The apostles after Judas

People like to make fun of the apostles for sort of bumbling around and having silly arguments and not getting the point. But let’s be fair. How could they be anything else but in a shambles?

I was struck recently by the Gospel passage where, after the ascension, the remaining 11 apostles were trying to choose a replacement for Judas. They talk it over and narrow it down to two men, and then cast lots, asking the Holy Spirit to show them which one it should be.

This is a story we all know. Judas betrays Jesus, Jesus dies, Jesus rises again, and the apostles find a replacement so there are 12 of them again. It sounds straightforward and sensible because we’re familiar with it.

But they weren’t! They had no idea what would happen next, but it must have seemed like anything was possible. Think of what they had been through just in the last several weeks.

Just a very short time after they met Jesus and found out who he was and left their old life utterly behind, they saw him betrayed by one of their own, and then arrested and tortured and executed. Then they buried him, and then they saw him alive again, and then they had various insane conversations with him, and then, just as they were expecting him to restore the kingdom of Israel, he went back up to heaven. Talk about religious trauma. I’m actually amazed that they managed to function at all, much less hold a meeting and rationally figure out what to do next.

I’ve been thinking specifically about how shaken up they must have been by the realization that Judas, who lived and ate and travelled with Jesus just as they did, was capable of such monstrous betrayal. I wonder whether this inexplicable horror put their own faith into doubt, or made them wonder how a person can tell when they’re first diverging from Jesus, and what can be done about it. It’s an especially awful pain when you’re wounded by one of your own. It changes not only how you think of the aggressor, but how you think about yourself.

In Acts, they say that Judas “turned aside to go to his own place,” indicating that what he did was a choice (and one they’ve clearly been talking about with each other); but previously, Jesus said, “None [of the apostles] has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” It is hard to avoid the idea that, even as he turned aside from Jesus, he was still acting as part of God’s plan. He had free will, because every human being does—but at the same time, God’s work of salvation is sometimes carried out by people who aren’t trying to do any such thing.

These are deep waters. I am not up to the theological task of addressing how God’s plan and free will work together. But I do know that, when we are in deep waters, God gives us something to keep us afloat.

As I said, the apostles must have felt like everything they thought they knew had been called into question. But what they did next was, for once, the best possible course of action. They discussed the situation and the possibilities, and then they prayed for guidance, and then they moved ahead.

There is really no other way to proceed in life, when you’re not sure what to do next: Talk it over with people who know the Lord, and do our best to use our intellect, and then leave it up to God to bring good out of what we ultimately decide. For people who believe both in providence and free will, what else can we possibly do?

But I wasn’t kidding when I said the apostles had been traumatized. Far too many Catholics know how it feels when someone you thought you could depend on turns out to be a traitor, and does something so unspeakable that it makes you feel like absolutely anything could happen, and nothing is secure, and everything you thought was solid ground can shake and tremble and even crumble into dust. And they know what it feels like to realize that, in the aftermath of that earthquake, you have a decision ahead of you: You can either live in the rubble, or you can start to rebuild.

Neither one is appealing when you’ve been wounded. Both are overwhelming. Just when you’re starting to realize how weak and confused and helpless you really are, that’s when you’re confronted with an enormous task.

And this is why I’m especially impressed with how calmly the apostles moved forward as they chose a replacement for Judas….Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance On the Mountain In Galilee Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Prayer reminder! ACTS covers your bases

Last night, we got up to the chapter about fortitude in our current catechism read-aloud, How To Be a Hero: Train With the Saints.

Sometimes we decide to make a change in our lives,

it says,

like giving up sweets for Lent or making a New Year’s resolution to keep our bedroom neat. At first, we are able to keep our resolution out of excitement and because it is something new. Eventually, though, it becomes more difficult to wake up each morning and make the bed, or turn down an offer of candy from a friend.

And is said, “SHUT UP, BOOK! YOU DON’T KNOW ME!” Ha ha, just kidding. We had just barely recovered from a conversation about whether it was, in fact, fartitude we needed to cultivate in our house (answer: No.), so I wasn’t going to derail Edification Hour again. But I thunk it.

One of my resolves for Lent was to reinvigorate my prayer life. It . . . has not been going well. I wish I could say it’s due to the mid-Lent doldrums, but it actually petered out almost immediately.

Happily, this morning I suddenly remembered a strategy for daily prayer that even I can manage. You cover ACTS:


Or, as I used to tell my kids, it’s telling God:

You are great!
I’m sorry.
Thank you!

What else is there to say? If you can make the sign of the cross and thoughtfully make a personal expression of each of these things to God in the morning, then son, you have reinvigorated your prayer life. Fortitude!

(I purposely left the image at the top nice and big, in case you want to click on it and print it out for your wall. Obviously I just something I threw together with a marker, which you can easily replicate and do a better job with, but maybe you can’t find a marker.)