“One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Matthew 26: 14-16) Today is traditionally known as Spy Wednesday in the Church because it is the day that Judas conspired to betray Jesus for money. “But, O Judas, since you wish to sell your God, at least demand the price which he is worth. He is an infinite good, and is therefore worth an infinite price. But, O God! you conclude the sale for thirty pieces of silver.” (The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, p. 168) What a pittance Judas received for so great an act of treachery against the Lord!
Judas made another tragic decision and compounded his miseries after Jesus was arrested and sentenced to death. “Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? Look to it yourself.’ Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27: 3-5)
Judas despaired and did not trust in the infinite mercy of the Lord. He could have so easily thrown himself into Jesus’ arms and begged for mercy and it would have been granted without delay just as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son! (Luke 15: 20) Judas was certaintly not the first to have committed a heinous crime. Moses killed the Egyptian who was striking a Hebrew (Exodus 2:12), David had Uriah the Hittite killed so he could have his wife, Bathsheba, (2 Samuel 11: 15-17), Peter denied Jesus (Luke 22: 57-60), and Paul, when he was still called Saul, consented to the execution of Stephen (Acts 8:1). And, of course, there were others. But what all of these men did that Judas did not do was to repent of their sin and recommit to serving the Lord. Judas turned in on himself and abandoned hope. St. Therese summed it up beautifully: “Yes, I feel it; even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus’ arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him.” (Story of A Soul, p. 259) God’s mercy is truly greater than any infidelity or egregious crime we could ever commit!
The case of Henri Pranzini perfectly illustrates this point. In March of 1887 an Alexandrian murdered two women and a little girl in Paris obstensibly to steal some jewelry. The triple homicide arroused widespread interest and the case was followed closely in the newspapers. Pranzini was tried and condemned to death and the execution was scheduled for August 31, 1887.
Therese heard about the man the Paris newspapers were calling the ‘sinister scoundrel’ or ‘the monster’. She wanted to adopt him as her first child, a great sinner that she would pray for to have converted. She prayed incessantly, offered sacrifices, and even asked her sister, Celine, to have masses offered for him. Therese relates the story: “I felt in the depths of my heart certain that our desires would be granted, but to obtain courage to pray for sinners I told God I was sure He would pardon the poor, unfortunate Pranzini; that I’d believe this even if he went to his death without any signs of repentance or without having gone to confession. I was absolutely confident in the mercy of Jesus. But I was begging Him for a “sign” of repentance only for my own simple consolation.”
“My prayer was answered to the letter! In spite of Papa’s prohibition that we read no papers, I didn’t think I was disobeying when reading the passages pertaining to Pranzini. The day after the execution I found the newspaper “La Croix.” I opened it quickly and what did I see? Ah! my tears betrayed my emotion and I was obliged to hide. Pranzini had not gone to confession. He had mounted the scaffold and was preparing to place his head in the formidable opening, when suddenly, seized by an inspiration, he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him and kissed the sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of Him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!” (Story of A Soul, p. 100) Pranzini had been saved at the eleventh hour just like the Good Thief. (Luke 23: 42-43)
Therese had said that she was absolutely confident in the mercy of Jesus. This is truly the heart and soul of the ‘Little Way’. We can live our lives in joy and peace in all circumstances as long as we have complete confidence in the mercy of the One who loves us with all His heart!
On an absurdly dissimilar note, happy Opening Day to all of you baseball fans out there!