Humility, Eucharistic Devotion, and Hope
by Fr. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem.
Holy Week Homily: Tuesday, April 12, 2022
At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus says to the twelve: “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” After signaling to John who it is, but not hearing the answer, Peter hears Jesus say to him: “Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” One imagines that Peter understood Jesus to be answering John’s question by identifying him as the soon-to-be traitor.
With the benefit of hindsight, we tend to think that Peter was always treated with a special favoritism by the Lord. Conversely, we tend to think that Judas was always kept at a distance befitting one who would become a traitor. But the Gospels tell a different story. At the Last Supper, Judas was apparently sitting very close to Jesus, perhaps immediately to His left. Otherwise, Jesus could not have handed the dipped morsel to him. On the other hand, Peter was so far away, that he couldn’t even speak to John who was at Jesus’ side; he had to make signs to get John’s attention. So Peter was possibly put in the last place at the Last Supper.
Commentators on this Gospel, both ancient and modern, are in agreement that for the host to dip a morsel and hand it to a guest was a sign that this guest was the favored guest at the banquet. Add to this fact that Judas had an important position among the Apostles, as one who cared for the common fund, and that none of the Apostles even slightly suspected Judas of becoming the traitor, and we can see that it was Judas, not Peter who was given all the outward signs of favoritism by Jesus.
Of course, the Last Supper was not the only time Peter had reason to think he was the black shepherd among the Apostles. Peter had heard Jesus say at the synagogue of Capernaum “Have I not chosen you twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” Not long after this, Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me Satan!” One need not attribute a great mind or powerful memory to Peter in order to draw the conclusion that Peter probably thought he was the one Jesus had called a devil back in Capernaum. Even when Peter went above and beyond the other Apostles in his faith, he did not receive praise from Jesus. You might think that after walking on water for a few seconds, Jesus might have congratulated Peter on a good first try, but instead he gets a sound rebuke: “you of little faith.”
So life as an Apostle for Peter was not marked by an overabundance of affirmation from Jesus. Yet in spite of the fact that he almost certainly thought that he was the devil, the traitor among the Apostles, Peter continues to follow Jesus. His relationship with Jesus was marked by a hope which was more laughable than daring: the hope that somehow everything would turn out well for the devil-traitor with next to no faith. It is fitting that the first epistle of St. Peter is about hope.
Judas, on the other hand, seems to have gone happily along receiving every sign of praise and favoritism from Jesus, all the way until the kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus still calls him friend.
Things do not always appear to us as they actually are when we decide to follow Jesus.
What was the difference between Peter and Judas, so that the first became last and the last became first? The first difference between them was that Peter could take correction, but Judas could not. When Jesus corrected Peter, it was harsh and made a big, public scene. He was called Satan in front of everyone, his three-fold denial was foretold in front of everyone. When Jesus corrects Judas, He doesn’t so much as mention his name. So sensitive was Judas to his public image that Jesus knew that even the mildest public correction would push him over the edge. So He never singles Judas out, and when He does correct him, He corrects him with terms like “friend”.
A second difference was Peter’s faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Back in John chapter 6, in response to those who challenged His teaching about the Eucharist, Jesus had said: “‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.” So John is telling us that Judas refused to believe in the Real Presence. At the Last Supper, John tells us that Jesus gave to Judas a dipped morsel. It is interesting to note that the only other time in Scripture when someone dipped a morsel, it was a morsel of bread dipped in wine (Ruth 2:14). St. John Chrysostom taught that this morsel given to Judas at the Last Supper was Holy Communion done by intinction. Just at that moment, after his sacrilegious communion, Satan entered into Judas.
Peter, on the other hand, firmly believed in the Eucharist: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Although all of the Apostles fell away from Jesus during His Passion, only the one who refused to believe in the Real Presence was finally lost. It is my belief that so long as a priest continues to believe in the Real Presence, even if he falls away from Jesus and deny Him many times, he will ultimately be saved.
The third difference between Peter and Judas was hope. Judas despaired where Peter continued to hope. Despair is pride disguised as contrition. Both are sadness in response to sin, but contrition gives the sinner energy to start over, while despair makes the sinner want to give up. It is true that Peter fell three times, but it is also true that Jesus fell three times along the road to Calvary. It is not our falls which divide us from Jesus as much as our refusal to stand up again. When someone wants glory, he wants to do great things by his own power, and when someone wants to do impossibly great things by his own power, he gives up and despairs. But when someone wants the Lord to be glorified, he wants the Lord to do great things through His power, and in the face of impossibly great things, he hopes and believes that all things are possible through His power.
Let’s not fool ourselves: the truth is that there is a Judas lurking within each of our souls. St. Philip Neri used to say during the elevation of the host: “Beware of Philip Lord, for today he may betray you.” Yes, today you may betray the Lord. Yet like Peter, in spite of our many falls, we can hope with a laughable hope, and our sorrow will be turned into joy.
Listen to the audio version below.
Even as his health declined, Fr. Leo continued to orient his life to the service of the altar, recognizing in the Holy Eucharist the source of every grace and heavenly blessing. At that moment, I knew that I, too, wanted to be a Norbertine priest, “lifting high the Holy Eucharist over the miseries and errors of this world.”
The Norbertine vocation is essentially Eucharistic. It is true, the Church expects every religious institute to “make every effort to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice daily, to receive the most sacred Body of Christ, and to adore the Lord Himself in the sacrament.”
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