When our Lord was saying to His Apostles: “Rise, let us go,” He added these painful words: “He who will betray me is at hand.” (Mk. 14:42) St. John gives us a few more details for he writes: “Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, since Jesus had often met there together with his disciples. Judas, then, taking the cohort, and the attendants from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, and torches, and weapons.” (Jn. 18: 2-4)
The story of Judas is perhaps the saddest in all of the Bible. The Evangelists seem fascinated with that name Judas and when they have occasion to pen it, they call him either “Judas, one of the twelve” or “the traitor” or as we have just seen St. John do, in the quote above, “Judas, who betrayed Him.” The thought that one of their number could stoop to such a villainous act inflicts them with a personal shame.
Any way you look at it, the story of the betrayal shows new evil each time you read it. Going out from the supper table, Judas had hastened to the priests and was quickly on his way with the band of soldiers. He probably hurried back to the upper room, where he had left Jesus: not finding Him there, he knew well where the Master had gone, and hastened to the sacred place of prayer – Gethsemani – where Jesus had so often retired for prayer.
Then the manner in which he let the officers know which of the company was Jesus shows the deepest blackness of all. Under the guise of close friendship – Judas kissed Christ – with feigned warmth and affection.
It would be salutary for each of us to remember always how treason in the heart of Judas grew. In the beginning, it was greed for money, then followed theft and falseness of life, ending, at least, in the blackest grim this world has ever seen. The fact that such a fall as that of Judas begin with small infidelities which grew and grew into a heinous crime, should teach us the danger of committing venial sins. The Holy Ghost warns us that “he that contemneth little things, shall fall by little and little.” (Eccles. 19:1)
A picture in the royal gallery of Brussels represents Judas wandering about in the night after the betrayal. He comes by chance upon the workmen who have been making the cross upon which Christ shall be crucified the next day. A fire nearby throws its full light on the faces of the workmen, who are sleeping peacefully, while resting from their labors. Judas’ face is somewhat in the shade, but it is wonderfully expressive of awful remorse and agony as he catches sight of the cross and the tools used to make it – the cross which his treachery had made possible. Judas did not fall into one great sin, he began with lesser sins, and they paved the way to his great disaster.
St. John Chrysostom said this of venial sins: “I maintain that small sins require to be avoided with more care than the more grievous ones, for the grievous ones of their very nature stir up our attention against them; whereas, the lesser sins, from the fact of their being insignificant in comparison, are not noticed.” The devil is so cunning. He knows he could not induce a virtuous person to fall into a great sin because of the horror it inspires. What does he do? He proposes a venial offense; now one, now another until he gets the soul into an evil habit, for he knows the end result. Satan knows Scripture too, and can prove it from what he has been able to accomplish by making persons desire, at first, venially sinful things. Scripture says: “He that is unjust in that which is little will be unjust in that which is great.” (Eccles. 19:1)
Pray earnestly today for grace to avoid venial sins. Examine your conscience daily on your commission of venial sins and resolve to do your utmost to avoid them.