Amongst the first twelve priests of the Catholic Church founded by Christ was one who was not clean, who would betray Christ.
Among them was one who would sacrilegiously kiss the face of Jesus in a gesture that speaks of love but with an intent to disfigure.
Many Spanish paintings and sculptures portray 'El beso de Judas', the kiss of Judas, a kiss that leaves a scar, that transmits pain instead of tenderness and love.
Right from its institution, the priesthood is tainted by betrayal.
Today, dear friends, the stain of betrayal within the priesthood is once again evident, and it shocks, and wounds the beautiful face of Christ, not only the image of Christ that the priesthood is meant to portray, but His image in the bodies and souls of innocent young men and women.
And the stain is all the more noticeable because of the purity with which Christ has clothed His Bride, the Church.
There were two types of people the Lord said were unworthy of life:
- anyone who would lead a little one into sin, anyone who would corrupt or harm a little child, should have a millstone tied around him and be cast into the sea. His inevitable end: drowning.
- the one who betrays the Son of Man would have been better not to have been born. The implication: that his life is a contradiction.
Judas betrayed the Son of Man and hanged himself in despair.
The priest who has harmed a little one bears a heavy burden of guilt that could also cast him into the sin of despair and to the depths of hell.
But let me say that the recent media attacks on Pope Benedict have been unwarranted and unjust. He has done more than anyone else in the past to ensure that justice is done. When the Church issues corrective statements, whether from individual diocesan bishops, or personnel involved in the Church's judicial system, or the Holy See itself, the media do not give them the same publicity as the inaccurate reports they publicise. They make accusations against people involved in the Church's judicial process wihout checking facts.
For the enemies of the Church wish to attack the priesthood.
We are in this year for priests to commemorate the 150th anniversary of death of the humble and saintly Cure or parish priest of Ars, St Jean Maria Vianney.
He said: 'When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion.'
Without the priest, there can be no Eucharist, no Mass, which the Lord instituted on the first Holy Thursday before he died.
Bishop John Hine, at yesterday's Chrism Mass at St George's Cathedral, wanted to acknowledge and give thanks for the sacrifices that all priests of the diocese make in faithfulness to their vocation to nourish the People of God.
The priest's life is sacrificial because the centre of his life is a Sacrifice: the Sacrifice of the Cross which he sacramentally renews every day as he celebrates Mass.
St Jean Marie Vianney said that 'The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in Heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love.'
We all need the priest:
- to forgive sins. He doesn't say: 'God pardons you' but 'I absolve you.'
- in the Eucharist, at the Consecration, he doesn't say: 'This is the Body of Our Lord'; he says: 'This is My Body.' And he offers his own body to God the Almighty Father and to His people, in union with Christ's offering of Himself to the Father.
St Jean Marie teaches that all graces and heavenly gifts come to us through the priest:
- who receives the soul on its entrance into life in Baptism? The priest.
- who nourishes and gives it strength in the Eucharist? The priest.
- who prepares it to come before God in Anointing and Viaticum? The priest.
No angel, not the Blessed Virgin, can absolve you of your sins, but the priest can.
'If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is a friend of God; but the priest holds His place.'
And it was after Satan had entered into Judas that Christ, who is Master and Lord, taught his disciples how to combat the spirit of Satan in his gesture of cleansing and serving. To combat the devil, the priesthood must be cleansed, the priest must serve.
As the feet of some men of the parish are being washed this evening, some young people of the parish will pass a couple of baskets around the Church, not to take a collection but to invite you to take a card which contains the prayer that Jesus offered to His Father for His first priests.