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March 11, 2009
Why Judas didn’t shake the faith of Peter
By Christopher Stefanick
The scandals that have plagued the Church since her first days have always presented a painful test for her members. It’s a test that many fail—leaving the faith because of faithless leaders. My heart breaks for the tens of thousands of Legionaries of Christ priests and Regnum Christi lay members who are feeling the weight of that test right now. The founder of their movement, Father Maciel, who was regarded as a saint by many, was recently discovered to have lived a double life of sexual decadence and material luxury for decades. No doubt the pain of this scandal will deepen as the culture of secrecy and high ranking enablers surrounding him is uncovered. I’m praying that the response of this movement’s saintly members reminds the world about what, or rather, who is at the heart of Catholicism. Scandal tends to rock the heart of our faith. Our leaders who fall obviously knew the Truth that is supposed to set us free. And so we question the validity and efficacy of this truth. These fallen angels seemed so holy to us. And so we question if we know what holiness really is. We see their weakness in ourselves, and we question if it’s possible for us to stand, and if it’s possible for us to trust Church leadership. Scandals involving the faith create the feeling that we’ve been betrayed by something within ourselves—as if our fundamental views about life are mocking us.
Scandal makes it more difficult to dismiss the critiques of the secular world: “See! This antiquated doctrine doesn’t work in real life! ‘Who can accept it?’ (Jn 6:60).” We wonder if they’re right. We have a hard time straining out the world’s legitimate critiques of the Church’s very human, pastoral blunders from their critiques of essential Christian teaching—which is more than human in origin—and we’re often left confused about what we should and shouldn’t be apologizing for.
In my brief 33 years on earth and 11 years in fulltime ministry, I’ve seen some pretty profound scandals. Sadly, I’m sure the scandal of Father Maciel isn’t the last I’ll see. But as a seasoned survivor of Church scandals, I know what to do at times like this. I turn my thoughts to the faith of the early Christians. They lived in a time when 8.5 percent of the total clergy (that’s 1 in 12—Judas) took part in humanity’s worst crime—deicide (the killing of God for money.) But those early Christians were far too close to the historic reality of Christ to let it affect their faith.
If you could travel back in time and conduct a post-paschal mystery interview with Peter and ask him, “How can you still believe in Jesus when you saw how Judas betrayed him?” he’d have given you a puzzled look. He’d probably have laughed, thinking your question was a joke. Peter’s heart may have been broken, but his faith could never have been shaken by Judas.
Peter wasn’t removed from the Resurrection by 2,000 years of history like we are. He remembered the smell of the empty tomb. He saw Thomas put his hand into the side of the risen Lord. He ate fish with Jesus on the shores of Galilee after he died and rose. He heard his teaching and saw his miracles. He received the Eucharist and his priesthood directly from Jesus at the Last Supper, and he ate the Bread of Life at every Mass. Sure, Peter saw Judas, who was at that supper with him, betray Christ. He also saw himself betray Christ. But that didn’t take away anything from what he had “seen and heard” (Acts 4:20) from Jesus himself!
No doubt, the story of Jesus and Judas will run in never-ending replay from 33 AD to the end of time. It is the story of the weakness (and sometimes outright hypocrisy and betrayal) of man running parallel to the story of the faithfulness and redeeming love of God. The story of the former will only shake my faith if I forget the story of the latter. Like Peter and all Christians, I too have encountered the risen Lord. The sacraments, the Church, miracles, the real Saints, my faith—they all help close the 2,000-year gap that separates me from his empty tomb. They all help me to remember that my faith was never in Judas, but in Christ.
Members of LC and RC: Send a message to a scandal-scarred world that your faith wasn’t in Father Maciel, but in Jesus Christ. Send it by your enduring faith and your fearless public reform. It’s a message the world needs to hear.
Speaker and author Christopher Stefanick is director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Denver Archdiocese. Visit chris-stefanick.com.