As we enter into the Sacred Tridium, there is really only one story worth reporting on this week – that’s the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord. And with all the discord and socio-political upheaval flying around at present, I think it’s also worth noting the words of today’s gospel: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
If you cast an eye over any of the news stories making the UK headlines this week, an absence of concern or respect for one’s fellow human being is the common, underlying thread – from the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers, to the Met Police scandal, our polluted rivers, the cost of living crisis, the NHS and education, the gender debate and so on.
It has been one of the ironies of the current push towards inclusivity, diversity and social liberalism that old human prejudices and misunderstanding have not been eradicated, but reinforced and hardened. At this present moment society is perhaps more divided and antagonistic than it has been at any time in the past century or so. I have no doubt that loss of faith has been a significant factor in this – whatever your views about the value religious belief, contained within most faith structures is a mechanism for ensuring positive and empathetic social behaviour and the betterment of humanity – and we abandon this at our peril.
History tells us that human nature can distort and corrupt such systems, but history is also beginning to tell us that the flight from metaphysics cannot be replaced effectively by mere social philanthropy. Put simply, a general belief in the innate goodness of people and things is no substitute for a belief in God. As the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton once put it: “When men stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything.”
There’s many a Catholic who thinks quite understandably that modern society is fast approaching Sodom and Gomorrah – but more likely we’ve just arrived at a point of such moral confusion and contradiction that it’s fast becoming impossible to define and distinguish any form of coherent moral code at work. For instance, the amusing mental gymnastics and contortions we’ve seen over the recent gender re-assignment debate is a perfect example of what happens when you replace sound moral direction with the kind of woolly relativism that Pope Benedict was ever warning us about.
In it’s own way, Easter is an exemplification of both the ultimate lesson in human love, and society’s complete inability to get on with itself. There are so many moral and social narratives and lessons running through the Sacred Tridium it’s hard to understand how most of society has managed to reduce this profoundest of stories to a mad supermarket dash for chocolate eggs and cuddly bunnies. Perhaps we’ve all become more akin to Judas than Jesus, accepting the silver of the modern, secular world for a betrayal of our historic proximity to God?
But even poor Judas has something to tell us.
I’m currently assisting with a first English translation of a book originally published in Italian in the 1950s by a remarkable priest, writer and political theologian Primo Mazzolari (better known as don Primo). It’s a great shame his biography and more of his works aren’t yet available in English – Pope John XXIII called him “Tromba dello spirito santo” (Trumpet of the Holy Spirit) and in 2017 Pope Francis travelled to don Primo’s tomb in St Peter’s church in Bozzoloi, Lombary, to pray and give a speech.
Amongst the many writings of Fr Primo, one of the most memorable is a homily he delivered on Holy Thursday 1958, just a year before his death. Thankfully, Nostro Fratello Giuda can be found in English translation on the internet, and there’s even an audio file of Fr Primo himself delivering it on YouTube. I’d encourage everyone to seek out this moving and profound example of Catholic reflection.
I have to confess that the character and role of Judas in the Easter story has always intrigued me. For me it belongs alongside that of the woman at the well – one senses that behind the visible parable there’s a far deeper metaphysical narrative going on. In some respects it could be argued that it’s the betrayal of Judas that helps give such human meaning to the forgiveness of Jesus. As Fr Primo says so eloquently:
“Let me ask Jesus, the Jesus who is in agony, the Jesus who accepts us as we are, let me ask him, as a paschal grace, to call me friend. Easter is this word spoken to a poor Judas like me, spoken to poor Judas like you. This is the joy: that Christ loves us, that Christ forgives us, that Christ does not want us to despair. Even when we turn against Him every moment, even when we blaspheme Him, even when we reject the High Priest at the last moment of our lives, remember that for Him we will always be His friends.”
For us as Catholic Christians, it’s the images of the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection that give meaning and substance to our profoundest beliefs and hopes for ourselves and the world. Perhaps for those who have lost their way and can no longer identify with such beliefs, or even for us all, it’s the narrative of Judas that might still have some hopeful meaning – that even after betrayal and that thirty pieces of secular silver, Jesus remains our friend, and we his.
This unconditional forgiveness is the essence of the Easter journey, and the very best hope for humanity.
We would like to wish you all a very holy and happy Easter on behalf of all at The Catholic Network. Thank you for your kind and invaluable support for our media mission.
Joseph Kelly is a Catholic writer and political theologian.