Spy Wednesday Soul Booster

To get deeper into the spirit of Holy Week, and to help you to do the same, I’ll be posting daily “soul boosts” containing the following: (1) a hymn tied to the liturgical day; (2) a timely Biblical text; (3) a beautiful piece of religious art; (4) a spiritual reflection; and (5) a Saint you should get to know (or get to know better).

Today is Holy Wednesday, often known in the West as “Spy Wednesday,” because it’s the day that commemorates Judas’ betrayal of Christ. And it’s a good reminder that (a) we, too, betray Jesus regularly; and (b) Jesus loves even those who betray and disown Him.

Hymn: O Sacred Head Surrounded

This hymn is an adaptation of the Medieval Latin hymn Salve mundi salutare, possibly written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) or the abbot Arnulf of Leuven (1200-50). A German translation was set to the modern melody by J.S. Bach. You can hear an English version (with a slightly different translation) sung by the King’s College Cambridge choir here. My favorite English translation is that of the Anglican Henry Williams Baker (1821-77):

O sacred head, surrounded
by crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding head, so wounded,
reviled and put to scorn!
Our sins have marred the glory
of thy most holy face,
yet angel hosts adore thee
and tremble as they gaze

I see thy strength and vigor
all fading in the strife,
and death with cruel rigor,
bereaving thee of life;
O agony and dying!
O love to sinners free!
Jesus, all grace supplying,
O turn thy face on me.

In this thy bitter passion,
Good Shepherd, think of me
with thy most sweet compassion,
unworthy though I be:
beneath thy cross abiding
for ever would I rest,
in thy dear love confiding,
and with thy presence blest.

Scripture: The Friendship of Jesus and Judas

Judas, by all appearances, is damned. Christ says of him, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21). And so it’s easy to think of Judas simply as Christ’s enemy, as one reviled by God. But the truth is both sadder and more beautiful. Christ loved Judas, treating him as an intimate friend, despite knowing all along that Judas would one day betray him. This is prophesied out prefigured in Psalm 55:12-23, in the betrayal of King David:

It is not an enemy who taunts me— then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to hold sweet converse together; within God’s house we walked in fellowship. Let death come upon them; let them go down to Sheol alive; let them go away in terror into their graves.

But I call upon God; and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice. He will deliver my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. God will give ear, and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old; because they keep no law, and do not fear God.Selah

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends, he violated his covenant. His speech was smoother than butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. But thou, O God, wilt cast them down into the lowest pit; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in thee.

Remember this background, this friendship, when you hear the sound of betrayal in Christ’s words in the Garden: “Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).

Religious Art: Andrei Mironov, The Treachery of Judas (2009)

Andrei Mironov, a contemporary Russian painter, has a beautiful collection of religious artwork. He does a great job of capturing the sheer sadness of Judas’ betrayal:

A.N. Mironov, The Treachery of Judas (2009)
A.N. Mironov, The Treachery of Judas (2009)

Spiritual Reading: Comforting Christ in the Garden

It’s easy to pin the blame for Christ’s betrayal exclusively upon Judas Iscariot. But before we get too self-righteous, let’s remember that we too are friends of Christ, and that we too have betrayed Him (with a disturbing frequency, even). The grace of God, particularly through the Sacrament of Confession, is all that really separates us from Judas. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10). Just as Jesus died on the Cross for Judas, He dies on the Cross for each one of us, even though we too have often acted as His enemies.

Christ foresaw Judas’ betrayal and loved him anyway. His death on the Cross even redeemed Judas, extending him the free offer of salvation (an offer that Judas would sadly decline). But in the agony of the Garden, Christ also foresaw us, and all the good and the wicked things that we would do. It is our wickedness that even now weighs upon him in the Garden, far more than His scourging by ignorant pagans. But it is also our acts of charity and of reparation, our continual turning back towards Him, that comforts Him in His Agony. Pope Pius XI delves deeper into this Mystery in his 1928 encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (Our Most Merciful Redeemer). Here’s a taste:

For any one who has great love of God, if he will look back through the tract of past time may dwell in meditation on Christ, and see Him laboring for man, sorrowing, suffering the greatest hardships, “for us men and for our salvation,” well-nigh worn out with sadness, with anguish, nay “bruised for our sins” (Isaias liii, 5), and healing us by His bruises. And the minds of the pious meditate on all these things the more truly, because the sins of men and their crimes committed in every age were the cause why Christ was delivered up to death, and now also they would of themselves bring death to Christ, joined with the same griefs and sorrows, since each several sin in its own way is held to renew the passion of Our Lord: “Crucifying again to themselves the Son of God, and making him a mockery” (Hebrews vi, 6).

Now if, because of our sins also which were as yet in the future, but were foreseen, the soul of Christ became sorrowful unto death, it cannot be doubted that then, too, already He derived somewhat of solace from our reparation, which was likewise foreseen, when “there appeared to Him an angel from heaven” (Luke xxii, 43), in order that His Heart, oppressed with weariness and anguish, might find consolation. And so even now, in a wondrous yet true manner, we can and ought to console that Most Sacred Heart which is continually wounded by the sins of thankless men, since – as we also read in the sacred liturgy – Christ Himself, by the mouth of the Psalmist complains that He is forsaken by His friends: “My Heart hath expected reproach and misery, and I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none: and for one that would comfort me, and I found none” (Psalm lxviii, 21).

Saint to Know: St. Hippolytus of Rome

Along the general theme of betrayal, one of the worst imaginable acts of betrayal was committed by Hippolytus of Rome. Hippolytus was a rigorist, and was disgusted by what he saw as the overly lax pastoral attitude of Pope Callixtus I (217-222). In Book IX of Refutation of All Heresies, Hippolytus denounces the pope as an imposter, and complains:

The impostor Callistus, having ventured on such opinions, established a school of theology in antagonism to the Church, adopting the foregoing system of instruction. And he first invented the device of conniving with men in regard of their indulgence in sensual pleasures, saying that all had their sins forgiven by himself. For he who is in the habit of attending the congregation of any one else, and is called a Christian, should he commit any transgression; the sin, they say, is not reckoned unto him, provided only he hurries off and attaches himself to the school of Callistus. And many persons were gratified with his regulation, as being stricken in conscience, and at the same time having been rejected by numerous sects; while also some of them, in accordance with our condemnatory sentence, had been by us forcibly ejected from the Church.

But Hippolytus didn’t stop with denouncing the pope as an imposter: records suggest that he even set himself up as an Antipope. What makes Hippolytus’ story unique is that he didn’t die a rigorist or an antipope.  Both he and the actual pope, Pope Pontian (230-35, Callistus’ successor) were exiled to forced labor in the salt mines. It was there that this one time opponent of mercy came to see his own need for mercy, and was reconciled with Pope Pontian and restored to the Catholic faith. In 235, the two one-time enemies died in the mines, and their bodies were brought back to Rome together in the next year. Pope Damasus (366-84) later commemorated Hippolytus with a beautiful epigram on his tomb:

Hippolytus, when the tyrant’s commands were bearing down, is said to have steadfastly remained, a presbyter, in the schism of Novatus. At that time when persecution’s sword cut at our mother’s pious innards, when, devoted to Christ, he sought the realms of the righteous, (and) the people asked where they might be able to assemble, it is reported that he told all to follow the universal [Catholic] faith. Having thus confessed, he won the right to be our martyr. These things, which he heard, Damasus relates; Christ verifies all.

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