. A few days later it happened again, with me muttering irritably that it would be nice to clue me in a little. The third time I sensed His presence I just looked and said, “I know. You have a plan.” We both started laughing and then He was gone. Whether this was just my fertile imagination or actual encounters with the Divine, it underscored a great truth: Jesus does not need us to understand His plan while He is unfolding it. He wants us to trust that He has a plan and to obey what He has taught us as it unfolds.
Now we have come to a great divide. Few of even the most pious trust that God has a plan that He is unveiling. Some are panicked that the Church will be destroyed if we don’t act decisively to adopt their plan to save it – as if that were possible. Others are grabbing onto every prophetic word they can find to convince themselves they have the inside scoop – even if those prophetic words contradict Scripture and the Magisterium. Still others are touting things such as magic herbs and various concoctions as what you must have to survive God’s wrath. It brings to mind Christ’s word in Matthew 24:23 that at a time of great confusion many will say Christ is here or Christ is there – but not to believe them. What so many are saying does not direct people to Christ’s plan, which is so often mysterious and inscrutable, but to their own plan. Do as they direct, they insist, and you will be saved. What room does this leave for Christ?
God’s plan is NEVER thwarted. At the time of Christ’s Passion, few men acquitted themselves well. Other than the women around Jesus, John the Beloved, and Joseph of Arimathea, none did. The Sanhedrin railroaded Christ into a judicial murder; The Roman Procurator knew it was pure malice, but was not willing to take the risk to his career to stop it; Judas betrayed Christ; Peter denied him; and the other Apostles fled in terror. The human failure was near universal. Yet Christ’s plan was accomplished to perfection. He even used the failures of those involved to further that plan. Despite their malice, hubris and cowardice, the will of the Lord was accomplished perfectly. God’s plan is NEVER thwarted.
We live in an age of serial and vicious ugliness, with much of it coming from inside the hierarchy. To navigate these difficult times well, we need to keep in mind two things. First, Jesus did NOT tell us never to criticize a Priest or Bishop. This is a rule made up by people who thought it made them seem more pious, oblivious to the abuse and offenses it enabled. Frankly, I think most of the sexual scandals were enabled by this silly man-made rule. St. Paul boasts of correcting the first Pope, St. Peter, to his face (Galations 2:12-21). And Peter took the correction. I have been corrected more than a few times by Bishops I have known. In all but one case, I have taken the correction and been glad of it. In two cases, I have privately corrected Bishops – and, perhaps surprisingly, saw them accept the correction and give me thanks. If we are committed to following Christ, a correction is a blessing between brother Christians. God save us from this modern need to prove ourselves right at all costs and despite all evidence! It is one of the devil’s most effective tools against us. We are brothers trying to find what is most right together. Give thanks for all who have helped you along your way.
The second thing is that Jesus, Himself, set up the hierarchy that was to govern His Church. He did it in full knowledge that one of those He initially chose was a traitor. Even in the face of Bishops who err, sin grievously, or are actually antagonistic to the faith, none of us is authorized to replace the hierarchy He established with one of our own devising. We are to work through the structure He set up trusting that He is neither dead nor does He sleep.
Thus, we are confronted today with both a great test of our faith and of our trust. I have made it no secret that I think Pope Francis is one of the worst Popes in Church history. But I no more say he is not Pope than I would say that Judas was not an Apostle. If he is guilty of formal heresy, he is automatically excommunicate and, thus, no longer Pope. BUT…that is not mine to judge. A council of Bishops could make such a determination – but I am not a Bishop. If I try to make that judgment unilaterally I both usurp a role that is not mine and defy Christ. Not gonna happen.
I am aware and speak plainly about the multitude of offenses coming from the Vatican. Those who want to eliminate Jesus’ rules on marriage, to share communion with those who openly deny the faith, to regularize active homosexuality, to endorse transsexuality, to treat abortion as a peccadillo…in short, to regularize all the things that Christ and the Apostles forbade, are promoted and celebrated while those who hold to Christ’s teaching; Scripture and the Magisterium, are harassed, stifled and, in egregious cases, removed from their sees.
How many times in the Old Testament did God use people who made themselves His enemy to chastise His Chosen People? A lot. Many people clearly see that the Bishops of the world are on the hot seat, being forced to choose where they will stand. Will they stand with this politicized Pope, determined to remake the Church into the world’s image – or will they stand with Scripture and the Magisterium, equally determined to remake the world in God’s image. Few see, though, that each of us are equally in the hot seat – demonstrating to God whether or not we will follow His precepts fully. Will we speak candidly about abuses while holding fast to the Barque of Peter – or will we choose one as more important than the other and so only follow Christ’s commands partially? Our dilemma is not as high profile in the world but it is equally consequential. Frankly, few of us are acquitting ourselves well.
