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May 19, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. I find the following passages in the Gospels puzzling. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and they asked Him if He was Jesus the Nazorean, He replied, “I told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” John says that “this was to fulfill what he had said, ‘I have not lost any of those you gave me’” (John 18:7-9).
Earlier that evening, at the Last Supper, Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer, saying that “‘he who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.’ Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’ He answered, ‘You have said so’” (Matt. 26:23-25).
I always assumed that to mean that Judas was “lost.” What is your thought on these passages? Also, was Judas present when Jesus first gave Holy Communion at the Last Supper, or had he departed as soon as Jesus identified him as His betrayer? — S.A.D., Maryland.
A. There is another verse in John where Jesus says that He guarded the apostles the Father had given Him, and “none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled” (17:12).
So it is not unreasonable to assume that Judas was lost, but we don’t know that for certain. Yes, Judas betrayed the Lord, but so do we every time we turn away from Him and choose someone or something else instead of Him.
We of course have the opportunity to repent of our sins, as did Judas, but we don’t know if he took advantage of that opportunity before he committed suicide. We do know that he experienced some remorse and tried to return the 30 pieces of silver, telling the chief priests and elders that “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood” and then throwing the money on the floor when the chief priests refused to reverse their plot to kill Jesus (cf. Matt. 27:3-5).
But we won’t know the ultimate fate of Judas until the next life.
As for whether Judas was present for the institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Gospels do not give us a definitive answer. Matthew and Mark both place the prayer of institution after Jesus had said that His betrayer was the one “who has dipped his hand into the dish with me.”
John, who does not mention the institution narrative at all, says that as soon as Jesus gave Judas the morsel of bread dipped into the sauce, he went out to finish making plans for the betrayal of the Lord (cf. John 13:30).
So it could be argued from these three sources that Judas was not present for the institution.
Luke, on the other hand, reverses the order of the betrayal and the institution. Immediately after he has Jesus pronouncing the words of institution, the evangelist quotes this statement from Christ: “And yet the hand of my betrayer is with me at this table” (Luke 22:21).
So what are we think? Was Judas there or is there some truth to the bumper sticker that says, “Judas was the first person to leave Mass early”? Catholics are free to hold either opinion.

Q. With so many Catholics invoking “primacy of conscience” to justify various mortal sins, I recall that Blessed John Cardinal Newman very clearly wrote what the Church truly teaches about conscience, and it is being very wrongly invoked today. Perhaps you can locate what Cardinal Newman wrote. — M.M., Alabama.
A. In his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) made a statement that some today try to use as justification for engaging in immoral acts, for substituting the primacy of conscience for the primacy of truth. Newman said that “if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts (which does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink to the Pope, if you please — still to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.”
Did he mean, as some think, that one may oppose the teachings of the Pope and the Church if they contradict one’s personal opinions? Of course not.
Newman said that “conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him [God] who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.”
He said that “I am using the word ‘conscience’ in the high sense in which I have already explained it — not as a fancy or an opinion, but as a dutiful obedience to what claims to be a divine voice, speaking within us.”
Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas as defining conscience as “the practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what hic et nunc is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil,” the cardinal said that “hence conscience cannot come into direct collision with the Church’s or the Pope’s infallibility.” He said that before one attempts to set conscience against the voice of the Pope, one must engage in “serious thought, prayer, and all available means of arriving at a right judgment on the matter in question.
“Unless a man is able to say to himself, as in the presence of God, that he must not, and dare not, act upon the papal injunction, he is bound to obey it, and would commit a great sin in disobeying it. Prima facie it is his bounden duty, even from a sentiment of loyalty, to believe the Pope right and to act accordingly. He must vanquish that mean, ungenerous, selfish, vulgar spirit of his nature, which at the very first rumour of a command places itself in opposition to the Superior who gives it, asks itself whether he is not exceeding his right, and rejoices in a moral and practical matter to commence with scepticism.
“He must have no wilful determination to exercise a right of thinking, saying, doing just what he pleases, the question of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, the duty if possible of obedience, the love of speaking as his Head speaks, and of standing in all cases on his Head’s side, being simply discarded. If this necessary rule were observed, collisions between the Pope’s authority and the authority of conscience would be very rare.”

Q. Regarding a recent column about whether a suicide bomber could be acting in good conscience, I have three things in mind: 1) St. Paul’s pericope in Romans 2:15 about divine law being written on the heart, while one’s conscience bears witness and either accuses or excuses choices; 2) Gaudium et Spes, n. 16, which talks of a law which man doesn’t impose on himself, but is written in his heart by God and which holds him to obedience and tells him to “do this, shun that”; and 3) Veritatis Splendor, n. 60, which says that “conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-a-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behavior.”
Would it be over-interpretation to see these as pointing to a part of conscience that is directly instilled by God? What I have in mind is a situation involving a potential grave violation of one of the Ten Commandments, where a person knows right from wrong from what is written on his heart by God, rather than from human learning. — C.C., via e-mail.
A. No, your interpretation is in line with what the Church teaches in, for example, the sources that you cite. In Veritatis Splendor, n. 54, Pope St. John Paul II refers to the quotation from Gaudium et Spes and then says, “For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Romans 2:14-16).”
Another way of expressing this has to do with natural law, that is, the law of human nature which binds all human beings and is the same at all times and in all places. Therefore, any act that is contrary to the natural law, such as abortion, murder, or terrorism, is always and everywhere evil.
Trying to justify such actions under the rubric of conscience is wrong. Conscience is not a feeling or an opinion. It must be based upon truth, upon natural law, and upon divine and ecclesiastical law. We must beware of self-delusion, especially in these days when all kinds of evil are being excused under the banner of following one’s conscience. In his World Day of Peace Message on December 8, 1990, St. John Paul II said:
“To claim that one has a right to act according to conscience, but without at the same time acknowledging the duty to conform one’s conscience to the truth and to the law which God has written on our hearts, in the end means nothing more than imposing one’s limited personal opinion.”

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Catholic Replies

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