Judas Died From Catholic Guilt

“I want to give unimaginable graces to those who trust in my mercy.”

Fyodor Andreyevich Bronnikov, “Judas”, 1874
Fyodor Andreyevich Bronnikov, “Judas”, 1874 (photo: Public Domain)

At the Last Supper, when Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” no one knew who it was.  How was it not obvious?   

All of Christendom thinks “betrayer” at the name of Judas. Yet, while the 12 apostles reclined with him at the Last Supper table, no one suspected him.  Such is the secrecy of a double life. 

Instead of going to Jesus to tell him he was struggling with faith, Judas kept it inside and behaved as if everything was fine. In the end, he took matters into his own hands and betrayed Jesus.  After the immensity of his actions overcame Judas with guilt, again, he kept it to himself and ended his own life over it.


Guilt is not the Problem

Guilt can kill us. But it shouldn’t. It is portrayed as a bad thing by a culture intent on self-indulgence minus the after-thought. The code “Catholic guilt” is used to mock the workings of a healthy conscience.  The prescription given to remedy it is to reject religious standards to erase our instinctive moral guide. 

Judas’s conscience actually worked properly.  He simply did not remedy the pain as he should have.  Judas could have been an example of the greatest act of mercy in all of history by asking God for forgiveness, but instead, he sought to end the pain by ending his life.   


Archbishop Sheen’s Insight

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen explained in his book, Life of Christ that instead of repenting to God, Judas repented to himself.  Sheen contrasted Peter and Judas’s remorse.

“We must be sorry for our sins in order for God to forgive them. Turning our remorse inward leads to despair because we cannot forgive our own sins. Only God can do that. We actually do not know for certain that Judas was impenitent up until his last breath, but only that he gave into despair and hung himself.  Peter, by contrast, repented his betrayal of Christ and was forgiven.

Sheen pointed out that Judas’s sorrow was about himself.  “Scripture does not show that Judas attempted to save Jesus, only that he had a bad conscience, which he attempted to relieve by returning the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.”


Productive Guilt

No one is supposed to live with guilt. Catholics turn to confession to acknowledge failings, confess them, and receive forgiveness and the graces to grow spiritually stronger. Early Christian writers attest that this sacrament was the constant practice of Christians from the beginning as a way to draw nearer to God.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment . . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths," (CCC 1776).

As Matthew Kelly said in his book Rediscovering Catholicism: “People striving to excel in any area of life want to know their weaknesses so they can work to overcome them. This striving for excellence is precisely what needs to be re-ignited in Catholics today. Reconciliation is the perfect spiritual tool to re-ignite our passion for excellence in the spiritual life.”

“Guilt is not a curse, it is a blessing, according to Father Michael Van Sloun, pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka, MN, who wrote in a 10-part series on Reconciliation for the Catholic Spirit Newspaper. “Guilt means that a person knows the difference between right and wrong, and feels badly after doing something wrong,” he said.  “To not feel guilt after doing something wrong is out of line, to be a sociopath, someone who is so hardened to sin that an evil deed does not create inner turmoil. … Good Christians are highly offended by their own sins, and work vigorously to eliminate all wrongful actions in their lives.”

When Jesus appeared to St. Faustina, he told her that  he would rather be merciful than just towards sinners. He gave her the Divine Mercy Chaplet calling it the last refuge for hardened sinners and a powerful tool in the fight for souls. St. Faustina wrote in her diary that Jesus said, “Oh, what great graces I will grant to souls who will recite this chaplet. (848) I want the whole world to know My infinite mercy. I want to give unimaginable graces to those who trust in my mercy (687).

In reality, Jesus does not want us to live with guilt either. But rather than try to run from it, he wants us to give it to him so that he can forgive us and fill us with his grace.