Thinking about Thursday
Updated: Aug 31, 2018
A few thoughts on what meditating on Christ's suffering through Holy Thursday might tell us about His Church's suffering this Thursday
I’ve mentioned to you that Catholics see Christ suffering when they see His body--the Church--suffering. We know too that His suffering is particularly acute when even the slightest harm is done to His little ones, so how great must his suffering be in the midst of our current scandals?
In my mind, then, we are living through a Holy Week of sorts… a time of deeply intense suffering. My community has decided to enter into it in a number of ways—one of which is focusing exclusively on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and other means of penitential prayer.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about Holy Week lately, and that got me thinking about Holy Thursday. Wow, did the information scripture leaves us there give us food for thought applicable to our time!
For instance, one of the reasons we are scandalized and shocked by the horror of the current abuses is not only that they are horrifying in themselves, but because they were committed by our priests and bishops—those who we trust most to uphold moral authority, and those who we expect to be most faithful to the Christ Himself.
On Holy Thursday, through the institution of the Eucharist, Christ ordained our first priests and bishops—the apostles. There were 12. (Keep count. That part seems important to me.) And of them, Christ himself said, "one of them is a devil."
"Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?" (John 6:70)
Am I reading that right?! Isn't Christ stating the tragic fact right there that He knows, that among the men He chose, lies the devil who will betray Him? It's a fact both as disturbing and as comforting then as it is now.
Quite literally, right after the moment of his ordination, one of those new bishops, Judas, skittered out into the night and betrayed Christ to His suffering and death. If there was a devil among those men then, should it surprise us that there are devils among them now?
However, the betrayal of those first priests and bishops didn’t end there, much like our current scandal doesn't end with just the priests and bishops that committed the horrible acts of abuse, but also extends to those who were quiet or complicit when they could have shown moral courage.
Peter, another of the 12, wasn’t just a new bishop. Peter was the first Pope--the man who Jesus had named the Rock on whom He would build His Church. What did Peter do? After swearing his loyalty to Jesus, he not only fled from the danger of Christ’s arrest, but denied even knowing Him three times.
Christ withdrew on Holy Thursday to the Garden of Gethsemane, where His anxiety was so intense that His sweat was like drops of blood. I can’t possibly know, of course, but I can imagine Him breaking out in that sweat precisely because He saw the Church today—how horribly it would sin against His little ones and how deep the betrayal would be.
At that point, He asked some of his closest friends from among those 12 just to stay awake with Him for an hour or so. Did they have the simple faithfulness just to do that tiny thing—to comfort a friend, let alone the Lord, in obvious extreme distress? Absolutely not.
It got worse from there. Out of 12, only one of those first church leaders actually stood, with His Mother, by Jesus’ side through His passion and death. Just one. It was the beloved disciple and the mystic, John. Perhaps that says something about where our love, prayer life, and closeness to Our Lady should be if we hope to beat the 12-to-1 odds against our faithfulness.
Why does this all strike me? Because scripture seems to be telling us that the sin and betrayal of those in authority is no surprise to Jesus. One was a "devil," in Christ's own words, and most of the others proved themselves to be cowardly and selfish at a critical moment and thus complicit in horrible evil.
If this didn't surprise Christ in the men to whom He entrusted His Church, perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us either. It certainly shouldn’t cause us to lose faith. Knowledge of the tragic frailty of our human shepherds is, in fact, a part of our Faith. Knowledge of its truth despite and through the means of cooperation with our fallen humanity is part of it too.
Did Christ abandon his Church because His Church leaders committed evil and abandoned Him? He did not then, and He promises, even in the most horrible circumstances or in the face of ultimate evil, that He will do so never.
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18)
Let’s pray for the grace that we may be among the few friends who now stay loyal to Jesus in His great suffering.
Stay Catholic, my friends!