Scripture teaches us the difference between despair and hope in the persons and reactions of Judas and Peter. Peter denied even knowing Our Lord three times, felt great sorrow over his actions, and sought Christ’s mercy in loving, selfless, surrender to the Hope synonymous with Divine Mercy ( Mk 14:66-72). Judas, however, wallowed in self-pity and despair, too obsessed with self to fathom that Christ would or could forgive his sin and perhaps so proud that he preferred guilt over redemption and death over humility and contrition for his sin ( Mt 27:4-5).
Join the Club
I have often heard comparisons between Peter and Judas in terms of how they each betrayed Jesus, but only recently did I really consider just how large this betrayal club really is. After all, did not all of the apostles, except for John, betray Jesus. Running for the hills and scurrying under the bed when your friend and loved one is in trouble is not exactly loyalty and dedication. Did not half or more of the people in Jerusalem betray Jesus as well? After all, they welcomed him with open arms less than a week earlier and gladly accepted his miracles curing their various ills only to either turn on him at the slightest suggestion or cower in corners as he was led to his most unjust death. Don’t we all, in fact, betray Our Lord every time we pompously pump our chests declaring total allegiance to him only to pathetically fall for the same tired sinful script which has brought us down in the past? Common sense, and human nature, would indicate and dictate that the club of Jesus betrayers reads more like the universal phone book than anything else. Sure, Judas messed up big time. However, he was clearly too self-obsessed to look at Our Lord in humble contrition and simply allow Christ’s Divine Mercy to defeat even the greatest of sin. Simply put, Judas preferred to die with self than to die to self and actualize everything Jesus had taught him over the previous three years.
The Comfort of Despair
You may wonder how despair can ever be comfortable. Do we not associate despair with extreme stress and crushing hopelessness? Yes, we do, yet I suggest to you that we often prefer such stress and hopelessness because it both fits our secular model of self and selfish model of resolution on our terms. We only feel hopelessness and despair when we wallow in our own situation as compared to the situation we envision for ourselves instead. Who feels greater hopelessness, the student who sees everyone else getting As in math while he fails or the one surrounded by failures just like himself? Satan wants us to focus on how we fall below the standards that Christ calls for us. He wants us to become immersed in just how we fall below everyone else and simply give up. Christ, however, wants us to focus on how merciful and loving he can be and how we can believe in that mercy and love and get up when there are hundreds of reasons not to.
However, despair is comfortable despite its pain. It fits our secular and self model of martyrdom in self. Look at my pain and sorrow, feel my stress and emptiness, and taste my hopeless situation. It is all about me and my pain and suffering. Despair is convenient. Once we despair, we have a ready and willing excuse for drowning in self-pity and doubt. Loving God and following Christ, however, is not about feeling this world’s comforts. If anything, this world makes such love and service very hard. Therein, however, lies the value of rejecting the comfort of despair. We see and feel the ready-made excuse of hopelessness that the devil gleefully offers to us and push away from it in favor of reaching out to a God this world ignores, mocks, patronizes, and disrespects regularly.
The Discomfort of Hope
Again, here we see an ironic reversal of the expected. How can hope be uncomfortable? Is not hope synonymous with comfort, convenience, satisfaction, and relief? Would we not rather have hope than be without it? The true answer is yes and no. If we buy into Christ’s message of trust, love, service, and mercy, then hope is everything. However, if we subconsciously or consciously buy into this world’s message of self, excuses, and taking the easy way out, hope is a heavy burden to bear. With hope comes accountability, responsibility, expectation, and even demands. How? Which team is expected to fight hardest to win a game, the one down by one point or the one down by twenty points? Nobody expects anything from a team down by too many points to have a chance and many, if not most, would not be too critical of that team mailing it in the rest of the game and giving up.
Compare this, however, with a team down by one single point giving up a game and one can see how the reaction would be so much harsher. Giving up when there is still hope is considered cowardice. Giving up when there is no hope is considered surrender. Refusing to give up even when there is little or not hope is considered noble and even heroic. Hope is indeed a cross to bear for anyone embracing it. The difference is that those whose hope lies in trusting Christ believe that their hope is both justified and practically assured of fulfillment. By contrast, those whose hope lies in trusting self are prone to the doubts and weakness of the human condition. In both cases, there are potentially crushing expectations. For those hopeful in Christ, however, that heavy cross is borne with the support and inspiration of Our Lord’s example. Those hopeful only in themselves, others, or this world will bear the heavy burden of expectations alone.
True Hope in Christ is Surrender to Love and Mercy
The Via may be Dolorosa, but the ultimate reward is so great that any pain on the way is more than justified. Lent and Calvary call on each of us to push away the easy excuses, the ready-made rationales, and the convenient surrenders to human nature and the values of this world. We each have the opportunity to pick up the cross of hope in Christ and turn it into the final resting place of our despair. We can nail that despair and hopelessness to the hope that Our Lord offers to each of us. Divine Mercy is the transcendent assurance that no sin or sinner is beyond the hope of Christ. The devil is the pathetic purveyor of the lie that reaching for Christ is an exercise in hopeless futility.
It is truly ironic that the devil, the prince of self, happily offers each of us the easy excuse that we have no hope in saving ourselves. Lifting ourselves in the hope of Christ’s Divine Mercy should be an easy fulfillment of our loving trust in Our Lord. This world, however, paints that hope as a burden too heavy for our defective and weak shoulders to bear. Once we surrender to this world’s distorted sense of hope, despair is the ready substitute. The second irony lies in the fact that despair only brings more despair as it pushes us further into the slippery slope of sin.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked those arresting him “Whom are you seeking?” ( Jn 18:7). That is a question which each of us must answer for ourselves. If we surrender to and embrace Christ’s example of love and mercy, we will find a true hope in Christ on which we may nail our despair forever. However, if we are merely seeking ourselves, we will be enslaved by that despair forever as well.
2019 Gabriel Garnica