The gospel from this Sunday’s readings was, for many, relief during a turbulent week. Alabama just joined Georgia in passing strongly pro-life laws, and the Alabama bill only allows exemption for “life of the mother.” It remains to be seen how such an exception would be qualified, as many doctors believe direct abortion is never medically necessary. Catholic ethics state that receiving medical treatment that results in the termination of a pregnancy is not an abortion but an example of “double effect” so this law, while it still allows Plan B, and IVF, effectively represents Catholic social teachings on abortion.
That is more than we can say for those who fill the pews (although to me they didn’t seem as full last week.) Social media and Catholic news sources are bursting with opinions of those who differ from the church’s position on this sensitive subject. Fr. James Martin is up to his usual tricks, calling the Alabama bill “stupefying” because Alabama still enforces the death penalty. A Catholic church in Pennsylvania was vandalized for daring to “tell others how to live.” Familes and friends took to emotionally charged comment sections, virtually screaming at each other to how many exceptions they think there should be to this bill, and to church teaching in general.
What a relief then, what a divinely inspired coincidence, that the gospel reading this week was “love one another as I have loved you.” Across the nation last Sunday heard a message of acceptance, that despite our differences on sensitive issues, we are all one body in Christ and should love each other as He commanded us. This is probably what we needed to hear, given the improbability of dramatic conversions over facebook or at the dinner table. There’s only one problem though, with the timing of when we were given this command.
Judas had already left the room.
Many Catholics struggle with the fate of Judas. After all, we are all sinners. We all betray Christ in certain ways for personal gain, don’t we? We empathize with the rich young man or with Peter when he doubts his worthiness (or even denies Christ,) but I would caution against seeing ourselves in the worst traitor of all traitors. He stole from the money box and left our Lord during the Last Supper to sell Him to His death because he loved money more than truth. Like Anias and Sapphira in Acts (who are struck dead after cheating the early Christian community) Judas cut himself off from Christ, forfeited his office and even his life.
Christ did not plead with Judas to stay just a while longer. Christ did not despair of the loss of Judas’ contributions to His apostolate, and I’m sure they were many despite the theft. Christ did not fear Judas’ famous father or the loss of His treasurer. In the same way we must not fear the absence of those who cannot respect life. If a Catholic cannot support the church any longer because they believe unrestrained sexuality is worth the price of slaughtering the innocent lives that come out of it, or that it is worth aborting hundreds or perhaps a thousand babies for no “good reason” so a rape victim can abort hers too, we do not “risk losing them” by celebrating the passage of this bill. They are already lost.
God is love, love that gives life. God is the great “I AM,” the architect of the universe, whose plans are beyond our comprehension. If we cannot trust in His plan, which sometimes involves great suffering in this fallen world, or at the very least keep His commandments to love each other, and not to kill, can we really say we believe in Him?
It is not for us to judge who is lost beyond all help. The clergy are right in giving instruction to love the one sitting next to us. But it is an act of love, as one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, to admonish our brothers and sisters when they fall into error. Do not worry about driving people away from God with the truth, charitably spoken. If someone truly belongs to God, in the end they cannot hate the truth, and will find reconciliation with it one way or the other.