Pope Francis presided the celebration of the Passion of Our Lord in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Friday evening. The celebration of the Passion of Our Lord, also known as the Good Friday service, is the liturgy that recalls the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
By traditon, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, preached the homily.
Judas was chosen from the very beginning to be one of the Twelve. In inserting his name in the list of apostles, the gospel-writer Luke says, “Judas Iscariot, who became (egeneto) a traitor” (Lk 6:16). Judas was thus not born a traitor and was not a traitor at the time Jesus chose him; he became a traitor! We are before one of the darkest dramas of human freedom.
Why did he become a traitor? Not so long ago, when the thesis of a “revolutionary Jesus” was in fashion, people tried to ascribe idealistic motivations to Judas’ action. Someone saw in his name “Iscariot” a corruption of sicariot, meaning that he belonged to a group of extremist zealots who used a kind of dagger (sica) against the Romans; others thought that Judas was disappointed in the way that Jesus was putting forward his concept of “the kingdom of God” and wanted to force his hand to act against the pagans on the political level as well. This is the Judas of the famous musical Jesus Christ Superstar and of other recent films and novels — a Judas who resembles another famous traitor to his benefactor, Brutus, who killed Julius Caesar to save the Roman Republic!
These are reconstructions to be respected when they have some literary or artistic value, but they have no historical basis whatsoever. The Gospels — the only reliable sources that we have about Judas’ character — speak of a more down-to-earth motive: money. Judas was entrusted with the group’s common purse; on the occasion of Jesus’ anointing in Bethany, Judas had protested against the waste of the precious perfumed ointment that Mary poured on Jesus’ feet, not because he was interested in the poor but, as John notes, “because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it” (Jn 12:6). His proposal to the chief priests is explicit: “‘What will you give me if I deliver him to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Mt 26:15).
But why are people surprised at this explanation, finding it too banal? Has it not always been this way in history and is still this way today? Mammon, money, is not just one idol among many: it is the idol par excellence, literally “a molten god” (see Ex 34:17). And we know why that is the case. Who is objectively, if not subjectively (in fact, not in intentions), the true enemy, the rival to God, in this world? Satan? But no one decides to serve Satan without a motive. Whoever does it does so because they believe they will obtain some kind of power or temporal benefit from him. Jesus tells us clearly who the other master, the anti-God, is: “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). Money is the “visible god” in contrast to the true God who is invisible.
Mammon is the anti-God because it creates an alternative spiritual universe; it shifts the purpose of the theological virtues. Faith, hope, and charity are no longer placed in God but in money. A sinister inversion of all values occurs. Scripture says, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23), but the world says, “All things are possible to him who has money.” And on a certain level, all the facts seem to bear that out.
“The love of money,” Scripture says, “is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Behind every evil in our society is money, or at least money is also included there. It is the Molech we recall from the Bible to whom young boys and girls were sacrificed (see Jer 32:35) or the Aztec god for whom the daily sacrifice of a certain number of human hearts was required. What lies behind the drug enterprise that destroys so many human lives, behind the phenomenon of the mafia, behind political corruption, behind the manufacturing and sale of weapons, and even behind — what a horrible thing to mention — the sale of human organs removed from children? And the financial crisis that the world has gone through and that this country is still going through, is it not in large part due to the “cursed hunger for gold,” the auri sacra fames, on the part of some people? Judas began with taking money out of the common purse. Does this say anything to certain administrators of public funds?
But apart from these criminal ways of acquiring money, is it not also a scandal that some people earn salaries and collect pensions that are sometimes 100 times higher than those of the people who work for them and that they raise their voices to object when a proposal is put forward to reduce their salary for the sake of greater social justice?
In the 1970s and 1980s in Italy, in order to explain unexpected political reversals, hidden exercises of power, terrorism, and all kinds of mysteries that were troubling civilian life, people began to point to the quasi-mythical idea of the existence of “a big Old Man,” a shrewd and powerful figure who was pulling all the strings behind the curtain for goals known only to himself. This powerful “Old Man” really exists and is not a myth; his name is Money!
Like all idols, money is deceitful and lying: it promises security and instead takes it away; it promises freedom and instead destroys it. St. Francis of Assisi, with a severity that is untypical for him, describes the end of life of a person who has lived only to increase his “capital.” Death draws near, and the priest is summoned. He asks the dying man, “Do you want forgiveness for all your sins?” and he answers, “Yes.” The priest then asks, “Are you ready to make right the wrongs you did, restoring things you have defrauded others of?” The dying man responds, “I can’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Because I have already left everything in the hands of my relatives and friends.” And so he dies without repentance, and his body is barely cold when his relatives and friends say, “Damn him! He could have earned more money to leave us, but he didn’t.”
How many times these days have we had to think back again to the cry Jesus addressed to the rich man in the parable who had stored up endless riches and thought he was secure for the rest of his life: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Lk 12:20)
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