Again, the abuses are abundant. The incoming Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Abp. Victor Manuel Fernandez, says that Bishops, Priests and laity are on a road to heresy when they question or contradict Pope Francis’ Magisterium. The problem is that the Pope does not have a Magisterium; only the Church does. The Pope’s job is to safeguard and defend that Magisterium. It is even more absurd and ignorant than suggesting that Joe Biden’s Constitution is different than Donald Trump’s. Either man may live greater or lesser fidelity to the one Constitution we all have – and they will be judged by their peers and history for their fidelity for what they are supposed to safeguard. So it is with the Pope. He may guard the Magisterium with greater or lesser fidelity – and he will be accountable to God for his fidelity or lack thereof. St. Paul gave a chilling warning to all who might try to bowdlerize apostolic teaching under color of authority: “If anyone is preaching a Gospel contrary to that which you have received (from us), let him be accursed.” (Galations 1:9). He even pronounced the anathema if an angel from heaven should pervert apostolic teaching. This was a warning both to members of the hierarchy who might think to set their own rules and to the laity to live fidelity even in such a circumstance.
What, then, is happening right now? God is separating the sheep from the goats. A very effective way to get the goats to reveal themselves is to give them the illusion they have sovereign power for a time – to convince them that God is, indeed, asleep and will not notice infidelity. It is, simultaneously, a convenient way to reveal which of those under the transient thumb of the goats truly trust God to preserve His Church and which think it can’t survive unless they try to pull the wheel away from God.
Cardinal Gerhard Muller has warned that the Synod on Synodality is an effort to make the Church into a Social Justice NGO while denying its supernatural mission – which is to bring man to God, who is the origin and end of humankind and is the Savior of the world. In 2 Timothy 3 St. Paul warns of a time of depraved men who will have a form of religion but deny its supernatural power, adding that they will hold sway for a time but not get far, for their folly will become plain to all.
It is widely rumored that Pope Francis is going to remove Bp. Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas. Strickland’s reported offenses are that he has publicly criticized the Pope and that he resisted the Covid shots. Bp. Strickland has said that he will not voluntarily resign if asked, though the Pope can forcibly remove him. I spend some time in Tyler. I know of no Diocese where the Bishop is so universally revered. He has done nothing canonically to justify removal – he just refuses to toss Scripture and the Magisterium overboard to get with the modernist program. What is happening here, I am convinced, is that God is marking Bp. Strickland out for a major role in the renewal of the Church. Those who plot against him had best take care: they are likely to sit in the docket of his judgment just a few years down the line. Fortunately for them, he is a better and more honorable man than they.
Pope Francis has been quietly putting more and more restrictions on Opus Dei. I am a Cooperator, but not a Member, of Opus Dei. Several years before I got involved with it, I came to believe it will be a primary tool God will use to renew the Church. Perhaps Pope Francis has the same insight, though fearfully. Opus Dei focuses on the apostolate of the laity. At the heart of its charism is sanctifying your ordinary work. Two of its pillars are fidelity to the Magisterium and loyalty to the Holy Father. At the turn of the millennium, I warned my Priests that the time would likely come when those two fundamental pillars would be incredibly difficult to reconcile. I believe Opus Dei has collectively decided to weather the storm in silent prayer, while focusing on the good work they do with fidelity to the Gospels and Magisterium. In their case, because of their station, calling, and primary charisms, I think it a noble, if difficult, decision. May we all live our calling with such consistent resolve.
We are become like children in the backseat of the car on a long trip. Frustrated that it is not playing out in the way and as rapidly as we want, we keep asking, “Are we there yet?” All our protests and squirming will not change the navigational route our Father has decided on.
That is not to say we are to be passive spectators of the work God is unveiling. He wants us to be participants in our reclamation – but in a lot more humble way than most of us are willing to accept. He has given us each a little plot of land that we are responsible for tilling and making fruitful. It is our fidelity to that which is our calling. Then the same Christ who, with a couple of fish and loaves, fed a multitude, will multiply our small efforts extravagantly.
I publicly speak of the abuses and offenses that beset us. But I will not run about with my hair on fire, wailing that all is lost or coming up with legalistic formulas by which all will be set right. I will simply do the little I can that is right in front of me. That is because I know that God is not dead nor does He sleep. We are not there yet, but if we truly trust, our Father will get us there – bringing some that we thought were lost along the way.
God has a plan. Believe it. Then live your little part in it as He unveils the fullness of it.
If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.
Find me on Twitter at @JohnstonPilgrim