Who Is Most on Jesus’ Heart as He Faces the Cross?

COMMENTARY: The mystical and moral tradition of the Church suggests to us that the heart of the Lord was fixated on one person.

Jacques de l’Ange, “The Taking of Christ,” c. 1640-1644, National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy
Jacques de l’Ange, “The Taking of Christ,” c. 1640-1644, National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy (photo: Public Domain)

As the Sacred Triduum approaches, our hearts are filled with sorrow, dismay, hope, and then exuberant joy as we walk through the dolorous Passion, Death and glorious Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. 

As we look at the spiritual movements within our own hearts, we can ask what is taking place within the heart of the Lord as he brings forth the new and everlasting covenant by which redemption will be offered to the human family. 

As heart speaks to heart, we can inquire what is swelling within Our Lord’s own Sacred Heart. In answer, the mystical and moral traditions of the Church suggest to us that the Heart of the Lord is fixated on one person, one apostle. 

The mystical tradition is based on the visions, insights, apparitions, holiness of life, and spiritual wisdom of our saints through the ages. The moral tradition is grounded on the interior life that flows from our cooperation with grace and the nurturing of a friendship with God by which we are given an awareness of the ways and actions of God among us.

The two traditions can be summarized by the exhortation of St. Paul:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

The mystical and moral traditions point us to one apostle who was heavy on the Lord’s own heart. The apostle himself was of great concern to the Lord, but he also stood as a symbol of all those who would be like him throughout history and so be very close to the Lord’s heart. 

In attempting to know which of the 12 apostles was most pressing on the Lord’s soul, we might be quick to respond that it was Simon Peter. As chief apostle, he would carry the responsibility of leading the Church in the Lord’s name. Or perhaps we would guess that it was James the Less, who would serve as the first bishop of Jerusalem during the early apostolic era. Both of these men served as early leaders in pivotal areas of the Church. They both died martyrs for the Lord. Was it one of them?

The mystical and moral tradition say No. 

Maybe it was James the Greater. He was the first apostle to shed blood for the Gospel. He carried the Gospel all the way to Spain, where his body still rests. During his apostolic journey, he saw Our Lady standing on a pillar and speaking to him. This was the only apparition given during Our Lady’s life on earth. In commemoration of this apparition, she is still hailed as Our Lady of the Pillar and is one of the patrons of Spain under this title to this day. So was it James the Greater?

The mystical tradition and moral tradition say No. 

Perhaps then it was John the Beloved, who is depicted in classical art as laying his head upon the chest of our Lord in the Upper Room? John was young and his affection was spontaneous. He was the only apostle not to die a martyr. Many in the early Church thought that John would live to see the return of the Lord. Such a grace was not given to him, but he was blessed with older age and was able to guide the early Church into the second century of our faith. Was it John?

The mystical and moral tradition say No.

Then it must be Thomas. He doubted the Lord’s resurrection and would not believe unless he touched the very wounds of the Lord. St. Thomas repented and came to believe. The apostle carried the Gospel to India, where his body still rests to this day. He became so strong in his belief in Jesus Christ that he died a martyr for the faith. And so, is it Thomas?

Still, the mystical and moral traditions of the Church say No. But with Thomas, we are getting closer to the answer.

We are told by our mystical and moral traditions that the apostle dearest to the Lord’s heart as he initiated and suffered through his passion and death was Judas, the traitor. 

The Lord’s affection was directed to the one who would betray him with a fraternal kiss and for a bag of 30 silver pieces. The Lord’s internal gaze was on the apostle who denounced him, condemned him, double-crossed him, and deceived him. The Lord was sorrowful for the person who turned on him, took advantage of his kindness, exploited his love, and capitalized on his openness and trust.

The Lord’s attention to Judas was not for judgment or condemnation. It was a focus compelled by merciful love. It was the Lord as Savior and Friend, Redeemer and Companion, who held Judas in the fiery furnace of his tender heart. 

Judas was on the heart of the Lord because of the Lord’s desire to offer salvation to all people. Judas was the recipient of the Lord’s goodness because the Lord knew of the horror of despair and the hellacious, damning fires of a heart that believes it is unloved and irredeemable. 

Even as the Lord Jesus was betrayed by Judas, he still sought Judas’ redemption and reconciliation. He desired Judas’ repentance and conversion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines despair as a sign against hope and explains:

By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice — for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy (2091).

The Lord taught about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and he knew the spiritual sufferings of a soul caught in its web. 

The infamous blasphemy of the Holy Spirit wreaks havoc in the soul of a person and leads him to the darkest place of self-condemning despair. The Catechism again explains:

‘Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.’ There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss (1864).

The Lord’s love was for the person of Judas but it was also for all those who throughout human history who would find themselves in the throes and the loss of despair. The Lord suffered in part for those who would struggle to believe and to turn to him for mercy and reconciliation. The Lord grieved for Judas and for all those who would falsely accept that they were not loved and were not redeemable.

Simon Peter betrayed the Lord and when the Lord looked at him, the chief apostle was thrown into intense anguish. Such sorrow led him to repent:

The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly  (Luke 22:61-62).

For Judas, however, there was no response to the graces of repentance. He fell under the nefarious spell of despair. The man’s soul felt dead and damned and so he did the ultimate violence against himself:

Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself  (Matthew 27:5).

The Lord’s Passion and Death included his oftentimes unknown mourning and lamenting over the despair of Judas and the despair of all those throughout the ages who do not know how much they are loved, how immense is the mercy that is offered to them, and how gracious is the Lord Jesus to all, especially to those who are in the darkest of sins and the greatest of turmoil. 

As we walk through the Sacred Triduum with the Lord Jesus, let us remember and pray for those stuck in despair and who are in great need of hope in the Lord’s grace and mercy. In our own lives, let us run to the Lord Jesus, repent, weep bitterly, and accept the immense love he has for us.

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.

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